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Inner resources after external isolation

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BENJAMIN BLUMENTHAL

Thursday, 19 March, started with those words, cutting short our much-anticipated Grade 7 marine day outing, and ended with the closure of our school. Many more schools would follow suit in the days to come.

By 08:00 the next day, school work was posted online, and by Monday, live Zoom lessons were in full swing, delivering real-time teaching to scores of excited pupils. Herzlia has been using online educational platforms like Google Classroom for several years, so the transition from bricks and mortar teaching to online learning was far more seamless than it was for most schools.

The days following the national lockdown would present a host of challenges, personal and professional, and no one would be exempt. They have forced everyone to face their reality, whatever that may be.

Mine is the fact that I’m a 39-year-old husband, father, teacher, and avid outdoorsman. What’s an outdoorsman, you ask? It’s someone who gets ratty if he hasn’t had his nature fix. Five weeks in a small flat (gulp!) – like I said, this lockdown was going to pose different problems for different people.

My garage has become my refuge, a therapy couch if you will. Equipped with basic exercise gear (mat, kettlebells, skipping rope, and punching bag), I’m amazed what can be accomplished in a small space. My afternoon workout is the carrot dangling at the end of every day. Each family member has their own workout time, giving important routine to our day.

A typical day in lockdown is something of a juggling act. My wife is also a teacher, so our online lessons take preference, with more mundane chores like eating and cleaning slotted somewhere in between. We take turns to cook dinner, take off the table, wash up, and end off with a family game.

At 20:00, we have a ritual of acknowledging the heroic work being done by essential workers. We clap and whoop from our balcony along with so many others in the neighbourhood, and for a short time, we feel unified.

After almost a monththree weeks under lockdown, we are trying to adopt certain principles which, through trial and error, seem to make living in cramped conditions easier. These include:

  • Some days are better than others;
  • Make peace with uncertainty because it’s going to be here for a while;
  • Try to be in the now;
  • Laugh at the whoopsies and irritations (we don’t always succeed, but it’s getting easier);
  • Take it one day at a time;
  • Be kind to yourself and to those around you, we are all sharing this space and doing our best in this extraordinary situation we find ourselves;
  • Make things fun (think Mary Poppin’s “spoon full of sugar”); and
  • Limit social media, it rarely leaves you feeling good.

I often think about a video I saw of Israeli politician and activist Natan Sharansky explaining how he survived years of imprisonment in a Russian gulag, four years of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Can a person cultivate that type of mental strength, or is it just a case of having it or not? There are days when I have limitless patience and feel grounded, and days when despair starts to creep in.

If this lockdown has done one thing, it’s forced me to look in the mirror and face myself, warts and all, and to smile and accept them with grace.

  • Benjamin Blumenthal is the head of Grade 7 at Herzlia Middle School, and a science and biology educator. He is married to Taliah, also a teacher. They have a young daughter.

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