TAMPA — She lives right around the corner in her son’s South Tampa neighborhood. But in the interest of social distancing, it had been awhile since Harry Cohen had seen his mother when he got the phone call Tuesday morning.
“Can you come over and take a picture of me?” Iris Ruth Pastor asked her son, a former Tampa City Council member. “I made these things and I’m taking them around the neighborhood passing them out to people.”
After nearly a month of uncertainty and isolation while the COVID-19 coronavirus swept the globe, the bubbly, self-described “community builder” had finally found a way to get out and do something in her neighborhood.
Using rubber bands, a stapler and, in some cases, a few hair elastics, Pastor fashioned 144 unlined yarmulkes she bought from Amazon into DIY coronavirus face masks.
“Look, I’m not saying it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but it made me smile, and I thought it would be a fun, uplifting gesture of goodwill — to remind people that we’re in this together and to heighten their awareness to be mindful of spreading this disease,” Pastor said.
In a floppy straw hat and cherry red sunglasses, Pastor was waiting for her son on the lawn, her tricycle outfitted with a wicker basket full of the re-purposed yarmulkes — the Yiddish word for the religious skull caps worn by Jewish men. They were packaged in festive black and white gift bags with tags that read: “an Easter/Passover gift from your neighbors.”
“I don’t work for the health department, so I can’t speak to their effectiveness, but they’ve gotten a tremendous amount of wonderful kudos from people who just loved it,” Pastor said.
And stapling them together proved to be very therapeutic, Pastor said, “great for getting out all your energy and frustrations by just banging away all day.”
What the family’s rabbi might think of the creative face coverings, Pastor couldn’t venture to guess. But she got the idea from a rabbi who posted a how-to video on YouTube, and he “looked pretty legit,” she said.
“I didn’t desecrate it, I just turned it into something else,” Pastor said. “And it can be turned back into a yarmulke if you take the staples out.”
Given that it’s Passover, Cohen said, his mother’s crafting helped bring warmth to those struggling to balance a religious calling to come together with a legal imperative to stay apart.
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“It’s hard,” Cohen said. “Just the prospect of not knowing when this will be over, when you can see friends and family and loved ones again is hard on everyone. But I think my mom is like a lot of people who are really just trying to figure out a way to be helpful and do something nice for other people. And seeing her energy to see that through is reassuring. It makes me happy.”
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