Refections of 2020 – year of Covid-19

The year started out as usual, with regular work and personal routines in place. 

January was the anniversary of the 75th year of the Liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust. On January 27, because I was the author of Hidden Gold-a True Story of the Holocaust, I was contacted by CTV news to do a live television interview with Beverley Thompson. This interview would coincide with the live event being held in Poland at the Auschwitz death camp commemorating the 75th anniversary.

At work we were busy trying to make enough sales into the Passover edition of The Canadian Jewish News, but things were a little too quiet for what was normally our second busiest time of the year, which was only outdone by the Rosh Hashana new year edition.

There were murmurs about a virus that had broken out in Wuhan, China.Their wet markets carry exotic animals in cramped conditions, which people eat. These animals carry a whole host of diseases. The official story was the Coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, is a mutated virus, which originated in bats and jumped between species. Why these wet markets are still allowed to continue after the catastrophic result on our planet is beyond my ability to understand (don’t even get me started). 

The virus spread quickly in China. The first case to land in Canada was on January 22 when a man and his wife who had travelled here from China fell ill. He was admitted to Sunnybrook Hospital to recover. My sister Sarah and I were very concerned as Sarah was due to have surgery in a couple of weeks at Sunnybrook and we were anxious about the spread of this virus. Alas, the man recovered and was sent home.

By February 26, Canada had 12 confirmed cases and my sister’s surgery was over. She was home recuperating safe and sound. People were still going about their business. Our family was making plans for the Passover seder, which was to take place April 8. So many people had big travel plans for the summer and well into the fall. We had a big family birthday bash planned at a resort in Blue Mountain with five families. Life went on as usual, but there was always this coronavirus noise that buzzed in the background. No one really believed it was as bad as our media depicted. 

At work we were busy planning to partner with Liberation 75, a huge three-day convention, taking place in downtown Toronto, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I had booked a hotel room for two-nights as The CJN was to have a kiosk at the event. The itinerary was incredible. By the end of March the announcement came that the event would be cancelled and rescheduled when it was safe to do so.

On March 11, 2020 The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. Here in Canada we had about 146 cases, 59 of which were in Ontario. Three short weeks later, on April 1st Canada had approximately 9,700 cases. It was out of control and we were scared. 

At the office plans had already been put in place to work from home, a task that was not easy to achieve given our antiquated computers and programs. But we did it! The country was in lockdown and we were not sure our Passover issue would be delivered at all, so we had it delivered a week early. Our dedicated staff took turns coming in to produce the last couple of issues, with support staff working from home.

The last issue of The Canadian Jewish News was the April 9, 2020 edition. This time the paper lasted seven years since it had last closed in 2013. At that time it closed due to declining revenues and subscriptions, but this time The CJN suffered a much crueler death. It died of Covid-19. 

Suddenly my 41 year career at the newspaper was gone and I didn’t even have an opportunity to say goodbye in person to people I had worked with for decades. For me and most of my colleagues, that was the hardest part. We were a family. We spent more time with each other than we did with our own families. It was a sad and tragic way to end a career.

So after working my entire adult life, here I was at home, in lockdown with no routine and no idea what to do. In hindsight, this virus gave me the permission to do nothing for a while. I had never taken more than a couple of weeks off for decades. I didn’t realize how tired I was. Add fear of dying from this virus to the mix and I was all too happy to stay home. 

Masks and social distancing became the new normal. I am fortunate enough to live in a house with a fair size yard so I could have visits from family and friends safely in my backyard. We played music, talked, brought our own snacks and beverages – at least we were together. 

The number of cases began to come down. Canada was beginning to “flatten the curve,” a term that became an every day phrase. We all settled into a new normal and Zoom, a virtual video program became part of most people’s lives. It then became a verb and people were zooming for family gatherings, work meetings, virtual gaming, financial and doctor’s appointments and even religious gatherings. People saw their newborn grandchildren for the first time through Zoom. Our world became a no-touch place. 

Financially, our government stepped in as best they could. Businesses were closing and people lost their jobs. No money coming in meant people would lose their homes, not be able to put food on the table or pay their bills. We were in a financial crisis. 

Then the cold weather arrived and simultaneously people became Covid-weary. They were tired of not seeing family, postponing special occasions like weddings, not shopping, not eating in restaurants, not hugging and touching, not dating. They were tired of hearing Covid-19 updates every single day, nothing but doom and gloom. Many people rebelled. Some believed the whole virus was a hoax and others refused to wear masks to keep the virus from spreading. Some people chose to take their chances hoping not be one of the really sick Covid long haulers or not be one of those who ended up on a ventilator to die alone. Everyone had their own priority; their own agenda that fueled the numbers again. People in long term care and retirement homes were isolated from family and dying at a faster rate than the rest of the population. By late November our numbers started to climb again and today, December 31, 2020, Canada’s case count is 579,129 with Ontario’s numbers being 3,328 new cases.

On this last day of 2020, the total Coronavirus cases worldwide are 83,432,715 with a death toll of 1,819,039 people – moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents, cousins, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles and children. These were real souls with families who loved them.

2021 however, brings hope. We now have two vaccines for Covid-19 and a third one on the horizon. Last week they started inoculating health care workers. Eventually it will be my turn too, but until then I am staying safely at home, having my groceries brought in by Instacart, zooming with my family and friends and praying and hoping that the coming year brings us a warm spring where we can once again meet outside, and just maybe…just maybe…just maybe even hug someone we love. 

The CJN has once again been resurrected with our former editor Yoni Goldstein as editor and chief. They have a new, younger board of directors. Although it will no longer be the weekly newspaper that everyone looked forward to reading, it will still be a voice for Jews to connect across Canada. I’m hoping to continue writing my advice column Ask Ella in the new CJN.

As for me, I’m not sure what I’ll do. This is not how I pictured the end of my career. I thought I’d be travelling, taking new courses, learning new things, doing more writing, buying subscriptions to Mirvish theatre and Harold Green. I thought I’d be able to go for lunch in the middle of the day without looking at my watch every few minutes. I thought I’d work on my health and my mind. I’m hopeful that in 2021 all that will come to fruition.

I’m also looking forward to Hidden Gold being released as an audiobook on January 15, 2021 on all digital platforms. In November I worked with my publisher to audition performers to read the book. We found the perfect narrator Theresa Tova, a singer, actor, play-write and president of ACTRA completed the reading for the book and it’s fabulous. I can’t wait for people to hear it. 

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2021. Please stay safe for just a little longer. This nightmare is almost over. May all your dreams be fulfilled in this coming year.