Jerusalem eerily quiet on Shabbat as coronavirus keeps people home

General view of the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. For Fear of Coronavirus, Israel Closes all Borders decreasing the number of tourits. The government orders all bars, restaurants and malls to close in an effort to contain the spread of virus. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Looking outside Saturday morning, everything on the surface indicated it was a normal day.  The Judean Desert stood as majestically as ever off in the distance, flowers were blooming thanks to the winter's heavy rains and birds were chirping.
But closer inspection revealed that despite the bucolic scene, there was something missing: people. Whereas on a usual Shabbat morning, people would be out walking home from shul, out on exercise runs or playing soccer with their kids, there was a noticeable lack of humanity anywhere in the town. The Israel quasi-shutdown has taken hold.
It was felt everywhere in Jerusalem, from the heavily distributed social media photo of a shuttered Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City and an empty Kotel to a nearly deserted Machaneh Yehuda market and empty synagogues. Is this the image that we're going to have to get used to for the foreseeable future?
Instead of Friday night family dinners or Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings, Israelis took to Zoom and other online meeting sites for chaotic, time-delayed interactions. Parents tried to keep their children occupied throughout the weekend, with the realization that on Sunday morning, they would still be in the exact same situation.
Reports of people still gathering at beaches and parks notwithstanding, Israelis seemed to be taking the new world order seriously. Still, there were plenty of cars in motion, with some families taking to the roads for the Israeli equivalent of a 'Sunday drive' just to get out of the house.
Everyone was feeling out the confines and implications of this new reality and on Saturday night, there was a sense of satisfaction at having coped with the Shabbat shutdown. For some, it was even seen as a blessing that enabled family bonding, reconnection and contemplation.
Let's hope that the fuzzy feeling remains after we endure the second week, the 10th week or the 25th week of shutdown. As the shutdown inevitably becomes more restrictive, many of the outlets we still have – whether it be walks or drives – will likely be forbidden. Let's hope we have the inner strength and resolve to cope with the drastic change in lifestyle that's been foisted upon the country. At this point, we have no other choice.

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