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Passover on Lockdown

 

By the third week of lockdown I started to feel the isolation kicking in. I don’t know what made the difference; maybe it was when I started to feel pressure to make videos for synagogue school, or when I rushed to the local grocery store (on news of toilet paper) and found out that I was the only person not wearing a surgical mask (the cashier sold me some at the checkout counter, but by then I already felt like I’d been branded with the cooties). It was the first time I’d been at a store for a week, and it made me feel like hiding out in a bunker for another few months.

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“That works for us.”

I’m having a hard time concentrating, and sleeping, and my nightmares have followed me into lockdown. The anxiety seems to be creating weird attention deficit symptoms (ADD is not usually one of my diagnoses), and I’m having trouble focusing on any one thing for very long. I keep interrupting myself and jumping around from task to task, and then falling asleep for hours because I’ve exhausted myself. Even trying to write this essay feels like grabbing at thoughts trapped in helium balloons that are trying to escape out the window.

I’ve been outside a lot, because of the dogs, but we mostly stick to the backyard of the co-op. Most of our neighbors are careful about keeping ten or twenty feet away, instead of just six, but that’s what they did before the virus too. We walked the dogs up the hill one day, when I had more energy, but seeing the empty train station parking lot, and the empty streets, was disconcerting.

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Though some creatures like the wide open spaces.

I’ve spent hours on Pinterest looking for information on how to use Zoom, and Google Forms, and how to make and upload videos, and looking for games and puzzles and all kinds of things to share with my synagogue school students, on bible passages and Passover and moral lessons, but, you know, funny. And then there’s the time spent on Facebook and YouTube, which just seems to pass without my knowledge.

I’ve been exercising more than usual, trying to wear out the anxiety, and I found a murder mystery series from Australia starring Lucy Lawless (Xena Warrior Princess!), that was a lovely break from the news. But then I ran out of new episodes, and the panic returned.

We celebrated Mom’s birthday in lockdown, with a homemade chocolate chip yogurt cheesecake and lots of calls from family and friends. Oh, and I did the cleaning that day, not the next though.

We heard from my brother’s family for Mom’s birthday, and his wife, also a doctor on the front lines of this pandemic, said that my brother is doing more telemedicine than in-person ER work lately. Even if it’s not true, it was a nice attempt to reassure Mom that her baby boy is going to be okay.

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My brother’s the one on the left

Mom has been sewing constantly. First there were the cloth grocery bags (because New York forbade plastic bags at the grocery stores starting March first – great timing!), but then most of the stores loosened the rules on plastic bags, probably because they didn’t want us dragging our germy cloth bags through their stores, so Mom moved on to making cloth masks. The first prototype was thick and had a hepa filter in it and suffocated me, but the next design was easier to wear and only made my glasses fog up a few times, so now she’s making tons of them to send to family and friends.

I finally received my latex gloves from Amazon this week, so now I feel a little better about doing the laundry, because for a while there I worried that I was picking up germs from one doorknob and transferring them to another, and killing everyone.

I hear different estimates for how long we’ll be in lockdown. We are supposedly, maybe, in the apex of the thing right now, but who knows. We could get multiple apexes, especially if we leave lockdown too soon. At the very least, we’re going to be practicing social distancing, and wearing masks and gloves, into the middle of the summer.

The hardest thing for me is trying to forgive myself for struggling through this. My expectations of myself are always much higher than I can live up to, and now is no different. I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing enough, even on the days when I’m not doing much at all. And I hate the anxiety. I hate the way it makes my heart beat too fast, and makes me nauseous, and makes it feel like shards of glass are traveling through my veins and airways. And I hate the way it makes me so sure that everything is my fault and everything would be within my control if I just tried hard enough. My little yoga practice helps, sometimes, when the anxiety starts to tell me that I should be able to earn more degrees, and write more novels, and learn how to fly, during all of this free time.

Even Governor Cuomo, Mister tough guy, acknowledged that mental health has been an issue for him, and his daughters, and his dog. Exercise helps, and being heard helps too. Maybe that’s why he does a press conference every day.

Ellie likes to sit on my lap for our noon Zoom sessions with the clergy from our synagogue. One day I even brought a pair of scissors over, to trim the mats from her ears and tail, because those forty-five minutes are her most docile of the day, but I can’t imagine what the other people on the Zoom must have been thinking.

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“They were thinking that my Mommy is insane.”

Cricket prefers the streaming services on Friday nights, probably because we sit on the couch to watch those in our pajamas. That’s more her speed. She needs the rest after long days spent screaming at possible zombies, or squirrels, passing by our door.

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Cricket likes when the cantor sings to her.

I’m too aware of how well other people are adapting to the shutdown, and adapting to the technology, while I struggle just to keep my head above water. I watch as my fellow synagogue school teachers make videos and run Zoom classes, while I’m still trying to learn how to do Google Forms. I watch all of the videos people are making on Facebook, where they’re making chair lifts and fake snow hills in their backyards, or singing incredible duets, or making Covid 19 parodies to keep people entertained, and I feel like a turtle, no, slower than a turtle, more like a snail.

I feel like the kid standing ten feet behind the diving board, watching while everyone else lines up to dive in. And all of this is making me even more anxious about what happens once the shutdown ends, and even more changes take place in the world, and I need to keep catching up, or at least running behind with the stragglers, to prove that I’m trying to keep up, even if I won’t ever actually catch up.

I guess Passover is an appropriate time for this type of internal crisis. I am in the Sea of Reeds, waiting for God to part the waters. I jumped in with everyone else, because I couldn’t stand the peer pressure of standing on the shore, and because I didn’t want to be killed by the Egyptian solders rushing to capture us, but while everyone ahead of me has faith that the waters will part, or that they will be able to swim to the other side, I am treading water, barely breathing, and holding onto the tiniest bit of hope that I won’t drown.

We never hear that version of the story. We hear about the brave ones who jump in first and lead the rest to safety, or the evil ones who chase them into the sea, but I’m the type of person who jumps in because I see no other option, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’m already scared of what’s going to happen after we make it to the other side and have to then travel through the desert, which is full of even more unknowns. But I’m holding on anyway.

We had two communal Zoom Seders in our congregation, one for each night. They weren’t perfect, of course. Sometimes the sound dropped out, or the shared-screen froze, or people forgot to mute themselves. But we were brought together when we really needed togetherness to help us manage the fear and isolation. We have a virtual place to go while the real world is off limits, and I can bring my dogs with me to that safe place.

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So, yes, I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and feeling intimidated and not good enough, but I’m also feeling held and seen, and feeling like, just when I thought the bottom was going to drop out of the universe and send us hurling through space, we’ve created a magic carpet to catch our fall.

There’s a song that we sing a lot in our congregation, in Hebrew and English and in many different musical versions, but the line that resonates the most for me is:

“Spread a canopy of peace, a canopy of love, for everyone.”

And that’s what it feels like we are doing, with all of our Zooms and YouTube videos and group freak out sessions on Facebook. We are creating a patchwork canopy of peace for everyone to grab onto. It’s not like standing on solid ground, but when there’s no solid ground it’s a pretty damn good substitute.

Ellie and the Afikomen

“Okay, but what’re you gonna give me for this piece of Matzah I just found?”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

152 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your story and the anxiety being cooped up brings. I can imagine living in NYC raises that level to a much higher level for you. Hang in there. Sounds like you mom enjoys being busy. Stay safe!
    Dwight

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  2. I am sure that you are not alone in the attention deficit problem. I believe it is an indicator of the effect of ongoing low level background stress that is inescapable. It took me six tries to figure out the checking account balance. I kept freezing up and losing track of where I was.

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  3. Hang in there! We’ve got to be at least half way done by now. Easter has been strange on lockdown as well… to the point that I completely forgot about it and ordered lunch this morning while my mother threw her arms up and said “BUT I’M COOKING EASTER DINNER” (my family for some reason only eats one meal on holidays and usually not til like 9pm… not a religious thing just a poor time management thing!)

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  4. So much like me. Wow! I kept laughing at different sentences, But maybe there’s going to be an upside to all of this. Maybe. One can hope. Anyway, I keep wondering how to make people, and myself, feel better.

    Then I saw this comment in a NYT article today:

    “Frank-Walter Steinmeier [Germany’s ceremonial president] said in an Easter address to the nation this weekend that the pandemic was not a war, but a chance to reconsider what is important in life and recalibrate how society functions.”

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    • It’s a great opportunity for re-imagining our lives and priorities, but I’m not sure if we’re going to follow through. It would be wonderful if we could turn things around, though. Fingers crossed!

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  5. For me, the trick has been to just go with it and lower expectations for myself. Just getting through this lockdown is enough. I haven’t been working on my book — can’t concentrate enough — and I haven’t been able to exercise as much as I am used to. But, on the other hand, I am reading more and baking more (bread!! yay!! it’s been a long time!!). So, just be kind to yourself. We aren’t being graded.

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  6. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
    Romans 8:26

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  7. Keep strong. We are all in this together. Everywhere in the world. It will be OK. And you will be OK. The anxiety is the worst, especially when confined. If possible see if you can get some natural calming tablets from the local pharmacy.

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  8. This is a good time to tell your family members how much you love and appreciate them.

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  9. Do you like to dance? If so, please contact me and I would like to invite you – as a guest – to one of my Nia classes that I am having this month (and maybe longer if they let us) via Zoom. It is a cardio dance form of exercise that – if you like to dance – might help you feel good. I always read your posts and think you might like it, but have never had the opportunity to invite you to it, but now that so many people are “Zooming” I thought maybe I would be brave and ask you if you would like to join us. Please contact me to let me know if you are interested.

    I think all of us that are doing ANYTHING in this time of the unknown are doing great! So – YAY you.

    PS – loved seeing YOU in a picture. Such a treat for us!

    Reply
  10. Your dog is adorable.
    I wasn’t going to celebrate passover. Not this year. I had just moved and didn’t feel like it. At all.
    Then the guy who lives just across the street from me stood in front of my window and waved at me. And indicated he wanted to talk to me. I was fine being alone by myself and honestly didn’t want to get up from the couch, into my chair and then talk to a new neighbour. But I didn’t feel like I had much choice, so I went to the door.
    First thing he asked: Are you Jewish?
    I froze. Had a near-heart attack. You never know these days. I nodded. “Yes.”
    “Do you need anything for Pesach?”
    He said he was sorry he couldn’t invite me over to celebrate with him and his family, but this year it wasn’t safe, but if I needed anything… And so he made sure I had everything I needed to celebrate passover. And I celebrated. And looked out of the window, at his house, where I knew he’d be celebrating too. I never felt more connected – even though I was alone.

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  11. Rachel this post is incredibly beautiful. You express so well what we are all feeling at one point or another, or at several points along the way. I personally feel like I’m in a loop. Worry – breathe – write – be mellow – worry – breathe – write – be mellow…. Stay safe in NYC. You have a competent governor!!

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  12. Thank you for sharing your feelings !!

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  13. I like the idea of a canopy of peace, a canopy of love. Thank you for that imagery!

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  14. I hope your dog was able to make a good trade for the Matzah. I know many are struggling, if not suffering, at this time; but at my best, I take one story at a time. I’m sorry for the difficulties you’re experiencing. It’s wonderful that you and your dogs and the rest of your family are involved in taking part and contributing to the life in your community. I must admit, I know next to nothing about the technologies being used, though my family wants to arrange a Zoom conversation sometime soon. My recent challenge has been to be sick with something else and trying to get that treated. It was not a good time to find out that the insurance company providing medical assistance changed everything about my plan. As of yesterday, I got the medications I should need and hopefully will be on the mend.

    I don’t like to use the i-word (psst, it’s isolation) because at present it has a cooped-up connotation. But it’s what we have for now, I guess. I open my windows a little, even though it’s cold, to keep some air moving through my life.

    We can only hope this ends soon, that scientists will find a cure, maybe accidentally the way Fleming discovered penicillin. In the meantime, I hope you and yours stay well, especially your brother serving as a front-line healer.

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  15. I want to, but cant “like” your post, “Triggered”. It’s sad and depressing. 😦 But I wanted to say, “Hello” anyway. Don’t worry, Rachel. Your away from that now. Now you can be your own person!

    Reply
  16. Absolutely! Lockdown has affected us all in one way or the other. This crises will pass soon.
    Thank you!and regards to you and you liking my blog means a lot for me.
    love love love

    Reply

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