With Greater Sydney in lockdown the past two months, The AJN speaks to six members of the community, who are part of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ vaccination campaign, about how they and their families are coping, and what their vaccine message is to the community.

Evan Zlatkis
The Australian Jewish News
23 August 2021

Talia Ben-Menashe
Psychology graduate

AS a 21-year-old, the pandemic has drastically changed my life. In January 2020, just before COVID started, my brother and my dad moved to Israel. It was my intention to go and visit them and the rest of my Israeli family that November. When the situation worsened across the globe, I realised there was no certainty. It’s been one year and seven months and still no possibility of travel.

Out of the family members left in Sydney, I can only see my mum, who spends half the week at our place and half at her partner’s place. My sister lives out of home. Last October my grandfather died and half the family couldn’t attend his funeral. My grandmother is now alone in her apartment.

Aside from the difficulties of family separation that I’m sure everyone is experiencing, my social life and mental health are suffering. I finished my undergraduate degree and then lost my job. I am missing my friends a lot. I am now immersing myself in the news, which I never thought I would do. It feels like I’m on first-name terms with Gladys and Dr Kerry! Unfortunately, it is mostly bad news, day after day. At this point in my life, I should be travelling, making new friends, going to bars and enjoying live music. It feels unnatural to be so far removed from the social life that I used to have. The only two people I am able to see right now are my mother and my partner.

At this age, partying, going on dates and various social events are so important. Having those taken away has really affected my headspace. I feel worn down, demotivated and disconnected.

We need certainty again, we need structure again, we need socialisation again.

We need to get vaccinated so that we can get out of this mess!

Stella Dvuchbabny
Registered nurse

THE life of my husband and I did not change much as we are both essential workers. He works in Montefiore Home and I am a nurse in Sutherland Hospital.

The hardest part for us so far was the fact that we could not visit my terminally ill father-in-law in Israel and he passed away last week. We sat shiva here, with the rest of the family in Israel. My husband received a lot of phone calls from everywhere and it was heart-warming, but friends’ hugs and extended family’s presence was deeply missed. In times like this the importance of one’s family and community can’t be underestimated.

I am a dialysis nurse, not a front-line worker. My duties did not change dramatically since the beginning of COVID. Someone who is familiar with dialysis treatment knows that a dialysis setting is a very family-like place for our patients and staff alike. Dialysis is a life-preserving procedure, our patients must attend the treatment three times a week. They simply can’t afford to stay in the safety of their homes to protect themselves from the virus. We make all efforts to keep the unit a safe place for all by strictly adhering to everyday changing rules that can sometimes be confusing. All the staff and the majority of the patients had their jab in order to reduce the infection rate, prevent severe symptoms of the disease and in hope to return to normal life, where we all can meet and hug one another.

My advice to people is to be sure that this time will pass, but for now, if you feel lonely or need any help please reach out, there is a lot of communal support available.

So stay positive and get vaccinated!

Dr Justin Koonin
President, ACON Health

I FEEL really lucky that I have a safe place to shelter, plenty to eat, and am able to work easily from home. Not everyone in our community has this, much less internationally. I live alone and it’s great to have my own space at this time, but it also comes with challenges. I miss seeing people – especially my parents, who live on the South Coast.

Fortunately work has kept me busy, and I am also somewhat involved with the COVID-19 and broader health response, both locally through the communities ACON (AIDS Council of NSW) serves, and internationally through the World Health Organisation. So I definitely haven’t been bored, and it also helps to feel part of the efforts to move forward, rather than sitting on the sidelines.

Getting vaccinated is also part of that. I’m doing it because I want to be part of the solution which gets us to some semblance of normalcy. I want to be able to visit my family and friends, and not feel that I’m putting them – or myself – at risk. COVID-19 can be a serious condition at any age. Why would we, as a community and as a society, want to risk it?

Despite the challenges we are all facing, I hope we can reflect on the privilege we enjoy. There are many parts of the world facing far more deadly outbreaks, with far less resources to tackle them. COVID-19 has shown us how interdependent the world is. None of us will be truly safe until all of us are safe. As a community which has known what it is like to face adversity on so many occasions, I hope we can be at the forefront of the call for global equity.

Julian Leeser
Federal MP

LOCKDOWNS have been challenging once again for people in NSW and across the country.

As the Federal Member for Berowra, it has been my primary concern to make sure my constituents are provided with access to the financial and mental health support they need to get them through these difficult times. From parents homeschooling, to year 12 students studying for their HSC, to businesses trying to stay afloat, as I have talked to constituents during this time, it has been clear this time is testing our resilience.

One of the things we can do to help is get the vaccine. I’m proud that my electorate has one of the highest rates of vaccinations in NSW. I have had both jabs to protect my family, our community and so that I can see my wife’s 95-year-old grandmother when restrictions ease and because it is my duty to my fellow Australians. I am encouraging everyone in the community to be vaccinated to keep this momentum going and so we can get back to normal.

Life in lockdown has looked like virtual Parliament and community Zooms. There has also been plenty of firsts – just last week I was the first Federal Member to have a report tabled and to give a tabling statement virtually, for the final report for the inquiry into Australia’s Skilled Migration Program. The work continues as we look to Australia’s post-pandemic recovery.

As a family, lockdown has given us more time together. Joanna and I are teaching James, our three-year-old, about posting drawings to relatives especially those who live alone or don’t have FaceTime. Australia Post has great stamps that James loves with cartoon characters on them.

I hope you are making the most of spending more time at home with loved ones. Support is available if you need it – don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton
Chief minister, The Great Synagogue

I EXPECT most of us have been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster as lockdown 2.0 set in: first apprehension then disbelief, disappointment, anxiety, uncertainty, confusion and pessimism. I certainly went through these emotions, and others, as I thought about the impact on my family and my community.

Since then activity has been a great help, and The Great Synagogue certainly provides a large scope for that. We have held Zoom and Facebook events, I have called congregants and gone for walks with them, and of course there have been plenty of meetings within the shule and with others across the community to prepare for a very unusual Yom Tov.

I received my vaccination through a government scheme via the Board of Deputies to encourage a large take-up of the vaccine. I was very happy to take part, not only because I was able to receive the vaccine myself, but more importantly because it is clear that very large-scale vaccination is the only way we are going to avoid sickness and death and eventually get back to normal life with all its joys.

There is still real cause to be hopeful. I still believe we will avoid large-scale illness and death through COVID-19 here in Australia, and the vaccination program is now progressing at a tremendous rate. If you’ve not yet booked your vaccine appointment please do so soon, and stay strong because we will get through this.

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Emanuel Synagogue

LAST lockdown I wrote a “to do” list which included: “bake bread, learn guitar, cook nutritious meals every night for family, clean house (even behind the couch and places people don’t see), do yoga (including learning to put my leg behind my head and look happy) and post on TikTok…” you get the idea.

Of course, I did not achieve any of the things on my list and I felt terrible, like I did not “do lockdown” well.

This lockdown, I decided to throw away the list. Things seem a little harder this time around, more challenging, so I have made an effort to be more kind; not just to others but also to myself.

I think we are often very good at giving others the benefit of the doubt, being gentle with them, but forget to do it for ourselves. So, I have tried to remember that just getting through every day, is a huge achievement and is enough.

The Shabbat continues to be a haven and a sanctuary. A time of the week when I notice the day of the week, am more mindful and present to my family and congregation. Connecting with community through online services has been a true blessing, hearing and singing the music of Shabbat, listening to inspiring words, sharing Torah and life moments from the week has been especially important.

Also trying to get outside every day and walk, noticing the changing nature as I walk by, feeling the breeze, the sunshine, the moonlight and sometimes the rain. I am so grateful to have been vaccinated and can’t wait until we can gather again but in the meantime we feel the presence of community in many different ways and when we are able to be there for one another, we know we can weather this storm together.