By Ilana Shtutland, originally published in Hebrew by Ma’ariv
The biblical proverb “better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” has gained added significance in these days of lockdown. While ordinary neighborly relations might consist of a simple “hello” in passing, the coronavirus has taken many such connections to a new level – promoting mutual support, close acquaintance, and helping one another. Suddenly, forced home by the pandemic, people have started taking an interest in the family across the hall or the neighbors above.
Yuval Katzir (38) and his partner Sarit live on the third floor of a shared building in Rehovot with their two daughters. The couple are members of Dror Israel’s Rehovot Educators’ Kibbutz. Kibbutz members live and work together to promote the values of social justice, peace and democracy in Rehovot.
Living on the second floor of the same building is Feya Meyvar (78), an instructor at the Adler Institute. “We’ve been living as neighbors for three years but we’ve barely met,” Katzir said. “Our interactions consisted of saying ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ in the elevator. My friend from the kibbutz runs a volunteering program in the city called ‘Isolated but not Alone.’ She gave me a telephone number of someone living in our building... and it was Feya.”
“I needed my medication,” Meyvar told us. “About three weeks ago I got a phone call from Yuval. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“First of all, it’s been a lot of fun and a pleasure to meet Feya,” Katzir said. “I went to bring her medicine, and since then we’ve spoken once or twice a day. For everything that needs a trip out of the house, shopping or whatever she needs, I help Feya. I bring it to her and leave it next to her door. Sometimes we see each other from opposite sides of the hall. Even that has become nice and a sort of social event. Feya is a parenting counselor, so sometimes I ask her questions about how to be at home with my girls for such a long time without going crazy. We also talk about Israeli society, politics, and the coronavirus crisis.”
“The relationship puts me at ease,” said Meyvar. “My family is far away. I don’t have anyone to talk to or to ask for help. Now I know there is someone that I can send a text to or call and he’ll be there for me, and ask how I’m doing.”
Why do you think relationships like this don’t exist at more normal times?
Meyvar: “During normal times, people are distracted by their own lives and their own jobs. In times of crisis, people start to think more broadly. The coronavirus crisis is bringing us back in a way to how things used to be – when neighbors knew each other and left their doors open. Back then people cared about each other. Once, our society was more mixed, less separated than today. The mutual care that people used to show one another has been lost over the years as technology has developed.”
Katzir: “This Covid-19 thing is making people look inside. People go out less, many people are working from home. It is creating a situation where the people who live in your building are the people you wind up socializing with. Now there is a real opportunity to meet these people. It turns out that we really want and need closeness with the people nearby. Maybe these new relationships among neighbors will lead to some healing in our culture.”
Are you planning on continuing your relationship after the crisis?
Meyvar: “I hope that it continues and that Yuval will be a part of my future.”
Katzir: “I also hope that and believe that our relationship will continue. At the end of the day it’s easy to care about somebody else, and to pick up the phone isn’t such a challenge.”
Roei Drori (34) a youth leader from Petah Tikva, met an elderly couple from the building opposite his, Dalia and George Aharons, in light of the corona crisis.
"I received the phone number of a woman who was in need of help," Drori explains, "it became clear that the woman and her husband live in the building opposite me, and their children live overseas. I called, I asked her what do they need, I went shopping for them twice. I brought them the shopping, they opened the door, and we of course maintained a two-meter distance. They also had a problem with their internet, so I asked a friend of mine to help them with it. The relationship was reciprocal, for example, Dalia sews masks for me. I keep in touch with them by phone, if they need anything, they ask me."
Was it nice to meet your neighbors and discover new friends?
"Before the coronavirus struck I would get home late from work, so I barely got to know any of the neighbors. Now, lots have new things have been happening in our building. For example, we organized a neighbors’ choir event where we sang together from the windows, balconies and stairwell. Each person stood next to their door and sung. In my building, thanks to the initiative of some of the neighbors, we have started to get to know each other more. It has brought new life into our building."
What is it about this time of crisis that builds new relationships?
"We are all at home all the time, nearly everybody has stopped working. Now, if people want to get to know each other they no longer have excuses like 'there's no time because I get home late from work.' I wish that this was how new friendships and connections developed all the time. Suddenly you discover that there are a lot of interesting people around you. We're not just talking anymore about meetings for household needs."