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Living in NYC during the Corona Virus

A story of one family

Artist Zigi Ben-Haim

By Tsipi Inberg Ben-Haim

New York City, as always, had to steal the show! it’s leading the world in the amount of the people infected and dead!!!
No wonder that our family and friends around the globe are worried about us as we’re living in the center of the conversation in New York City. To be exact downtown Manhattan in the SoHo neighborhood. A strong reminder for them and us of September 11, 2001, we were a short distance away from the Twin Towers. Then, even family & friends from Israel called us anxious to know if we survived the terrorist attacks. Usually, it’s the other way around, we’re constantly worried about our people in Israel.

NYC coronavirus / From NY lady with love by Zigi Ben-Haim

Yes, the flashback was so strong that as soon as the government authorities announced that we’ll have to quarantine at home, I thought of our son Yori who was stuck in high school on the upper west side, on 9/11, and Luckily our neighbor Stephanie, who was driving from Columbia university offered to bring him home since all public transportation was closed. This time, with the virus as our enemy, I wanted to make sure that Yori is home with us. So when he arrived home earlier than usual, on March 13th, from a Netflix film production and said; we had to cut the filming short because the main actress said; she hasn’t been that anxious since 9/11. I immediately asked Yori to stay at home with us, instead of going to his apartment uptown. I wanted to make sure that no matter what at least we’ll pass this scary period together.

NYC coronavirus/ Yori watching tv. The number of dead or infected New Yorkers climbs up.

From that point on, It seemed like the anxiety was building up slowly but surely. So instead of writing multiple emails, and returning calls, answering the same questions again and again, I created a sort of a diary to share with everyone and to show them that we’re doing our best to stay Healthy, Hopeful & Safe…
Zigi, Tsipi and Yori Ben-Haim are locked in our home/Studio Loft in SoHo Since March 15th, 2020. Zigi, an artist, spends most of his time in his studio, the larger section of our Loft, developing a new series of paintings and drawings inspired by this unusual time of social isolation. And since the concept of his work has always been the environment, he has no problem working around the clock. Yori is helping Zigi out. He replaces Zigi’s assistants that can’t come to work in the studio.

NYC coronavirus / Zigi in his studio plans his next painting

For Yori, all film productions in NY stopped on March 13th estimating that they’ll continue in 2 weeks. A very upsetting turn of events and yet this period of time off created an opportunity for him to work on his sculpture that he started 2 years ago…
Watching the reports with NY Governor Andrew Cuomo or President Trump is a morning and evening ritual with our morning coffee and oatmeal that Zigi became a professional in preparing.

NYC coronavirus/ Yori watching the sad news on tv as the number of dead or infected New Yorkers climbs up.

In between, reading anything that got accumulated on the nightstand and especially the papers. Trying to catch some uplifting stories to balance out the most depressing tells…
On a daily basis, I’m trying to write some poems, something that comes so naturally to me with a positive outlook, now I find the negative thoughts creeping in and I stop writing. But there’s hope. It’s the international Poetry month, so eventually, I believe that I’ll spring to action.
The radio is on all the time on WQXR beautiful classical music that helps to take the mind away from the surreal times we live in.
On the hour they break for news, giving us a chance to catch up on any new events. Unfortunately, it’s usually who else died or another political fight or disagreement between the Federal leaders and state authorities.

NYC coronavirus/ Bravo time @ 7pm every night

WQXR also joined the 7 pm tradition of making noise and clapping hands all around the country. I join my friends From,
across the street, Vered Leib, Ellen Paul Zimet, Barbara Knight. We go out every night to the fire escape, our metal terrace, with our bells, pots, and pans. We call it our Bravo exercise that takes us out for some air.
As the founder, executive and creative director of a 30-year-old not for profit organization CITYarts, I continue to work on our public art projects from home on the computer and phone to prepare for the Summer when Youth will be on Vacation and will need to be occupied with something creative to do so they won’t get involved in trouble on the streets.
Unfortunately, we had to furlough our full-time staff employees, on March 22nd so I have to work with our board and volunteers, Preparing for life after Corona. So I have plenty to do…Unlike some people that say we go crazy with nothing to do…

NYC coronavirus / Tsipi prepares to go out shopping for food.

In the meanwhile, we continue with CITYarts Young minds build bridges program through which CITYarts invited Youth around the world to contribute a Piece for Peace. to continue to build on our collaboration with more than a 100 countries. We strongly believe in Thinking Globally and Acting Locally. So appropriate to this pandemic surreal situation. Here’s a link to Facebook and website.
I find time to connect with friends, having a drink virtually around 6 pm. Moments of delight that I try to plan in advance and keep doing… Marou my Greek friend who lives for a few months in Hudson, upstate NY is very disappointed in the easy-going atmosphere that some of her neighbors adopted. She’s seeing them having dinners in the hotel across the street as if life goes on as usual. For her, especially since she’s asthmatic, it’s a very scary sight.

A Chinese Roulette: We heard the sirens of the Fire trucks and the Ambulance approaching our street in SoHo it was for Siri Berg. she passed away that night.

Listening to the multiple reports coming at us from every angle, I feel sometimes like this Virus is playing on us the Russian Roulette in super speed. Is it a Chinese Roulette now?
On the eve of Passover, as we were preparing to seat down for our family Passover Seder, we heard the sharp sounds of the ambulance and a fire truck. They came for The artist Siri Berg who lives just across the street from us.

I saw the commotion through our window directly to hers. When they left empty-handed I felt relieved and thought that she must feel better. So I called her. The caretaker answered the phone and said: Siri just passed away. We felt very sad and notified her neighbors and family in Israel.
Siri was a minimalist painter, a tiny lady with a gentle smile and a great creative voice.

The SoHo Studio Loft of artist Siri Berg, that passed away on April 12 (Right across the street from me)

Zoom became a hit! Virtual celebrations seeing more than just 2 people.
Our friends Lesley & Even Heller escaped NY to Connecticut to be closer in nature and be able to walk around with ease. Her Dayan’s boyfriend who arrived for Passover Seder to visit them has to be Quarantined for 14 days in a house next door, so they did Seder on Zoom.
So did the architect Alex Gorlin who attended two seders. The first one with Rosalee and Dakota Jackson and the second seder with Dan Nir and Jill Braunfman, the head of -Achim L’Chaim, Brothers for Life.
Alex said” It was a surprisingly pleasant experience and guests from South Africa joined. It shows how friends, family, and Jews from the Diaspora can connect globally through new technologies.”

NYC coronavirus / Zigi poses for the camera

What do we talk about? The range of conversations is amazing. And what a change, we finally have time to have a conversation!
Before Corona, we talked in sound bites. We were too busy to catch up and we never Been able to catch up…
Constantly missing each other on the phone, meetings or simply socializing had to be rescheduled a few times, my calendar had a few events every night and during the day, back to back meetings.
Life was spinning out of control… Did Corona happened to slow us down??? This is one of the topics we dare to discuss. Almost feeling guilty that I enjoy waking up at 7 am and not run out the door for an early 8 am breakfast meeting. I remember attending a panel conversation in February, during the Art Show fair. A few gallery owners with art educators and art historians were complaining about the speed the art world is going. The art dealer Sean Kelly said, ” We feel as if we’re in an arms race,  we need to slow down…” I did contact Sean lately and kiddingly asked if it slow enough for him? he said: “No, I didn’t want this kind of slow down…”

“10001 days ” Project, by Zigi Ben-Haim, Created in 2009-2013 to raise awareness to the environment and health problems arising from the way we treat Nature. He forced the future

This days dinners became an exciting part of the day to look forward to, through the day. Talking about the variety of videos texts and ideas that are being sent from friends and new followers on Facebook, Instagram, tweet, LinkedIn, Whatsup and much more. Tech communications are taking over our lives but at the same time such a pleasure to share funny videos that are circulating the world. I received the same video on art from Yung in south Korea and Yona in Israel.
 Zigi built an Aluminum Taboon to be able to have a barbecue in the city ( watching it carefully). Fun time with the family, everyone is preparing a part of the dinner. Every night we watch a movie after the news. Choosing a movie without violence is almost mission impossible. Hopefully, this pandemic will inspire filmmakers to tell meaningful imaginative stories that lift us up.
Playing board games isn’t as popular as I hoped it’ll be, but we’re still taking it into consideration.

Zigi created a Taboon to have special dinners.

Zigi created a Taboon to have special dinners. He and Yori are working on the dinner.

When we go out, the preparation is a chore on its own. We’re covered up with glasses, masks, hats, and gloves. Returning home, we’re taking washing hands and social distancing very seriously.
Stories of good deeds come up constantly. Gives us hope and a renewed belief in the human race. to mention just a few.
My friend Dr. Miriam Adelson told me about the initiative of helping farmers in Israel with volunteers, who pick fruits and vegetables, through Hashomer haHadash, connecting through the SunDo app, which she supports financially. It has been so successful that they’ll be helping us do it in NY state.
Our neighbors Sylvia Cedeno and her husband artist, Bill Albertini, created in their SoHo loft a protective face covering with plastic glasses on a 3D printer.

Sylvia Cedeno and her husband artist, Bill Albertini, created a protective face covering with plastic on a 3D printer.

Asher Katz, who’s the representative of One Heart organization, at the Safra community center, provides meals and any other help needed for senior citizens and the poor people in NYC.
My friend, the film director, Barbara Kopple, who was invited to show her film Desert One, in the Jerusalem film festival in July, was postponed, for now, tells me about her son Dr. Nick Kopple, who treats COVID -19. patients. As he walks from his apartment to Mount Sinai hospital and back he says people are clapping hands and saying thanks.
So is our friend, the cardiologist Rony Shimony, who finds time to ask how we’re doing.

Tsipi, with film director, two-times Oscar Winner, Barbara Kopple

We received some masks from our friend Charlie Hollander, who stayed in Israel for the period of the pandemic. We’re giving them out to friends, neighbors, all the doormen in my office building and people in the public service including our Trader Joe’s favorite food store. They keep the shelves constantly full and the store very clean. Older people are always allowed to come in without standing on the long line. They let in only about 5 people at a time and you’re the only one that is touching your food.
NYC coronavirus / Subway card never seen so clean and empty

Subway card never seen so clean and empty

The streets of NY, the city that never sleeps, are practically empty like never ever seen before. Very eerie quiet in the air…Even during 9/11, SoHo was in the war Zone although terribly smelly  & smoky, was much more friendly…

NYC coronavirus / Broadway, Empty, like never seen before

Unfortunately, some stores,  Louis Vitton, Sephora, Dior & Dolce Gabbana, in Soho neighborhood bored their windows, stores with plywood.
What a gloomy site for us the residents who go out for picking up necessary stuff or simply for a little fresh air.
They’ll come because of these stores who don’t care about the community they only care about making money in a neighborhood that hard-working artists created from dark streets to an Iconic place.
It sends a message of, and quite frankly, an invitation for chaos, making the people of our neighborhood a target for looting and danger…
On the other hand, stores like Morgan Le Fay and SoHo wine, who started their business in SoHo in the ’70s, left a nice note on their door-we’ll be back… and their window displays visible like always.

NYC coronavirus/shutdown…

We’re all bracing for this Surreal Storm to pass. Looking inward for hope in the midst of darkness. Basing in the stories of animals and the natural world around us getting a dose of healthy peaceful time to rejuvenate. And, in the meantime, we must keep our sense of humor, innovative ideas and plan for the future after Corona. Believing in the creative power of art to help us get through it. As Picasso said; Art is a lie that helps us see the truth.

NYC coronavirus/Camper shoe store created a beautiful story collage in their windows.

Since we’re celebrating Passover, asking questions is definitely appropriate. The big questions, In the New Normal, will it change the way we’ll live our lives? appreciate or behave with each other? I discussed these questions with many friends including Shula Bahat who sent me a recording from Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. He talks about, what will happen when this is all over?  How much these times of uncertainty will become a meaningful time, the silver lining, especially for the young people the Bnei Mitsva who’ll hopefully become more appreciative of the Jewish traditions.

What an Uplifting site on my first day out Spring in Full Bloom

He asks “what kind of person each of us will be when we emerge from this social isolation? We had time to think and to reflect deeply to reestablish priorities in our lives. To appreciate the small things that make life worth living”.
Maybe we should start by appreciating what at the age of CoronaTime, became the most treasured need, be able to Breath!!!
With Love from New York
Happy holidays,
Stay Healthy and Hopeful,
Photo credit: Tsipi Inberg Ben-Haim, Wendy Nadler
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