Empty Shops, Broken Hearts
A quick walk outside our Jerusalem offices reveals the sad effects of the corona crisis
The pandemic is hitting Israel hard, it’s no secret. And it’s far more noticeable during this second nationwide lockdown. Over 900,000 Israelis are now unemployed, 66 percent of them women. What’s worse is that nobody now knows when the lockdown will end. Initially, it was said that the lockdown would be slowly rolled back following the Feast of Tabernacles. But last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that it would take longer, possibly up to a full year. Such a thing is difficult to grasp, but at present nearly 14 percent of all coronavirus tests are coming back positive. As long as this number does not drop dramatically, the lockdown will not be lifted.
Late last week I took a little stroll in the vicinity of our editorial office in downtown Jerusalem, and was shocked by how many shops have shut down on the once-lively Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall. Everywhere you look the same sign can be seen in dusty shop windows: “For Rent”. Jerusalem’s city center is being deserted one business at a time. What struck me is how much worse this economic situation is than what we went through during the Second Intifada, which began in the summer of 2000. At that time, buses were blowing up on a regular basis in Jerusalem, causing many people to avoid public places.
I can’t remember ever seeing so many shops closed. And everyone I talk to has simply lost hope. Just a one-minute walk from our office, on nearby Hillel Street, Haim the hairdresser has closed his salon after more than 20 years. “There’s just no point in renting shops in the city center anymore. The heart of Jerusalem is dead,” Haim (52) told the weekly newspaper Jerusalem. The same has happened to Tutti Frutti, Aldo, Alma Soups, Sea of Spa, Pizza Romana, Open Kosmetik, Liors and many others. Itzik, who had been selling Dead Sea skin cream on Ben Yehudah Street for years, has also moved out. “I’ve been standing alone in the shop for months and nobody comes. Zero tourists. I’m just losing money,” Itzik lamented. Like many other small business owners, he leveled harsh criticism at the government for failing to support and find a solution for this crucial part of Israel’s economy.
But this is not just a Jerusalem problem, it is a national issue. The situation is not easy and you can feel it, especially when you talk to friends who cannot make ends meet financially. It has an impact and it hurts, especially when you know them personally.
Jerusalem has been through many hard times in recent decades, but this time seems to be worse than all the others. “The coronavirus and the global pandemic have hit us worse than the Palestinian terrorist attacks ever did,” said the vendor from whom I occasionally bought my falafel. Now he’s moving out, too. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, and that has many falling into depression. And that’s just within the radius of our editorial office in the city center. The fact that we at Israel Today continue to work is a gift from God. But I want to believe and hope that Israel will survive this time, just as it survived the terrible years of the Intifada. In the end everything will be fine, the question is always how long do we have to wait for it.