A Working Mother’s View of Rosh Hashanah Amid the Pandemic

Buckle your seatbelt for this revealing look at one young mother’s struggle to survive in Israel

Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90

According to various reports in the media ahead of the Jewish High Holidays, Israel just recorded 6,576 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, despite the existence of the booster shot campaign. This means that there are now 79,650 active coronavirus cases in Israel. As a working mother of three small children, age 3 to 6, these statistics concern me.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned there could be another lockdown this Rosh Hashanah if the fourth wave of the coronavirus is not brought under control. Already, the Israeli government imposed fresh restrictions on IDF soldiers. This makes many ponder, what could happen next?

Throughout this pandemic, anytime there was a lockdown, women were disproportionately more likely than men to lose their jobs or to cut down the amount of hours that they work. I am no exception to this general trend. Prior to the first lockdown, I was working four different jobs. However, I lost two out of four of these jobs due to the economic crisis that accompanied the pandemic. For six months, I had a reduced workload and was forced to juggle working with taking care of three small babies while living in a construction site, as they were in the process of adding balconies on our building when the first lockdown started.

Imagine what it is like to work while being locked down with three small crying children, who were all afraid of the noise that was caused by the construction work. This is how I lived during the first lockdown. While my mother-in-law did come to take the children half of the day, I still felt as if I was going mad due to merely having to live like that half of the day.

View of the entrance to Jerusalem during a lockdown, April 15, 2020.

I was also extremely depressed about what happened to two out of my four workplaces, and to see that my productive professional work was getting replaced by childcare responsibilities. Now, one can only imagine how parents who do not have grandma to help them in that situation must have felt. I have a friend who did not have grandma to help her, and she had to stop working entirely during each of the lockdowns.

As Israel’s Women’s Network noted, “In a reality in which women bear the burden of unpaid care work and their status in the labor market is considered lower than men’s (women earn less, work more in part-time jobs and in sectors that lack job security), they are the first to lose their jobs. At the same time, they carry an increased burden of caring for children, adults, and other dependents when state care and educational institutions are closed. Data from the Israeli National Insurance Institute (parallel to social security) illustrates this with 58% women compared to 42% of men among the new unemployed workers during March 2020.”

During the second and third lockdowns, I was a bit luckier than I was during the first lockdown. Prior to the second lockdown, I was able to find work to replace the two jobs that I had lost. During the second lockdown, I was pregnant, and the doctor declared me to be at high risk of losing the baby, so I was placed on bed rest. While on bed rest, I was able to work from bed without childcare responsibilities and I did not even feel the second lockdown, as my husband was an essential worker and I was entitled to childcare, as I was deemed too ill to take care of the children. In the end, I had a miscarriage, so I was not able to save the baby anyways, but at least that high-risk pregnancy served the purpose of me not feeling the second lockdown. From a psychological perspective, that was very important.

I had the coronavirus during the third lockdown. I was placed in quarantine and was ill, so I did not even feel the effects of the third lockdown to the extent that a healthy person would. Childcare responsibilities were dumped on my husband, as it was feared that I could infect the children if I got too close to them. While my husband finished lockdown one in good spirits, as he left every day to work in an essential industry and did not stay locked down on a construction site like I did, lockdown three deeply depressed him and to be honest, he has not been able to psychologically recover from it since.

To date, my husband still has a visceral reaction to the children’s programs he was forced to play over and over again on the TV in order to ensure that the children did not violate my quarantine. He is also greatly saddened that he lost an aunt to corona and another uncle for another reason around the same period of time that me and his parents had corona. This was added to the trauma of losing a brother in a car accident and two other cousins in two separate terror attacks. And now, his mother who survived the coronavirus just broke her shoulder and is out of commission, thus meaning that if there is another lockdown, we are on our own. Due to this situation, he is too depressed to go anywhere, and it is hard to convince him to leave the TV set in our living room to do anything but the essentials of working and taking care of children.

As for me, I have started to hate my home with great passion, after being locked up there so long. For this reason, soon after lockdown three, I started to work from an office in addition to getting a swimming pool membership and gym membership to ensure that I stay out of the home as much as possible. I also traveled to Azerbaijan and got tickets to visit my family in America this November, for the first time since the coronavirus crisis started. It has been over two years since I saw my family last. Considering that, I am going to see them, regardless of the corona situation.

At this point, after surviving corona and getting vaccinated, I am more scared of getting locked up at home than of potentially getting the coronavirus. From my point of view, it is better to maybe get sick with mild symptoms than for sure go insane, which is what another lockdown would do to us. I would not have survived the last three lockdowns without childcare help and now since I am completely dependent upon day-care facilities given my mother-in-law’s situation, I simply cannot afford to have them shut down for any reason. And believe me, I am not alone in these sentiments.

The State of Israel has still not psychologically nor economically recovered from the last three lockdowns. It was recently reported that tens of thousands of Israelis could go without food this Rosh Hashanah, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis still remain without work. According to some estimates, as many as 155,000 Israelis remain impoverished due to the pandemic. At the peak of the pandemic, one million Israelis were out of work, yet far too many have not been able to return to the work force.

Volunteers prepare food packages which will be distributed to people and families in need.

Esther Ben Shalom, who works for the Association for the Preservation, Documentation, and Research of the Society of the Culture of the Jews of Yemen, told Israel Today that her organization is trying to help poor Israelis of Yemenite origin: “We now are trying to assist families, single mothers and young girls who need help, as well as old people. We help people who became unemployed because of the corona.”

“We get their name from the unemployment office,” she added. “We have more than 700 Yemenite people all over Israel, from Be’ersheva to Nahariyya in need of assistance. All over the country, we send them a note and then they gave us names, and we send them food stamps to buy food in the supermarket. We send them based on their needs.”

If there is another lockdown, these numbers will rise drastically once again. Furthermore, it would literally screw over my family. My husband’s mother presently relies upon relatives to cook and clean for her, as she cannot do these things herself with a broken shoulder. Most of the relatives who help her don’t live in Netanya. Presently, we are rotating between me and her sisters that live in Nahariyya. However, if there is a lockdown, who will help her? Only me.

Furthermore, despite the fact that I have to help take care of my mother-in-law and care for children from 5pm onwards, I am still managing to work since we put all of our children in day-care until 5pm and I merely continue working late-night when needed. However, if the daycares shut down and my cleaning lady is blocked from arriving, how will I manage to both help my mother-in-law ahead of Rosh Hashanah with all of the cooking that must be done for the holiday and take care of my children and work at the same time? How exactly? I am not super woman.

And I am not alone in these sentiments either. My story represents countless working Jewish American women who made Aliyah and did everything to pursue a career in the Jewish state while raising a family at the same time, thousands of miles away from their parents and extended family. For this reason, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, I have one hope and one desire, and that is that there will not be a fourth lockdown.

On Rosh Hashanah every year, we celebrate the creation of the world. Here in Netanya, every Rosh Hashanah, we go to synagogue and do a special Rosh Hashanah holiday seder with family and friends. During the last lockdown, we did not go to synagogue and our Rosh Hashanah Seder was far less festive. I hope and pray that last year’s Rosh Hashanah won’t be repeated.

I am a woman of faith. I believe that each of us was brought into this world with a purpose. We were not created merely so that we could be locked up at home and sit in front of the TV like zombies. We were created so that we could work and be productive, to raise families and to bring them a bright future. If we are locked down, how can we pursue the mission that G-d gave us? How can we maintain our mental health and follow such brutal anti-humanitarian lockdown laws?

If we force our children to be distant from other children, to be deprived of an education, to not go to the park, the sea, the cinema, the theater, the swimming pool, and other normal childhood activities, then how are we providing a better future for our children? If we force adults to be with their children at home instead of productively working in their respective fields to make the world a better place, how are we fulfilling G-d’s mission on earth?

Believe me, lockdowns are a policy that is pursued by those who lack faith. For when you trust in Hashem, you trust that you will pass this tribulation, that everything happens for a reason, and you won’t waste a moment of your precious time locked up at home. And on that note, I wish you L’Shana Tova and pray that Prime Minister Bennett will wise up and avoid a fourth lockdown.

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