Where were you when Wisconsin shut down? 

 

It happened fast.  

Wisconsin was largely open, with business humming along during the day on Friday, March 13. Then, late that day, Gov. Tony Evers’ state health department ordered schools closed. Much of the state started shutting down. Things haven’t been quite the same since then. 

It has been nearly six months since we all entered this surreal scifi movie. Movies usually end well, and people are surely craving a return to normalcy. Meanwhile, to mark this unusual new year, we asked three Jewish Wisconsinites to reflect on what Wisconsin’s historic shut-down moment was like for them. 

Going out with a bang 

Shari Sandler, 27, moved to Israel for a year, then came back in September 2019. She’s in sales at Schroeder Solutions in New Berlin, which is open and helping people pick furniture for working at home.  

Shari Sandler at Banias nature area, in Israel, before she moved back to Milwaukee. August 2019 photo.

The Milwaukee resident, who lives near Brady Street, is into yoga, kickboxing and Chabad of the East Side. She volunteers for Planned Parenthood. “I’m literally just a volunteer who keeps showing up,” she said. 

Friday, March 13, was a quiet night with friends. I remember that weekend I had two college girlfriends come to visit me from Minneapolis,” she said.  

They went out Saturday night and stayed out into early Sunday morning.  

“I wanted to show them what Milwaukee was all about because they had never been here before,” Sandler said. “We weren’t sure how serious everything was. We went to seven or eight different places in Milwaukee, different restaurants and bars. We subconsciously, without even knowing it, went out with a bang.” 

They went out for breakfast on Sunday, continuing to have conversations along the lines of: What do you think is about to happen? What do you think this means? 

“It was just ironic that we had gone to eight different bars as if we are trying to go to every bar we could before the world ended.” 

Refereeing the last game 

Matt Seigel, 39, serves as a referee for high school and college basketball, as an on-the-side, fun job. 

He said he was refereeing the last high school game in Wisconsin on Thursday, March 12. Other games had a 7 p.m. start. His was 7:30 p.m. 

“I was a little surprised we were playing to begin with,” he said. It was a sectional semifinal between Milwaukee Acadamy of Science and The Prairie School. 

“When we went to greet, instead of shaking anyone’s hands we were giving forearm bumps. People knew that things were going south,” he said.  

Matt Siegel has a story about the start of pandemic precautions in Wisconsin. In this photo, Siegel, wife Jenya, and son Sammy, were at a Northbrook, Ill. park in July.

That night, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled all future games 

Seigel is a national sales manager for WISN-TV Channel 12 and is a member of Congregation Shalom, where he has served on cantor and rabbi search committees 

Asked about how he sees the pandemic’s progression since his historic last game, he said: “I think the pandemic has been eye opening for a lot of people. I think a lot of people have not taken it seriously.” 

Moving out in an hour 

Michelle Hoffman, 54, remembers how her family suddenly had to make decisions quickly. 

“It wasn’t that werent cognizant that things were getting serious,” she said. But it dawned on Hoffman and her husband, Dan Zaitz, she said, that we have to make a shift in how we do everything.” 

Their daughter, Maggie Brhel, 19, had been home and now was notified that she’d have to move out of her dorm during a one-hour slot. The family decided Hoffman would stay home, because she has asthma and is diabetic, while dad and daughter would move the University of Wisconsin freshman out of her Chadbourn Residence Hall dorm room. 

The one-hour slot was just barely enough, and they wound up leaving behind an IKEA shelving unit. 

At the time, they didn’t know Brhel would be home from school for months. In a way, it has been nice. 

“I know this is stereotypical because everyone is doing it. We started making challah every Friday together. We never would have done that. We shouldn’t need a pandemic to get there,” Hoffman said.  

When you are forced to stop and be in place, you just have to be with yourself for a while, with your family. You kind of realize how much you’re going along and on automatic pilot.