Barbara Sofer

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Living online in times of coronavirus

By Barbara Sofer

May 8, 2020

No, I don't want a single badminton racquet when I ordered two. Unlike other items marked sold-out on your site, they were in stock. You must have sold one to someone else.

Can you hear the frustration in my voice?

It typifies a new and unfamiliar crankiness that has settled there, as we complete the second month of Elder Isolation, grandparents living in seclusion to hide from the coronavirus.

The new set of more liberal rules for us, the at-risk population by virtue of seniority, are actually more frightening. We might mess up now after keeping the strict rules, including a Passover Seder and Independence Day barbecue for two – unlike our disappointing national leaders whose flouting of the rules still incenses me.

From my window, I see that the streets are teeming with unmasked villains who could unknowingly infect us. (I'm working on my temper while counting the Omer. "Oh dear, I think you may have forgotten your mask at home" instead of "Do you know you could infect 59,000 people, you egotist?")

Even as shops and café take-outs open, mixing with crowds presents danger to us in the senior population.

I was so pleased to find exactly my grandchildren's desired gifts online in a Tel Aviv sports shop. In normal times, what is being called routine life – shigra – we'd take our grandkids to a mall and pick out gifts together. And then we'd eat.

Now everything must be done online. I'm not a technophile, but I'm not a Luddite, either. I've used the Internet for decades. When I traveled to the US, I sent orders ahead on Amazon, and made hotel reservations at Hampton Inns. I watch movies on Netflix. I pay bills and make contributions on my phone apps.

But when I sit down to order groceries or at-home sports equipment or vitamins, I'm expecting frustration. I recognize that it's partly a generational thing. My daughter Hadas, a busy psychologist and mother-of-four, has ordered her groceries online for years – her husband filling in the last-minute items before Shabbat. And she manages to be a gourmet imaginative chef without ever visiting a supermarket. I'm busy, too, but my style is more associative. I prefer picking my own persimmons and parsnips, to plan my menu after finding tri-colored quinoa or penta-colored carrots. I recognize what I like on the shelves, but when one of those phone surveys asks me to name five brands of pasta I flunk.

My old routine included a weekly shop at a supermarket plus quick forays to pick up specialty items. My late mother, who taught school in Connecticut, went to the supermarket five days a week, so I've been trained from childhood for this.

Non-food is worse. Although I've lived in Israel for nearly all my adult life, I am challenged searching in Hebrew for hula hoops, shuttlecocks, and foldable beach lounge chairs. Please don't ask me why I need them.

I recognize that the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in Israel coinciding with the coming of Passover wasn't the ideal time for me to acquire expertise in local online shopping.

And I'm appreciative that so many more stores are willing to bring my purchases to our third-floor daily-sanitized doorstep. Having everything delivered sounds grand, except that you don't always get what you've ordered and it often doesn't come on time.

My husband says I overreacted when the millennial delivery woman left seven (!) kosher-for-Passover cakes for the two of us on the sidewalk rather than phoning to find the entrance.

I'm impressed by the plethora of cultural offerings online. Who could have imagined ballerinas twirling in their living rooms, West End London on a phone screen, Torah classes complete with textual source sheets online? Thanks to Eric Yuan, we can get all together by Zoom without using a thimble of gasoline. Nonetheless, I haven't figured out why going from Zoom to Zoom has gotten so tiring or how sometimes seeing my family on Zoom leaves me mopey and not exhilarated.

Nor can I join the silver-lining aficionados who keep talking about how great this isolation is, how it provides quality time and how all the distance-ordering, learning, and watching will make our future world better. After all, we won't need to crowd into magnificent concert halls, read the body language of our colleagues at meetings or duck paddle balls at our beautiful beaches. I'll never be late for the elevating singing at my synagogue because a minyan now starts on a balcony outside our window.

Obviously, the source of my frustration isn't really about badminton racquets. Our grandkids aren't dreaming of becoming the next Srikanth Kidambi or Lin Dan. It appears that our offspring's' offspring are returning to school and will have less time for play in the park. The racquets are a replacement for their sleepovers and swimming lessons and the hugs I'm used to giving and getting back.

Beyond that, I suspect that the ultimate source of my weariness is being classed among the vulnerable citizens, and no longer the come-to-the-rescue-life-experienced grandparent of days of yore. Maybe it's a scary preview of an old age time to come, or God forbid, the fear that the coronavirus will sneakily get us if we let our guard down and we will no longer play a role in our loved-ones' lives.

It's easier to chase away these thoughts by ruminating on unfriendly websites and faulty deliveries. Or, in landlocked Jerusalem, to order beach chairs, (tip: search under the Hebrew for sun beds.)

The second racquet is reportedly arriving from Tel Aviv this week – belatedly found in stock. Srikanth Kidambi with a kippah, here we come!



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