1st Place: Gaby Aizenman (fiction)
Runners-up: Fonda Dubb (non-fiction) and Lennie Lurie (non-fiction)
by Gaby Aizenman (March 2020)
I’m really excited but also quite nervous. Tomorrow my life is going to change quite dramatically. It’s the dawn of a new decade, and tomorrow I get to see my grandparents face to face for the very first time.
That is, for the first time that I can remember. I am told that in the first two months of my life they held me close and cuddled and loved me, just like Mom and Dad do, and my big brother Jamie. And of course I know my Granny and Grampa really well: we talk every day and Granny reads to me and shows me the toys and jerseys that she knits. A few days later the toys arrive at our gate, like everything else – food, supplies, school equipment …only Dad is allowed to meet the white truck at the gate. A man in protective clothing puts our parcels, wrapped in a shiny material, on the pavement. Dad also has to wear protective gear when he goes to collect the parcels. The shiny stuff is removed and the man puts it back in the truck and drives away. Dad brings the parcels to the outside porch where he sprays them with a disinfectant. Then we can unpack the groceries and clothes and books and toys. Dad, as well as running a business from his study, volunteers as a delivery person, so he gets to go outside the gate and to drive around in a white van.
He tells us about the places he drives past. “The Jacarandas are in bloom”, he might say, and then open a link to photos of huge purple- blossomed trees littering the empty streets with carpets of mauve, the rabbits and mice scampering about in glee. Sometimes he “loses” a parcel – leaving it where the silent, ravaged, homeless people who somehow survived the virus, can claim it.
I know that we’re privileged to live in a spacious house with a garden, and that our parents are able to work online. We can play in the garden for an hour each day, if there is no wind, and we run and jump and scream, and ride our bikes up and down the driveway. In the mornings Mom homeschools us, and in the afternoons we do our own research, connect with Granny and Grampa, and play video games with virtual friends. On Friday evenings we have an extended family meeting on Zoom5 : each family lights the candles at the same time and we say the blessings on the wine and on the challah bread. I wave to my cousins and we pull funny faces at each other.
I am Zack and I am almost ten years old. I was born in January 2020, when my family were still mourning my great-grandmother (whose own childhood was shadowed by the Second World War of the previous century). They say that I look like her, and share her easy-going nature and positive outlook. All I have ever known is my home and garden, my parents and Jamie, and our two Cocker spaniels, Rudey and Politely. When I was a two-month old baby the world as they knew it basically shut down: the new virus surprised the sophisticated universe and changed the way of life forever, leaving millions of dead and instilling fear and humility.
Finally the dreaded virus has been eradicated and tomorrow for the first time we can leave the boundaries of our home unprotected. It’s kind of like that old movie, “Blast from the Past”, about the boy born in a bomb shelter built by his paranoid father, who believed that an atomic bomb had wiped out the world. The enormous difference, of course, being the internet’s unlimited supply of information and entertainment. I read a lot so theoretically I understand how it used to be.
Sometimes my mom gets sad. She says she misses her family, which is a bit confusing because besides having Dad, Jamie and I, she speaks to her parents and sisters on video-chats every day. Jamie, who is almost fourteen, has been sulking lately and doesn’t want to play with me. He covers his computer screen when I come into his room so that I can’t see what he is doing. Sometimes he refuses to talk to Granny and Grampa. Jamie remembers what it was like before. He has told me about visiting cousins and friends, going to the seaside, and travelling on an airplane to some of the places that Mom teaches us about. Mom shows me photos of crowded plazas and galleries; the videocams of present day show similar, but unpeopled scenes. You can see the empty, dry Trevi fountain in Rome, Italy with some wild deer grazing nearby. The famous statues are unblemished, other than bird droppings.
It’s tomorrow. The first of January 2030 : a new decade. We get dressed in our outdoor clothes. Dad backs the white truck into the driveway. There are no parcels or shiny material in the back. Jamie and I climb in and Mom shows us how to fasten the safety strap. The dogs jump in too.
Jamie is quiet. I do not know how to be. My only experience of travelling in a car is when I’m the virtual driver, zooming along the highway that unfolds on my screen, trying to avoid squirrels. (If you hit a squirrel you lose ten points).
The front gate opens and we are driving on the road outside. It looks the same as on my computer screen but so very different at the same time. I stare at the fenced houses, at the trees and the birds and the traffic lights, and at the other white vans. We pass tall buildings where they produce and pack the essential products. We stop to let a family of ducks waddle across the road. Then…we turn into a narrow street lined with real Jacaranda trees, and it is so beautiful that it takes my breath away. The trees are shaking off their last blossoms in the gentle breeze; lilac petals decorate the windscreen.
Dad stops at a grey metal gate, which slides open onto a paved brick driveway and a green lawn bordered by rows of yellow, red and orange flowers. We get out of the truck and nervously I approach the pretty, pink-painted house. Rudey and Politely go ballistic, barking and running around and around, stopping only to pee on every tree and shrub. And suddenly, standing in the doorway, there is Granny! She looks just like herself but I can see all of her at once. Mom makes a choking noise and stumbles towards Granny. The adults are all crying and hugging, and Jamie is standing next to me, neither of us able to move. I look around for Grampa, I have not spoken to him lately. Then Granny bends down towards me with her arms open, tears streaming down her cheeks. I allow her to hug me. She feels different, softer than Mom, with paper-like, thin skin on her arms. After a bit, I struggle free. I feel as if I don’t know her, even though we spoke yesterday.
Jamie suddenly laughs, and jumps up to kiss Granny; then he runs around the garden with the dogs and returns to fling himself into Granny’s arms. They hold each other for a really long time. We are all still standing in the doorway, and my eyes search the dim hallway beyond, wondering when Grampa will come outside.
I want to remember too. I reach out and carefully stroke the delicate, crinkled skin on Granny’s hand. With her other hand, Granny caresses my arm in response; it tickles, and I smile.
By Lennie Lurie
Prior to the imposition of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, my life as an independent English teacher was full and rewarding. I was teaching classes at a number of hi-tech companies which provided me with an overview of Israel’s impressive technological and scientific accomplishments.
Overnight the lockdown curtailed my teaching career and confined me to my home. I immediately realized that I would need to find alternate activities that would enable me to fill in my time more productively and meaningfully.
And so, as a start, I set myself the task of reconnecting with those ‘missing’ friends from the many groups of people with whom I had been associated with during the early stages of my life: school mates, scout troopers, South Africans volunteers who had served with me in the Israeli Defense Forces and fellow geology students at the University of Cape Town.
Thanks to Google and Facebook I succeeded in making contact with a number of individuals in each of these groups, and they in turn provided me with names and email addresses of others. In no time messages and photos began flashing around the world which understandably led to many happy surprises and much elation. Reconnecting again with these dear old friends has filled this tedious lockdown with so much more added interest and pleasure.
To ‘discover’ someone who was last seen at a matriculation examination in 1958, at an IDF military discharge event 60 years ago or at a graduation ceremony in 1969, is a truly remarkable and emotional occasion. Sadly, but inevitably, I also learnt that some of these old friends had passed away.
This reconnection with friends from the distant past has not only exhilarated us all but has stimulated us to begin making reunion plans in Israel or South Africa, with the added urgency of understanding that time is not necessarily on our side.
I have no doubt that these renewed contacts will continue, making my future both pleasurable and rewarding. The possibilities of reunions with these old friends are eagerly anticipated.
This scrutiny of my past, which demanded much reflection and introspection, has revealed a few negative aspects of my character, which unintentionally might have hurt members of my family, friends and students. While one cannot change past mistakes, it is never too late to ensure that such slip-ups never occur again.
I have therefore taken upon myself the challenge of ‘self-improvement’ – the need to be a more understanding, considerate and caring individual.
How odd it is that this horrific coronavirus pandemic has provided me both with the opportunity of reacquainting with a host of dear old buddies, but hopefully also making me a more amiable and affable person.
The challenge of life, with all its attendant risks and dangers, is to find out where one’s innovation, creativity and ingenuity might really lie – and flourish. Undoubtedly, Covid-19 is proving the classic example for such a challenge.
By Fonda Dubb
The week preceding the Corona in Eilat could only to be described as a Tsunami. Angry waves, high velocity winds and beaches badly damaged. And then came Corona and the lockdown. The army worked in shifts at the entrance to our building, from early morning to night, monitoring who was coming in and out, and checking temperatures. Food was supplied to us on a daily basis all the way from Bet Shemesh and later from Beer Sheva. The soldiers delivered the food to our front door always with smiles on their faces. Betty, head of Wizo in Eilat, saw to the distribution of the food, as well as bringing it to our building Diur Murgan, a retirement home. The prepared food was sealed very hygienically and tasted good . We were the first ones in retirement homes to be tested for Corona and we were allowed to go and sit in the garden but not venture outside.
My daughter was allowed to do shopping and visit me briefly. And I received called from Yafit, the social worker and Irena, secretary to the manager, to check in on me. All these acts of kindness intensified my gratitude. It was then that I appreciated how beautiful my view was of the King Solomon mountains with its ever-changing colours, from white to purple depending on the rays of sunlight reflecting on the minerals of the sand, and then I became more aware of the birds tweeting on my window ledge. Having more time to appreciate them without having to rush out for an event.
In a newsletter from Wizo, Betty offered assistance if I needed anything so I decided to phone her to see what she had to offer! Although Israeli, she is an English Teacher. Betty suggested and offered to teach me Hebrew every day for an hour every day as a volunteer. I’ve never had an ear for languages, even Afrikaans in South Africa. I once had to deliver a Magimix to a client, who’s name was Mrs Botha. I returned home with the Magimix telling my husband that Mrs Botha didn’t live there, Mrs Eie Booragat did, her name was written on a sign! Not able to speak Hebrew, has always causing misunderstandings, even the taxi drivers in Eilat plead with me to give up on Hebrew.
These lessons (done over the phone) as well as homework kept me busy every day. How fortunate I was still to have help from another Volunteer, a Pras Student from Telfed named Meira Fitoussi. Together, over the phone we recorded my life story. An American friend had once suggested that I should write my autobiography, but never got down to it. Now was the time so with Meira’s help I was able to do this.
How fortunate it was to have both these women volunteering and helping me stay productive and busy.
I can honestly say all these acts of kindness really helped me redefine myself.
I often made snap judgments, and was often sensitive to criticism. I realised that rather than focussing on “forgetting about me,” that it was much healthier to reach out to others, as others had done to me! This was quite a revelation!
To share as I did on Facebook ” the view from our window” experiencing and connecting with people, seeing their views, and hearing their stories was a wonderful experience. The flowers and roses shared from a friend, Maureen, on Facebook reminded me ” smell ” the roses and enjoy the gifts of nature.
The wonderful support from friends and family has been uplifting during this time.
And now we have to hold on to the lessons that we learned.
This experience has taught me an art called” “gratitude”, and I will cherish it.