The hands of the clock both stood on 12. It was midnight. One more second and it was a new year. January – a month named after the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces, one to look behind and one to look forward, or one to look to the past and one to look towards the future.
For a few in the remote regions of “down under”, the turn of the clock and the entry of 2021 was a time of joyful celebration – gathering together, no social distancing, no masks, no restrictions inside the country. For most of the rest of the world, it was just another day passing, perhaps a little longer than the other days earlier in the week. But, with the morning light it was just another day, like the previous 300 days when our normal existence and routines ceased, as a result of events and decisions that were beyond our control. The skies were closed to incoming and outgoing travelers. Internal restrictions were imposed on travel, on entry to locations away from home, on businesses, on numbers who could gather together for different reasons, on tourism and on what many considered simply as leisure activities and more. Facial masks covered both smiles and frowns, fogged up glasses and made it more difficult to understand someone speaking. Compulsive hand-washing and panic over a possible lack of toilet paper took over most of what we consider the be the civilized world.
The restrictions, of course, were imposed because a health issue that quickly deteriorated into a national, health crisis, which, in turn generated a national, economic crisis. Our vocabulary adapted to the words “lockdown”, “isolation” and “restriction” almost overnight. Schools were closed, businesses were either closed or were allowed to function on a limited basis. Only those places that were considered as “essential” were allowed to remain open. Entire families were required to stay home. Some were allowed to go to work, while multitudes were either placed on a status of “vacation without pay” or worse, had their employment terminated as a direct consequence of the economic crisis. Unemployment soared to approximately a quarter of the work force. Spouses needed to spend more time with each other, parents needed to spend more time with their children. An increase in family violence was reported “from Dan to Beersheva”. Time on the computer increased accordingly, along with uncontrolled viewing of pornography, increased reports of pedophilia, shaming and bullying.
The government couldn’t make up its mind how to deal with the domestic issues and, instead, focused on international matters. Some countries in the Arab-speaking world entered into open arrangements with Israel, wrongfully designated as “peace agreements”.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel enacted stern measures and treated the virus as an enemy that needed to be quickly defeated. When it looked like victory was around the corner, it eased the restrictions and the situation quickly worsened, resulting in a second national lockdown, somewhat more modified and less restrictive than the first. The skies were opened, some businesses were allowed to re-open, children returned to classes “in” school, rather than “through” Zoom. But, many rebelled at the continuing restrictions and failed to abide by the instructions of the Department of Health. The numbers who tested positive to Covid-19 again began to rise and we are now already one week in our third national lockdown.
“Big Pharma” competed with one another to produce a vaccine against Covid-19. Along the way, the safeguards of “testing, time and verifiable risks and consequences” that usually accompany the release of a new drug were, on the whole, ignored. The world needed a vaccine and it became available from different companies. Obviously, the end result differs from company to company and from vaccine to vaccine. If one is more effective, then the others are less effective. And if the vaccines were produced to deal with the known strain of Covid-19, the question arises whether they will deal with the mutations (plural) that have already affected some countries. That is a discussion for another time. During the past 10 months, extended family and friends had tested positive to Covid-19. Some became sick, some were hospitalized and died, some from the virus, others from different causes.
And, in the midst of it all, the government coalition collapsed and, once again, we are facing national elections that will take place at the end of March.
Israel has inoculated over 1 million people, just over 10% of the population. The “start-up nation” has become the “inoculation nation”. Yesterday, I was notified by the Health Department to make an appointment – on line, of course, to receive the injection. Today, I received a notice not to bother – the Health Department ran out of the vaccine. As soon as the vaccine arrived here, there was a rush to be inoculated. The question of the day quickly became: “Did you get the vaccination?” And, if not, “What are you waiting for?” People were reacting with herd mentality, hoping to develop an aspect of herd immunity. Commercial areas, once bustling with crowds, in recent days again had almost no foot traffic. Normally busy locations had only handfulls of people. There was a sense of concern and fear that we are experiencing the “new normal”.
If we look back on 2020 and see only the things mentioned above, we are looking at the glass as being “half empty”. Of course, there were other things that occurred during the year that were more encouraging. It was a time of learning to do with less, to appreciate what we have and not to take things for granted. It was a time to be thankful to people whom we usually don’t think of in the course of our lives: health-care professionals; those who wear the uniform and who stand as the guardians of our safety, locally and nationally; teachers, who, despite the difficulties, learned how to instruct from a distance; parents who learned not only how to communicate with their children on an understandable level, but who also learned to listen to them; the postal workers, who kept the mail coming; the people who delivered the groceries that were ordered online, so that we didn’t have to stand in line with someone who didn’t keep his distance; to all those unknown people who reminded us to wear our masks, keep our hands clean and keep our distance; to our families, who continued to encourage us during difficult periods; for the new births, there were 176,000 births and, despite all of the difficulties of the times, approximately 11,000 Israelis living abroad returned home and another 20,000 brave souls made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel). If we stop for a moment and reflect upon the past year, there is much, much more for which we can be thankful. I’m thankful for a healthy and loving family, and for being able to write this, as well as for those who will read it.
The pandemic was and remains a time of testing for all of us. We all respond differently to the tests in life. Some fail, some are challenged and some succeed. The Biblical character, Job said (23:10-12): “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Despite his sufferings and losses, far beyond what most of us will experience on this side of eternity, his reliance remained upon the God of creation to bring him through. He had a perspective that God would not test him beyond what he was able to endure.
Circumstances can be beyond our control, but not our attitudes. Each new day allows us to act with compassion, kindness, humility and patience, bearing with others who are different, or difficult, and to be forgiving. A right attitude can remove fear, doubt and anxiety and help us to have a proper focus on the essentials. However we might choose to designate the time in which we live, each day is a new opportunity to be thankful – for good health, for a roof over our heads, for clothes on our backs and for food in our stomachs. When we think about it realistically and practically, what more do we need?
“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” (Proverbs 4:25) Time to leave what is behind and press on to what is ahead. “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). May yours be blessed.
May 2021 bring with it abundant good health for each of you, for your families and loved ones. Treat it like an empty vessel and allow God to fill it with His love, joy and peace that passes all understanding.
Please also remember Israel in your prayers. “[The] eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.” (Deut. 11:12)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.