Jews have – without doubt – suffered more psychologically than any other ethnic group during lockdown.
For a start we are the worlds’ worst when it comes to observing social distancing. Just don’t even go there. Jews simply do not do this in any shape or form. Being demonstrative is part of our core being, our genetic make-up. When we gather we hug, we kiss, we handle, we schmooze, we schlep, we confide, we gossip. But distance? Forget it! The observation that, at social gatherings, you can tell the difference between Jews and non-Jews is probably not apocryphal: non- Jews leave and don't say 'goodbye' but Jews say 'goodbye' then don’t leave.
With limited religious activities set to begin in June, like silent individual prayer in churches, the minister for culture and religion concedes that this 'favors' some religions over others. And, yes, again we Jews are at a profound disadvantage. Because we don't do 'silent' in Shul terribly well. On Shabbat we know that there are far too many of our brethren to catch up with, whom we may not have seen or spoken to or gossiped with for at least a week. Two metres social distancing will mean that it is still just possible to have a catch up with the person who has just moved two aisles in front, although it may involve rushing through the Musaf Amidah (or even - God forbid - skipping the last few pages) for the privilege. Chutzpahdick can personally attest to the fact that, with judicious timing and a little bit of luck, all friends can be visited, all gossip gleaned, and all opinions voiced with a timely return to one’s seat just in time for the highlight of the service when 'Geoffrey's Notices' spring to life. This invites the games of 'correction' and 'interruption' and a chance to repeatedly shout out 'Mazeltov' in staccato fashion.
Chutzpahdick wonders what will be the mechanics of the brave new landscape confronting us when Shul resumes. Logistical difficulties are likely to abound, not least concerning the Sefer Torah, where newly introduced Covid 19 instructions (Guide for a Safer Sefer, You Gov, 89 (3)) will have to be followed in tandem with Halachic guidance. Will all congregants be advised to wear special Shabbat masks, or can these be left to one's ingenuity with a little bit of the Venice Masked Ball thrown in to invite an air of mystery? After all - who really knows what the High Priest wore on his face during the Temple Service?
As we begin to emerge blinking, like butterflies from chrysalises, a thorny issue awaits for us to navigate. Jews, being naturally gregarious types, have for months become more accustomed to meeting up in hyperspace. A few weeks ago, the new directive of being allowed to invite first one then two couples to take tea in one's garden, whilst welcome, created a conundrum. Debretts is tantalisingly silent on invitation etiquette post lockdown. Do we prioritise, out of pity, our invitations to friends who live in flats because they don't possess a garden and so are unable to entertain? Or friends who are living alone and slowly going stir crazy? Do we simply invite those whom we were going to ask many months ago before the invitation was cancelled? Or those we simply ran into on our last walk, the same as the previous one hundred walks, when we casually said 'you simply must come over when this wretched Covid business is all over'?
And, finally, the tricky issue of 'which boobe in the bubble'. A few weeks ago, as part of the continuing relaxation of lockdown restrictions, it was announced that one household could form 'a bubble' with one other person living alone. An emotional – and timely – way to see the solitary grandparent. But wait – if (for example) there are two solitary boobes, which one goes in 'the bubble'? Oy, oy, oy, oy, oy ... broiges time! One can imagine two grandmothers sitting two metres apart on a bench (only one metre apart next week) with one saying 'of course they invited her mother, always her side of the family comes first'.
Sadly, Chutzpahdick realises that, with the Covid landscape changing rapidly day by day and week by week, this account will be, by the time of the Rosh Hashonah CV, somewhat historical (if not hysterical).
One can only hope that – by then - the only 'second wave' which materialises takes place as people leave for holidays, etc.
Friday 29th January 2021