We are moving full steam ahead. And fast. It seems as though every few hours more corona restrictions are being lifted, for better and for worse. There are those who have literally been counting down the minutes and welcome these changes with open arms. They are eager to get back to work, family, friends, hobbies, and life as they knew it before the days of corona. They felt terribly stifled and are raring to go, like a horse that charges out of its stable as fast as his legs can carry him. No hesitation whatsoever. As far as they are concerned, the coronavirus is over. Done. A thing of the past. But that is not me. I was never one to jump into the pool. I always get my toes wet and then ever so gradually lower myself into the water as I slowly adjust to the frigid temperature. So, I still find myself looking at the stats and predictions, and calculating the cost and benefit of every outing I take. But I have, ever so tentatively, begun to step out of the very distinct and defined comfort zone of my home. When I do, I feel like a toddler in the rapprochement phase, navigating the tug of war between the desire to assert his independence and conquer the world, and the need to run back to safety and fiercely cling to his mother. My hesitation accompanies me but yet, I step outside wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as I am reunited with people I know and places I’ve been. There is almost a nostalgic quality to these excursions. With the word “unprecedented” being used an unprecedented number of times these past few months as the world has undergone a monumental transformation, the people I see seem like landsmen from my old country. When I return to places I used to frequent, I feel like a participant in a roots trip, seeing relics of the past while getting a glimpse into what life was like in a different era. Every trip out the door is somewhat of an adventure.
I started out very slowly, only visiting outdoor areas. But one thing leads to another, and I soon ventured out into the grocery store and pharmacy. This was only once my children began heading back to their various programs and then returning home, which meant that maintaining our safe and cozy cocoon was no longer a viable possibility. Things changed radically this past week when my son, who is doing advanced training in the army, came home. He was supposed to go back to the army on Sunday and then have a nice, long, much-needed vacation after Shavuos. However, plans in the army change from minute to minute. While the boys were waiting for their very delayed bus to take them back to their base, my son was given permission to go home to attend the wedding of a friend (he had been denied permission earlier). Later that night he was informed that a sudden decision had been handed down from the powers that be that their vacation would start right then and there. A massive heatwave was forecasted to descend upon the country and stay for the entire week so no training would be possible. It would be best to send them home. While it was nice that my son would not have to spend the week shvitzing his head off at his base, the timing for his vacation was a bit off. Indoor activities were closed and outdoor activities were out of the question due to the heat. Some vacation. The malls did open up and I cautiously eased my way out of my comfort zone to take him shopping. At least it would be a change of scenery with air conditioning to boot. I was taken by surprise when the guard at the entrance to the mall told me that my temperature was too high to enter. This is one test I didn’t expect to fail. He assured me that I tested high due to coming in from the extreme heat. With the temperature soaring well over 100 degrees, that made sense. Sure enough, I passed the test moments later. I was also happy to see many noticeable disinfecting stations as well as markings on the floor showing shoppers where to stand in order to maintain the proper distance.
At the end of the week my husband and I really stretched ourselves and took our kids up north for the night so that our soldier son could get away a bit. This is not something we would have even remotely considered if not for his poorly-timed vacation. But our cost-benefit analysis pushed us to give the guy a break. I would obviously travel armed with shmatas and disinfectant, and wipe down every surface including the handles of the foosball table and ping pong paddles. My family has come to expect such behavior from me and nobody would even blink an eye. We assumed that finding a tzimmer (bungalow) would be a breeze since who else would possibly be traveling around the country at this point other than those of us with a soldier on vacation? Well, apparently, we weren’t the only people with this idea. I guess we had forgotten about the fact that Israelis need to travel as much as they need to breathe. Finding an available tzimmer was like finding a needle in a haystack, but eventually we succeeded.
After being on lockdown for so long, I experienced everything about the trip with heightened sense awareness. I appreciated things on the ride up north that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to in the past. I felt grateful to the construction workers laboring in the heat on the side of the road. I noticed the signs on the highway and the odd spelling of Zikhron Yaaqov, Elyaqim, and Yoqne’am. What’s with the “q”? Who made that up? Just saying tefilat haderech was a novel occurrence. And I happily took in the beautiful scenery awaiting us at every curve of the road. On the way back, we stopped off to see the overflowing Kinneret in all its glory. After years of drought, such abundance inspires an even deeper sense of gratitude. Despite the challenges of our current state of affairs, there is so much goodness that surrounds us. We just need to go out, open our eyes, and notice.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.