At first it was fun. They attended Zoom celebrations–a bat mitzvah and a bridal shower–and had cocktails with family and friends. “It was charming and fun, but the novelty has worn off,” says Ellen Rabinowitz, who lives with her husband, David DeVarti, across the street from Burns Park. Daughter Julia is staying with them now. Son Sam lives on the west side but is part of their pandemic pod and often joins them for dinner.
The family has good times together–they have their own book club and just read How to Be an Anti-Racist. They hosted a party for DeVarti’s birthday in their driveway, making sure no more than ten people attended simultaneously and keeping them six feet apart. “It was nice to see people in person,” says Rabinowitz. From their porch, they enjoy talking to passersby.
But these days, too much activity is virtual. DeVarti is helping plan a fiftieth-year joint reunion for Pioneer and Huron High Schools. The schools shared a building until DeVarti’s senior year, when Huron High opened. After canceling the July event, they now hold meetings to prepare for next summer, they hope.
DeVarti also meets distantly with Ann Arbor’s Zoning Board of Appeals, the Ann Arbor Film Festival–he’s on the boards–and Washtenaw Community College (WCC), where he is a trustee.
Through careful planning, DeVarti and Rabinowitz visit grocery stores less often now, even though they eat at home more. They order out once or twice a week, too, and feel good about supporting local restaurants.
DeVarti had always taken walks, maybe a mile a day. Since Sam turned his dad on to Pokemon Go, he’s been walking about seven miles most days, in two or three walks that take him to downtown, the athletic campus, central campus, and beyond. “When I do my campus walks at night, students are out, having a great time, not social distancing,” he says. Rabinowitz shares his concern as the new semester approaches. “It’s unrealistic to expect students who are partying in large groups to stay safe,” she says. DeVarti is also running–for WCC’s board of trustees, since his six-year term is about to expire. The politically engaged family has participated in Black Lives Matter protests that included a silent bike ride. And they recently hosted a talk by Eli Savit in their driveway, with chairs set up in separated pods.
Rabinowitz, who retired from the Washtenaw County Health Department last summer, returned to work for six weeks to lead the Covid-19 response for the homeless, finding hotel rooms for indigents to stay safely. “Being able to work sure felt good,” she says, adding that she’s experiencing survivor’s guilt now as she watches the public health response from the sidelines. “Our local health department has done a fabulous job of getting information out,” she says.
Is it helping? Students don’t seem aware of a threat, but neighbors are. “As people are out and walking, it’s a lovely dance,” says Rabinowitz, noting that as one couple approaches, another walks into the street. “These are very powerful and painful times.”