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Israel Starts New Year with New Lockdown
The traditional New Year’s gift of wine is not making much of a holiday splash this year. (Courtesy IsraWines)

Israel Starts New Year with New Lockdown

With a second nationwide quarantine about to start in Israel, businesses are hurting and Jews are making last-minute changes to their holiday plans

As Israel enters the High Holy Day period, when it is believed that the fate of Jewish people is determined for the coming year, many fear that the second nationwide lockdown imposed for the period will bring new job losses and pay-cuts even as it lowers coronavirus infection rate and saves lives.

The lockdown of at least three weeks, designed to flatten the coronavirus infection curve, starts on Friday afternoon, several hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown. The confinement period continues through Yom Kippur, 10 days after Rosh Hashana, and the subsequent, days-long festival of Sukkot, traditionally a time for traveling around the country.

Israel reported its highest number of new cases on Wednesday – more than 5,000, which is a thousand times higher than four months ago on May 16, when just five new cases were reported.

The official announcement of the lockdown on September 14 gave Israelis four days to find alternative ways to mark the holidays while complying with coronavirus guidelines. Many are simply hoping that the New Year will be better than the previous one.

People are stocking up, but only on essential items. While Rosh Hashana is traditionally a time for buying wine and giving gifts, Israelis are spending less because they have less to spend or fear they will soon have even less.

“I’ve had a drop in interest in the last week or so since the lockdown [was announced]. All the wineries I work with are really upset,” Adam Scott Bellos, chief executive and founder of the Tel Aviv-based IsraWines online wine store, tells The Media Line.

“Store sales are down in the wine industry in general, and a lot of these wineries [have been] making their money by people visiting,” says Bellos, who also founded the Israel Innovation Fund, a non-profit that invests in new businesses.

“This could be extremely detrimental to the wine industry,” he says.

This could be extremely detrimental to the wine industry

Bellos notes that drinking wine is “a great way to get through” the lockdown and thinks sales could increase after it begins.

“I’m hoping [that] during lockdown, business will pick up for us for wine and delivery, but I really can’t predict the future,” he states.

Sam Cohen, owner of the brick-and-mortar Shahar wine shop in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, is also concerned about the future.

“Look around,” he tells The Media Line this week in his store.

“You see it’s empty. It’s not busy because of corona. People just don’t have money,” he laments.

It’s not busy because of corona. People just don’t have money

“Sales are much worse than last year. I would say [they are down] between 50% and 75%,” he says.

Israelis are also buying fewer holiday gift boxes of honey and other sweet items, which are customary for Rosh Hashana.

Down the street from Shahar, there is a branch of the Anise health products chain, where Liat Zeevi is putting unsold gift boxes on a table outside. Behind her, the store is deserted.

“People are buying, but it’s definitely less than last year,” she tells The Media Line.

People are buying, but it’s definitely less than last year

Yael Or, who owns Momento Sorpresa, a small business that specializes in gift boxes, agrees that sales are off at a time when business should be booming.

“People are not buying much,” she relates to The Media Line. “I think they are nervous about their money. They do not know if they will have work tomorrow and they prefer to save for necessary expenses.”

One of Yael Or’s gift boxes. (Courtesy Yael Or)

The shutdown will also halt the delivery of some of her goods.

“With the second lockdown, I have lost even more business because I cannot go out and deliver these packages,” Or says.

With the second lockdown, I have lost even more business because I cannot go out and deliver these packages

The mandated closures have been forcing people to change how they celebrate the holiday while complying with the rules.

Sara Friedman of Tel Aviv is holding a Rosh Hashana meal early this year so that her entire family can celebrate together.

“It’s a little bit rushed, but what can you do?” she tells The Media Line.

While some people are working around the rules, others say they plan to disregard them.

Naomi, a resident of the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan who declines to give her last name, plans to visit friends throughout the lockdown period. While most of them live close by, she says she also intends to visit former roommates in the northern port city of Haifa for a few days.

“I don’t care what the government says. They can’t do anything right,” she informs The Media Line, noting, too, that “Israelis aren’t good at following rules.”

I don’t care what the government says. They can’t do anything right

For people like Ashira Abramowitz of Jerusalem, Rosh Hashana will not be much different from last year.

“I think there will be the same holiday energy because the holidays are important to my family, and we have our traditions,” she relates to The Media Line. “I don’t think it’s such a big change; we’re doing the same things – just at home.”

For those who have little family in Israel, this time of the year can be hard – and being in quarantine can make it even more difficult.

“A lot of my friends are like me: We sail solo as mothers and we don’t have a lot of family here,” Lauren Adilev tells The Media Line.

“There are some Israeli families who are piling in before lockdown so they can all be together,” says the Efrat-based owner of Turn Write This Way, a boutique content agency, and Clutter’s Last Stand, a decluttering and home organization service.

“For me, the holidays are always a little bit hard because of not having any family and knowing that people have big families. And now, you can’t even get together with friends…. That’s really hard,” Adilev states.

For me, the holidays are always a little bit hard because of not having any family and knowing that people have big families. And now, you can’t even get together with friends…. That’s really hard

She will miss certain aspects of the holidays that she has waited for all year, she notes.

“What’s more difficult is that we can’t take a trip during Sukkot, like last year, when my son and I went to the Police Heritage [Centre] museum in Beit Shemesh and really enjoyed it,” she says.

“Usually on Rosh Hashana… a family graciously has me over. I always look forward to that, and it’s not possible this year,” she continues. “The tone is a bit more somber than it is festive.”

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