There are many new routines in this unusual time. Social media feeds suggest baking has become the comforting go-to for many of us. Binge-watching shows and finally getting to the books we’ve been meaning to read is another. Cleaning those closets that were filled with mismatched sheets sets and nearly empty rolls of birthday wrapping paper was a long-overdue task.
But, at 7 p.m. each night now for a couple of weeks, another, less solitary routine has emerged. Metro Vancouverites – and people further afield – take a step outside, onto their balconies or into their driveways, and make like it’s New Year’s Eve. Clanging pots and pans, applauding, shouting cheers and generally making as much noise as possible for a minute, the behaviour is not merely burning off steam by a people holed up and stir crazy. It is a heartfelt act of solidarity and gratitude for the frontline healthcare workers, first responders and others whose responsibilities to protect the public require them to remain at their posts. It is also a way for us to say hello to our neighbours, and to receive reassurance that, while the streets and stores may be almost empty, humanity has not been wiped out, just relegated to our homes.
The nightly event was given steam by Rory Richards, a member of the Jewish community who understands the meaning of the power of one. Several years ago, at the height of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, she traveled to Greece and helped welcome those fleeing their homelands, while mobilizing support for the effort back home via social media. In this time of need, she saw what others were doing in the world to express themselves, while staying in quarantine, and brought the practice to her West End neighbourhood. And it has resonated with many – so many that the Vancouver Park Board has decided to change the firing time of Stanley Park’s Nine O’Clock Gun to 7 p.m. until the end of April.
The noisemaking trend is still relatively new, but already we hear of the emotional impact it is having on exhausted and anxious frontline workers. As is the solidarity at 7 p.m. nightly of their fellow emergency workers – fire trucks, police cars and ambulances driving the streets around their local hospitals, flashing their lights and sounding their sirens.
Mostly unsung are other frontline workers, those whose jobs, until this crisis, were not considered dangerous or irreplaceable: grocery store workers, cashiers, fruit and vegetable store operators, bakers, letter carriers, parcel delivery personnel, bank tellers, people maintaining the internet, bus drivers, garbage and recycling collectors, city workers who are making sure the traffic lights and other essential services remain operational, employment insurance office staff and other bureaucrats who are rushing to put aid programs into place. The list goes on. These people are continuing their work of keeping the world functioning at the level it must, without the luxury of sheltering in place.
In the Jewish community, agencies and individuals are stepping up. Jewish Family Services continues to deliver its vital programs, knowing that the physical, emotional and economic toll this crisis is taking is not yet at its peak. Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has launched a fund to help the community address the crisis, with specific emphasis on food security, housing support and subsidies to ensure that the economic impacts of the pandemic do not prevent individuals and families from participating to the greatest extent possible in Jewish communal activities. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has mobilized, creating a COVID-19 resource guide that is a clearinghouse for related information nationally and in each province. And organizations such as the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism and Reform Rabbis – which sent a letter to the federal government last week – are working to ensure that relief efforts centre on the most vulnerable, “including those who are homeless or housing insecure, migrants or refugees, living in underserved indigenous communities, being held in detention facilities or at risk of domestic violence.”
Locally and internationally, synagogues, day schools and community organizations have turned on a dime to use online platforms as an alternative meeting space for virtual services and gatherings. Some senior Sephardi rabbis in Israel are releasing opinions that would allow observant Jews to leave Zoom running for Passover seders, so that separated families can join together to celebrate our Festival of Freedom.
How many of us, three weeks ago, had heard of Zoom? An old long-distance telephone ad declared, “It’s the next best thing to being there,” which is true of this new technology, but we can’t deny that the shmoozing before and after (and during) services and events isn’t quite the same. Humans are likely to take for granted anything we receive almost as soon as we have it, so it is worth taking a moment to consider the incredible good fortune that allows us to have technology that we could barely dream about 30 years ago to keep us virtually together when we are, most of us, actually apart.
There’s no question that the emotional toll of our separateness will be keenly felt next week as the seders that, for our entire lifetimes, have meant the coming together of extended families and close friends, will be massively different than in the past. There will be a seat at the table for Eliyahu, but many others also will be there only virtually, and they will be missed.
When we participate in the 7 p.m. clangfest, or even if we just watch it from our homes, let’s consider the clapping, hollering and pan-banging as a testament to our admiration for medical and other frontline personnel, including the people who never imagined that they would be so crucial a part of maintaining our society’s functioning but who are, irreplaceably, ensuring that many of us are able to shelter in place in relative privilege and comfort.