On January 14, 2020 – exactly half a year ago – even Wuhan wasn’t yet under lockdown. There had been but a handful of reported cases outside of China, and for most of us “Corona” was – first and foremost – a refreshing beer. By February, COVID-19 was already starting to seem like a global threat. But while governments were desperately trying to piece together adequate responses, most ordinary people went on with their daily lives. Before long, however, everyone was checking the news incessantly, and looking for answers to a million menacing questions: How deadly is this disease? Is it just a bad flu or the end of times? Is COVID-19 going to affect my summer plans? Postpone the Olympics? Should we stop taking the kids to visit Grandma and Grandpa? Soon, masks and gloves were impossible to find. Hand sanitizer became the new gold standard. And sure enough, it didn’t take long before people all around the world started getting sick and dying in large numbers.
With all that’s gone on over the past six months, it’s easy to forget – or at least mis-remember – what it all felt like at the start. Our episode today takes us back to those early days of panic and confusion, and introduces us to two trailblazers – a nurse and a patient – who have no difficulty conjuring up the terror and uncertainty of that initial period.
Normally, Rachel Gemara is an oncology nurse at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. But back in March, she was one of a handful of nurses transferred to the hospital’s new COVID-19 ward, Keter. She worked day and night, wearing full protective gear, administering care remotely, and following strict isolation protocols. It was there, on a TV screen, that she saw Israel’s first coronavirus casualty – 88-year-old Aryeh Even – take his last breath. At the end of her shifts, she’d go home to her apartment, and recount her experiences on Facebook. In the prologue, she reads some of her Facebook posts, several of which went viral.
On February 28, 2020, Roni Bargill was about to sit down for a Shabbat dinner with his family. That’s when the phone rang. His COVID-19 test, he was promptly told, came back positive. Within minutes an ambulance whisked him away to the special COVID-19 compound at Tel HaShomer Hospital, where he was informed that he was now the seventh person in the entire country who had contracted the coronavirus. This news plunged him into a whirlwind of experiences and emotions. Yoshi Fields tells the story of one man who was thrust into the national spotlight, and became the reluctant – and remorseful – representative of a virulent virus.
The episode was mixed by Sela Waisblum and sound-designed and scored by Joel Shupack with music from Blue Dot Sessions. The end song, “Yamim Shel Kolnoa” (“Cinema Days”), is performed by ‘HaTov, HaRa VeHaNa’ara’ (Josie Katz, Benny Amdursky and Israel Gurion). The lyrics were written by Ehud Manor and the melody was composed by Shmulik Kraus.
Project Kesher is a non-profit organization that empowers and invests in women. They develop Jewish women leaders – and interfaith coalitions – in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Israel, deliver Torahs to women who’ve never held one before, broadcast women’s health information on Ukrainian Public Radio, and help Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel advocate for equal rights.
The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan in New York City provides great virtual programs, classes, and events for all ages, in a dazzling variety of areas including the Arts, Fitness, and Jewish Life.