“It ain’t over till it’s over,” legendary baseball player Yogi Berra once said, and indeed resurfacing in Israel these days are COVID-19 concerns. Following days of fewer new infections and critical cases, Israel began to open up last month, starting with small stores and businesses, then malls.
In addition to bag checks, temperatures are taken at most entrances. The weather is lovely, flowers are blooming. Schools opened, then cafes and restaurants, with the caveat that seating had to be outside and distanced. Tel Avivians hit the beaches. And then the new figures started to come in.
New infections were reported at the Rehavia Gymnasia, where a significant number of students and teachers exhibited signs of the virus. Soon, there were other schools, and now some hospital workers have tested positive. Once more, thousands are in quarantine. Unlike the first wave of coronavirus, this one is hitting younger people. Did Israelis relax too soon?
Everyday dilemmas abound. We wear masks whenever we go out, and my husband, Irv, likes to kid me about how I keep searching for the comfortable in hot weather “mask of my dreams.” We had workers here for repairs to our apartment. Some of them wore masks, some did not. How much risk is too much?
Dilemma: Where would we say kaddish, or Shabbat and holiday tefillah? Our mothers share the same post-Pesach yahrzeit. We needed a minyan. We found it among ever-resourceful Israelis meeting in a parking lot, on an empty street and in a garden. Our synagogue held a weekly pre-Shabbat Zoom call and has been holding outdoor services for 50 people, for which we sign up in advance. The communal holidays of Pesach, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, however, were observed alone, with TV ceremonies and celebrations providing “community” on the two yoms.
Dilemma: Can we safely socialize with other people? Clevelanders Shirley and Paul Eisenberg arrived here in February to volunteer at the Goldstein Youth Village in advance of a grandson’s bar mitzvah, which was canceled. Our friend, Esti Shemla, who had taught another Eisenberg grandson while on shlichut at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School, wanted to meet them. Knowing that they would soon return to Cleveland, we took a risk and invited the masked Shemlas and Eisenbergs to our courtyard. Since this time, we have visited friends and hosted friends, outdoors, wearing masks and maintaining appropriate distancing.
Dilemma: Could we take a bus? After watching near-empty buses pass us by on our many walks, Irv and I decided that, masked and carrying hand sanitizer, we could go downtown by bus to buy the hot-weather clothes we needed. We kept masks on when we tried on the clothes and then washed them immediately back home.
Dilemma: Without many tourists, was it less risky to tour Israel? When the Shemlas invited us to go with them to see the very full Kinneret, we put on our masks and went. We had a breakfast picnic en route, eating at a table far away from other picnickers and delighted in the sight of the beautiful Kinneret.
Dilemma: How long should we wait to return to Cleveland? In March, United Airlines offered bookings without cancellation or change fees. We bought tickets to return on May 12, but then canceled the flights. We have not set a new return date.
We miss our family and our house, but twice each week at the street fair set up by the Jerusalem municipality to sustain Derech Bet Lechem cafe owners, we hear talented musicians, eat ice cream from our favorite ice cream shop, and enjoy the amusing street performers. As we wait out the virus, or await the vaccine, we know, more than we expected, that Jerusalem remains a good place to be at this time.
Julie Jaslow Auerbach, a Jewish educator who lives part of the year in Jerusalem and part of the year in Shaker Heights, writes regularly about life in Israel for the Cleveland Jewish News.