The day was sunny and spring was audacious and sensual, as if it didn’t get the memo about the pandemic. Flowers were bright and they made the hot air fragrant and sticky. It was Saturday - "Sabbath. In a small residential road near our flat, on our way back from a walk I spotted a group of men standing in their gardens and on the pavement, they were evenly dispersed, presumably due to social distancing advice, and thus were temporarily taking over the street. I swerved to the centre of the road to do my bit of the social distancing and ended up as if in the middle of a makeshift synagogue. Surrounded on both sides by those men humming their prayers, it felt like walking down the nave of a cathedral. I felt as if I was encroaching but then I remembered I was in the street so I decided to enjoy the momentary clash of both worlds, which wouldn’t otherwise happen. A rare view inside a conservative community, a slice of out of the blue holiness in an otherwise ordinary street.
During lockdown many Londoners will learn more about their neighbours but in our predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood we get an even rarer chance for a crossover between our worlds. Haredi Jews do not use mobile devices freely and so the communication needs to be manifested in different ways. Through my open window I can hear messages in Yiddish broadcasted via megaphone from a slowly moving car.
I ponder on how separate our lives are and yet led in such close physical proximity. The melody of Yiddish words permeates my first floor apartment. From my kitchen window, I can see the neighbour’s children jump on the trampoline in the rear garden wearing elegant-looking monochrome outfits and different variations of the traditional head pieces. Sometimes I buy bread in one of the Jewish bakeries at the end of the road. Some baked goods and the name of one of the shops bear resemblance to familiar words and objects from Poland.
During my frequent walks I photograph signs people display in front of their houses. Some of them are the usual NHS rainbows but some are different and more political. Many protest the lack of PPE for carers, some express opinions about the underfunding of the NHS, others advocate for opening up of detention centres. There are also those simply thanking: key workers, carers, bus drivers.
I think about the parallel worlds we now inhabit. I see other people’s signs, I hear their prayers, I notice traces but nothing ever happens right there and then. We live so close to each other, side by side and yet acutely separate. I keep taking pictures though and find some form of closeness in this mime language of signs, in neighbouring sounds and in messages sent in passing.