The Jerusalem Post

Coronavirus: Musings of a baker in isolation

Pita bread (photo credit: JLOVESCOFFEE/FLICKR)
Pita bread

Isolation is different for a baker than someone who works with computers or say, customer service.

I don’t know about other bakers, but I don’t get around much. I frequently joke about how most of my time is spent in the “bunker” baking around the clock. The only time I really get to see people and the “outside world” is when I deliver breads around the country every Friday. Bakers are no strangers to burning the midnight oil and to solitude.
So perhaps we are more equipped to handle realities like the one I woke up to this week. I was ceremoniously informed that I had been exposed to a verified COVID-19 patient and that I had to place myself (and my family) in isolation until it became certain that I (we) had not been infected.
Isolation is different for a baker than someone who works with computers or say, customer service. Two of my children work in customer service, and within hours they had set themselves us to continue working from home, via the Internet and the phone. For a baker though, it is total shutdown.
The first noticeable thing was the silence. The heart of our small mom & pop artisan bakery (attached to the back of our house) – the noisy flour sifter, thump thumping its floor-shaking rhythm that can be felt throughout the house – lay silent. The primordial warmth and luminance from the crackling fire in our brick oven was noticeably absent, and the strains of jazz and ‘60’s rock music, which form the backdrop in our daily work place, were muted.
The only time this reality normally pervades is during the week of Passover, when we take a welcome week of vacation, by choice. We shutter up the bakery for seven days and enjoy quality leisure time spent with the family. This, however, was a different animal. It was something forced upon us, not out of choice. Like most of the rest of the world, we have been very hard hit financially by the corona pandemic, barely eking out a living with the bakery. To have to close up shop for almost two weeks was a cataclysmic blow.
What made it a worse pill to swallow wass the fact that it was preventable. It was caused by irresponsible negligence, by a youngster who was not meticulous about wearing their mask. Isn’t that the rub?
Even though we are super strict with ourselves, we are being stymied, mostly by young people, who do not fully fathom the repercussions of their “carefree abandon.” Repercussions like death and (in the “better case” scenarios) economic collapse, family breakdown and divorce. Just this week, one of our workers shocked us with the fact he was getting divorced.
Perhaps the scariest thing about COVID-19 is that it is totally dependent on goodwill. You can take the most stringent precautions, but all of that amounts to naught when just one solitary, irresponsible person breaks the link, resulting in catastrophic ripples. I have a strong basic faith in humanity, but I cannot understand or stomach the reckless outlook of “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow... ” that currently pervades a large segment of our youth (and even some “not-so-youth”).
As the more responsible, older generation, we should be clamping down more on our youngsters and not let them place everyone at risk on the premise that “you cannot stop life from going on.” They are young and still have their entire lives ahead of them, decades and decades when they will still be able to party, go to restaurants and pubs, go to the beach and cop some rays, go overseas and enjoy summer vacations.
Meanwhile, while a frantic search is underway for a vaccine, we need to put life in perspective and relinquish and sacrifice much of the partying, the sunbathing, the vacationing and numerous other things that make our lives “normal.” The times we are living in are not normal, and we all need to proverbially go a little into our own “bunkers,” wait it out and come down like a ton of bricks on those who won’t.
For me personally, it will be two weeks in which I will have more time to devote to my writing and more leisure time with my family. I am one of the “lucky” ones. For me it will simply be an (additional) financial loss that – tough as it may be – is only money! For many, many others it will be tragic loss of near and dear ones who would still have had many more good years to spend with their children and grandchildren if not for reckless behavior of those who lack the responsibility or the good will we all need to see this crisis through.
What do I know? I’m just a simple baker; right now a baker who cannot bake! And that is not an isolation I enjoy, although I am more equipped for it than most.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Jewish Baking Center (, that specializes in baking and teaching how to bake healthy, traditional Jewish bread. He also manages the Showbread Institute ( ,which researches the biblical showbread.