When we made aliyah, I assured my parents that we would return for regular visits and the distance would not prevent us from attending family simchas or being in Cleveland when we were needed for any reason. My parents in turn said they would visit us in Israel for as long as they were able. We kept our promises.
Since my father’s death 12 years ago, my mom has come nearly every year to spend Passover with us. In addition to attending a big family seder, it is also a great time for her to visit since schools and universities are on vacation for the whole Passover week and she can spend more time with her grandchildren.
But this year, she thought that a winter trip would suit her schedule better and she visited us at Chanukah. This turned out to be prophetic because by the time Passover 2020 rolled around, our borders here in Israel were closed to non-citizens and we were in total lockdown, thanks to the coronavirus.
December was a long time ago and my mom is ready to see her grandchildren (and, I think, her daughter and son-in-law) again. But even if she were permitted to enter Israel (at the moment most non-citizens are not allowed to enter the country), the dangers of international – or any – travel especially at her age during this pandemic are too risky. And the logistics if I wanted to come visit her would be too difficult: I would have to stay in isolation away from her for two weeks once I arrive in Cleveland in case I contracted the virus in an airport or on the plane since I would not want to give it to her, and then I would be required to isolate for two weeks upon my return to Israel.
So, we continue to talk on the phone every day, but I can hear in her voice how much she misses us and how important it would be for her to get here for a visit.
And the worst part about it is that we have absolutely no idea when it will be safe to travel and when we will see each other in person again. Months? Years? And I torture myself with “what ifs.” What if she needs me to come to Cleveland to help her? What if I have to get there in a hurry? What if one of my children decides to get married while we are still in the throes of the pandemic? The list goes on.
In the last several days, Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority has, at least, issued regulations allowing non-citizens to enter Israel to attend lifecycle events, including weddings, births, and bar and bat mitzvahs of first-degree relatives, including allowing in grandparents.
There are things that she already has missed. One son has entered the Israel Defense Forces and I know she would love to see him, in person, in his uniform. My younger son just graduated from high school. My youngest celebrated her sweet 16 birthday and is ready to take her grandmother up on the promised clothes shopping spree that they are supposed to go on.
These are not the only family reunions that the coronavirus has stolen from us. My youngest niece was supposed to visit Israel – to be here right now on a summer teen tour. Her cousins, my kids, had already planned to make a special family Shabbat for her free weekend (not a small task to get everyone home at the same time for Shabbat). My older niece had plans to attend a seminary in Jerusalem this coming year before entering college. Each of my children had already planned what they would do together with her during her free time. Because of coronavirus she decided to stay closer to home, understandably. But it is a huge disappointment for my entire family.
And what else will the coronavirus take from us?
I know we are not the only family here in Israel who is not able to see the relatives we left when we moved here. And we are not the only family to miss having those relatives for holidays or family celebrations. I feel sad for each and every one of them. And I feel sad for my mom and for myself.
Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland and Columbus Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit cjn.org/oster.