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Israel

We Came to Israel For a Brief Visit. Four Months Later, Due to Coronavirus, We’re Still Here.

covid israel

It’s been four months since I landed in Israel with my wife, Ella, and son for our annual five-week visit. We arrived in winter, on my mom’s birthday, with a suitcase full of sweaters and warm onesies. We traveled around the country as we’d planned, visited friends and family, went to the beach, ate too much delicious food, drank too much excellent coffee (although, really, is too much even possible?)

But then, coronavirus hit Israel — in fact, the madness here unfolded more quickly and earlier than in the U.S. At first it was just a few friends who returned from Italy and were forced to quarantine. Then the Netherlands, then Germany. Within a week or so the country was closed, anyone arriving from anywhere went directly to quarantine, and everyone else was forced to shelter in place. 

It’s six weeks since we moved in with my father-in-law, rushing to get here quickly before all the roads were closed and monitored by police enforcing a shutdown. It rained that day, as if to accentuate our gloom as we realized that we wouldn’t be going home to New York for a while. A month? Two months? Six? No one could possibly know. 

Right now, the sun is shining outside the window. Summer is in full swing in Israel. In the time we’ve been here the hedge has added at least a foot to it’s top leaves. The oranges have ripened, been picked, and consumed. Also in the time we’ve been here our 10-month-old son has learned to crawl, sit up, eat solids, stand, and take steps. So many milestones, so far from home. We’re not sure he remembers our Brooklyn apartment at all. 

Time feels strange these days, almost slippery. Sometimes the days go by so quickly I can barely keep up, breathless with the effort of parenting and working remotely and keeping up with life here and staying apprised of our life in New York. In our absence, our beloved city is at once fraying with the toll of the coronavirus and rallying in the most breathtaking of ways to fight against the twin poisons of systemic racism and police violence. We can’t believe we are so far from the front lines, able to contribute to this critical moment only from afar.

Sometimes I think it’s astonishing how long we’ve been here; the longest stay since Ella and I went to college in Boston nine years ago. I haven’t seen the seasons change in Israel since 2011.

It’s not bad at all here. Quite the opposite. We’ve been unbelievably lucky to have the support of family, friends, and neighbors as we figured out the logistics of an extended stay: new baby clothes for a growing infant, summer clothes for us, baby proofing stuff for the house, and on and on. We’ve relied upon the incredible generosity of my father-in-law, who took us in, chaos and all, for an unlimited amount of time, taking care of our son daily so we can work—not to mention my parents, who bought and sent summer clothes for our son and helped us make decisions about what needs to be done, and our friends in Brooklyn who have been house-and-cat-sitting since February.

The sun shines here every day. We have citrus trees and freesias and ferns and roses all around us. The valley behind the house is full of cows munching lazily on clover and wild grass. Our son visits the valley daily with his grandfather, who teaches him the names of the flowers and birds. His soft baby hands stroke the petals and hug the trees. In Brooklyn, under lockdown, we wouldn’t even be able to visit a public park. To say I’m grateful doesn’t even begin to describe this feeling that swells in my chest when I begin to count our blessings.

And yet, another feeling lurks within the eden. I’ll call it otherness. Another phrase for it is “borrowed time,” although that phrase has always seemed inexplicable. How can you borrow time? Who from? We can only borrow it from ourselves, from the life we would be living in the place we had chosen to live. And it can’t be repaid. 

The otherness creeps in before I go to sleep, when I close my eyes in the room Ella grew up in, and think of the pictures on our bedroom wall back home. It startles me when I read my email, reminded that I’m in the wrong time zone for all of my work. When I open my Instagram feed and see pictures of our friends marching across bridges, or defying curfew on their stoops, or just shopping at the Park Slope Food Co-op. It’s not that I don’t fit in here in Israel — the air here will always smell like home, the sound of Hebrew everywhere will always be relieving — I just feel otherness. 

If our lives in the States were a sentence, in the grammatical sense, it’s as if we’ve stepped into a pair of parentheses for a time. Still a part of the syntax of our everyday, but also outside it. It’s a parallel reality; perhaps this is what it would have been like had we stayed in Israel all those years ago. But of course it’s not; we’re not who we would have been had we stayed. We belong in New York. 

Being here for so long has accentuated the gap between our two homes in a way that’s at once painful and sweet. When we eventually head back to the States it will be with a profound awareness of what we’re leaving behind (family, friends, a deep connection to a certain part of our souls, the bond our baby is creating with our family here) and what we’re moving towards (a community, an endlessly inspiring city, the freedom to live our lives as two women in love without fear). 

As Covid-19 cases here continue to wane, Israel is opening up. Schools, offices, cafes, malls have all returned in a certain capacity. Folks are going to the beach, gathering for Shabbat dinners, returning to a version of their former routines. New York is not — at least not yet. And so we wait. For our city to return to a semblance of its past self, for flying to be safe enough. For a sign, maybe. 

I don’t know what the future holds, when the parentheses will close on this part of our lives. But in between the madness of the everyday I’m trying to take this as an opportunity to step back and observe our lives without judgement. To hold the gratitude for both our realities close and draw strength from it. To be where I am right now and worry about where I’ll be later.

Image by Joana Lopes/Getty Images; design by Arielle Kaplan 

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