These days everyone is wearing masks. At first, we were to be given warnings but now we will be fined if we don’t wear them in public spaces. I find it very interesting how the way people wear their masks is, like everything else, an expression of their personalities. There are the cautious types who are totally covered, making it practically impossible to identify who is behind the mask. There are those who wear them like a beard or scarf, technically following the law without receiving the benefit of which the law was mandated in the first place. There are those who hold them in their hands, just in case they come in close contact with another human or law enforcement personnel. Some wear them when they exercise while others do not. Some wear them only on the street. Others wear them even in the car. I questioned someone about this practice and was told only half-jokingly that they also wear a mask in the shower. Some use the standard masks while others wear masks with a flair to put a sense of style and ingenuity into their look. Generally, the way people wear their masks falls along the same lines as how people wear bicycle helmets. Some fasten them very securely, while others wear them half dangling from their heads. Others, due to lack of awareness or feelings of invincibility, don’t wear them at all. But, no matter what the style, for the most part, we are all wearing masks. We are all fighting this war together. Those who aren’t, by and large distance themselves from society at large in most areas.
This week Israel celebrates the holidays of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. These are very auspicious days when the country mourns the loss of soldiers who fought in battles on behalf of the state of Israel as well as victims of terror, before celebrating the creation of a place every Jew can call home. There are many opinions and emotions about whether/how to celebrate these auspicious days. Some will stand in silence during the siren on Yom Hazikaron while others will say tehilim. Some make a distinction between being in a public or private space. Some hang a flag. Others do not. Some follow a special nusach for Yom Haatzmaut in shul, which includes the blow of the shofar. Some say Hallel with a brachah, some without. Some in the middle of davening. Some after davening. Some don’t say it at all. Some say tachanun. Others do not. To say that people here feel very strongly about their minhagim during this time period would be a gross understatement. There are many who feel conflicted as they are able to identify with different aspects of the ideological camps but unable to identify with other parts. They find themselves caught in the middle and have trouble finding a place for themselves. A rabbi I know calls Yom Haatzmaut the loneliest day of the year.
But this year is different. Everyone is on lockdown for the holidays. People can choose to celebrate as they wish in the privacy of their own homes, without the winds of expectation and alienation posed on the street. While we are currently living through a most difficult chapter of humanity, there are people of all sectors working together to help others from all sectors in so many compassionate and creative ways. The outpouring of love and caring for the other is so blatant during this time of crisis. Perhaps while we are isolated from one another people will take advantage of the opportunity to focus on the things that unite us rather than what divides us. Despite the masks we wear, we are one nation and we are all in this together.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.