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Life in the time of corona: L.A. portraits

No one has been left unscathed from the effect of the coronavirus, from storeowners to rock-and-roll guitarists. Los Angeles-based writer and photographer Ayala Or-El captured some of the stories shared by members of the L.A. Jewish community.

Sean Hurwitz, guitar player for the band Smash Mouth

The news that his livelihood is in jeopardy caught up with Sean Hurwitz while performing with his Smash Mouth band members in Ridgefield, Wash. “I was playing in front of 250 fans, which was the limit that went into effect that day, and I knew it was probably my last show for a few months.

“It’s a real bummer to lose all this work. Will the gigs be canceled or just postponed? Will the government help in any way? Maybe they can cancel mortgages and rent for a few months? I know we’re good on food, and with my wife working from home, there’s some money coming in. I get remote sessions — recording guitars in my studio — as well, so hopefully I get some business while I’m in this lock down.



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“I am optimistic about the future. It’s not just me this is happening to. It’s not just L.A, California or even the United States, it’s the world. And do you know what all the people in the world are going to need after this pandemic has stopped controlling our lives? They’re gonna need to get out! They’re gonna need music and I’ll be there rocking and after I’ll be going out to the crowd and doing what I love to do, shaking hands and taking selfies.”

Shirly Brener, mother of two child actors

On a normal day, Shirly Brener drives her two daughters Mila, 15 and Journey, 8 to auditions, dance, music and acting classes. Today, her schedule looks quite different. “They are still taking some classes on Zoom, but of course it’s not the same. Now, instead of going to auditions, we need to do them online or send recorded videos, something that requires a lot of time and effort. The types of casting calls I see are very different from pre-corona days. For example, today I received a casting notice for dog owners who are getting to spend time with their dog during the quarantine. They are very specific with their requirements and are very Corona time-oriented.

Rea Carmi, artist

Rea Carmi, 77, is an Israeli artist who lives in Porter Ranch. Four years ago she and her husband Meir had to evacuate their home as a result of the Aliso gas leak that threatened the health of many residents in the area. Now, they are forced to stay in and limit their outings. “You know, we’ve been through a lot during our lifetime. We’ve been through the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur war. We lost our home in Northridge to a fire, I overcame breast cancer and Meir overcame an aggressive prostate cancer. Everything we’d experienced throughout our lives made us stronger and taught us how to overcome challenges. Now that the Coronavirus is at its peak, we continue living our lives under the restrictions and don’t feel stressed or fearful about it. We go out and play tennis, making sure to be safe. We come back home and I go to my studio and paint, which for me is a great way to deal with the unknown. From past experience, we learned that if we keep our normal routine as much as possible, we won’t feel anxious at all.”

Tal Orion, party planner

For party planner, Tal Orion, Covid-19 meant postponement or cancellation of many events she had been working on for months on end. “I had a big wedding that was scheduled for the end of March. It was a grand production with over 500 guests, and we needed to cancel it and let them and all the vendors know that the wedding is off. It’s very difficult to tell a couple who had been planning their wedding that they are not going to have their big and beautiful wedding. My colleagues are experiencing losses of tens of thousands of dollars for March alone.

“I talked to flower vendors who needed to throw away thousands of flowers that were purchased ahead of time, same goes for catering suppliers. I’m still planning summer weddings in the hopes that by then, we’ll get the green light. I believe we will emerge out of this nightmare stronger and better.”

Adva Riklin, photographer

Adva Riklin, a single mom of two young girls, turned from a busy photographer to a stay-at-home mom.

“My schedule is always packed, but now it has become completely empty. I have zero income, and I find myself cooking every day and trying to come up with new activities for the girls. With all the bad that the corona had brought to our lives, it also brought some good. It made us appreciate the simple things in life, the ability to spend more time with our children and opportunity to take a pause of our hectic lives and understand what is really important.”

Freda Biren, travel agent, “Travel Galore”

Travel agent Freda Biren had seen a decline in the agency industry for the past decade, but the coronavirus may have been the last blow to a dying profession.

“I still have some regular clients, some of them working with me for 40 years, but right now almost no one is traveling. I have one client who is traveling now to Morocco, and there are still some flights from New York to Israel, but overall, very few of them.

“I mainly deal with clients who purchased plane tickets and are trying to get a refund, which is very hard to do. I pass my time watching TV and reading books, arranging some papers and cleaning the house. This is the time for us to appreciate what we have and be patient because this too shall pass.”

Michal and Tal Pinchasi, owners of the new store Home & More

For Israeli immigrants Michal and Tal Pinchasi, the coronavirus couldn’t come at a worst time. The couple had moved to Los Angeles from Israel for a new start, after their home-good store had burned to the ground the previous year. They opened their new store Home & More in a small shopping center in Tarzana, Calif. last January and were forced to close in March. “To arrive in a new country without any family or friends is not easy, but still we were very hopeful and enthusiastic about this new beginning,” said Tal. “After our business had burned we thought that this is an opportunity to do something we always wanted to do, move to L.A.

“February was amazing, people were excited and came into the store and bought merchandise we had imported from Israel. Then March came. To be honest, a second tragedy in such a short period of time broke us. I know we are not the only ones to get hurt by this situation, but to experience such a loss a second time is a bit too much. We are trying to keep our worries from our children because there is no point in making them anxious too.

”We are trying to make the best of it. We spend a lot of time together with the kids. We help them with homework and assignments. We take strolls with our dog and make sure to move to the other sidewalk if anyone approaches us.

“Passover is our best month in sales, but we had missed it. Nobody wants to buy gifts when the situation is bad and everyone is worried about finances. It’s hard to tell what will happen but we keep reminding ourselves that what’s important is our health, and as long as we are fine, we’ll deal with everything else.”

Yakira and Aaron Yedidia, musicians, parents of three girls

For Yakira and Aaron Yedidia’s three daughters, the coronavirus didn’t change much in their daily lives. The three girls are homeschooled and are used to taking online classes. “Friends are now calling to consult with us about homeschooling,” said Yakira. “They once regarded us as crazy, but now understand the benefits of teaching their kids at home. Everybody is using Zoom. My husband and I also teach Hebrew and music through Zoom in temple schools. We are grateful that we still have work. We also perform with our daughters, who are part of our family band, at Shabbat services. Now, there are temples that have online services, and I’m afraid that after the Corona scare will end, people will still prefer to join services online rather than attend them in person. Until the Corona, we were performing quite a bit and we had future performances that were all postponed.The Coronavirus doesn’t scare us, but its impact on the long run, does, still we are hopeful about the future.”

Melody Niv, UC Berkeley student, lives in L.A

“Since coronavirus struck, my 6-month study abroad trip to Paris and London got cancelled, this program being the reason I chose my university, UC Berkeley. Consequently, I’m deciding between officially graduating as a senior or usurping the chancellor and creating a school wide revolution. Meanwhile, I’m working part-time for a political organization and searching for jobs as a graduate — not the best time to say the least. This is like the 1920s but with less speakeasies and more influenza — pretty rough. Sure, coronavirus can’t take me out because I’m stuck at home, but boys can’t either, much to my sadness. For validation, I now have to rely on my mom telling me I look like a nice, Jewish girl. To raise my spirits, I’ve been watching inordinate amounts of stand-up comedy, writing my own comedy, and re-enacting scenes of Curb Your Enthusiasm in my bedroom. I console myself by knowing I’m a less-bald version of Larry David.”

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Life in the time of corona: LA portraits

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