Here we are at the eve of your departure. I have to admit that I’m thrilled to see you go. But I wouldn’t want you to fade into oblivion before reminding us both of the remarkable experiences we shared, both the best and the worst.
You began in the most ordinary and festive way: The ball dropped in Times Square. People got drunk and made noise. And for a while there, it seemed as if the world would go on as it always has. But then around the middle of February, the rumors started of yet another SARS-like virus. I remember thinking it was so far off – somewhere in some obscure Chinese city in some strange animal food market full of living things Jews are not allowed to eat. It was a curiosity, nothing more. Perhaps I felt a twinge of empathy for the poor Chinese set to face yet another painful, home-grown disease.
The rapidity with which I – and everyone else – were all disabused of that idea, as the COVID-19 virus took giant strides across seas and continents to land in my own backyard in Jerusalem, was mind-boggling. It was unimaginable, and I have a very, very good imagination. Already in February, there were South Korean tourists who had gotten ill and passed it on to their tour bus driver, an Arab Israeli, who almost died. Newspapers reported all the places the Koreans had visited (every major tourist spot in the country!), warning schoolchildren and their teachers on school trips that might have coincided, to go into isolation. Aside from the driver, no illnesses were reported. But that hardly mattered. COVID had arrived.
Just around this time, I’d come across an article online from some American magazine which gave a blow-by-blow description of how a person caught, suffered from, and quickly died from COVID: a casual handshake, sharing a taxi, singing in a choir. Then the loss of smell and taste, the dry cough, the fevers, and eventually inability to breathe, the ICU, intubation, death…
I didn’t want to catch this. No sirree. It was not happening to me if I could help it. But then it was the beginning of March and Purim, and my granddaughter Avigayil’s carefully planned and long-awaited Star Wars Bat Mitzva. I wasn’t worried about getting it from my family – no one was sick. But the catering staff was another story. And could you catch it from food? Who at that point knew? There were no official Health Ministry guidelines in place concerning such gatherings for under one hundred people. My Queen Amidala costume had been hanging in my closet for months, alongside Grandpa’s Luke Skywalker robes. Were we going to miss this? Really?
We took a deep breath and hoped for the best, joining the family in the last act of irresponsible behavior we allowed ourselves the entire year. We didn’t regret it. It turned out to be a memorable and joyous event and the last time the family would meet the entire year. Directly after, the health guidelines were amended to limit participation in communal events to ten people. Complete lockdowns soon followed, and we were all witnesses to the downward spiral of a modern Western democracy into a dystopian nightmare.
Dear 2020, this is what you taught me. I didn’t need to be inside a synagogue to pray. I didn’t really need to shop for clothes; I have more than enough. That anything I really did need to buy could be purchased online and delivered to my doorstep by very competent and helpful employees of supermarkets, produce stores, electronic shops, bath, linen, and accessories stores.
I learned that so many of the things that the hours of my life were invested in, I could live without: empty, obligatory social events with near strangers. Movies, concerts, plays, ballet.
On the other hand, I learned what things I could truly not live without: my daily interaction with my lifelong partner; phone calls and zoom meetings with my children and grandchildren. Daily exercise whether online or a masked walk through neighborhood streets. Good books. Apps that kept me apprised of the state of my country and the world. My health provider, which allowed me online meetings with my doctor and online prescription renewals. Pharmacies that delivered. Kind neighbors who sent WhatsApp messages to check on the health and needs of people in our building. The lovely man who arranged to blow the shofar outside my building during Rosh Hashana, and his lovely wife who walked up nine flights to knock on my door to let me know he was outside. All the wonderful people who post free art lessons, free cooking lessons, free yoga and exercise classes on YouTube; Teachers, rabbis, scholars who gave online Zoom lessons. The actors and actresses who performed marvelous plays, broadcast live online.
And most especially, all the many health workers, researchers, doctors, nurses, and caregivers running our research facilities, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes, selflessly caring for those most vulnerable, and snatching as many as they could from death.
Yes 2020, you showed me some beautiful faces. Unfortunately, you showed me some very, very ugly ones as well: The faces of those only half-covered in masks, which they wore on their chins, or their arms, or not at all. The faces of those insisting on crowding me on grocery store lines, who smirked and rolled their eyes when I told them to back off. The faces of those jamming the streets week after week after week in unnecessary and dangerous political demonstrations. The faces of those in haredi neighborhoods who overrode or blatantly ignored all guidelines and all public health initiatives, opening schools and yeshivot, holding mass funerals, huge weddings, and sneaking out of isolation hotels (or demanding to be put up in such hotels). The Israelis who carelessly crowded the beaches, the malls, the shuks, and the restaurants. All of them together managed to double and then triple Israel’s COVID infections, eventually causing the death of thousands and lockdown after lockdown which destroyed small businesses and thousands of jobs.
It was heart shattering to watch.
And now, on December 31, as New Year’s eve is ushered in and 2021 takes over, I am scheduled along with my husband to get the first of the two vaccines that will hopefully, God-willing, give us immunity to this dread disease and eventually remove its menace from our lives.
And this is what I envision for 2021: A country fully vaccinated in which COVID no longer spreads it dreaded tentacles around our lives. And because Israel is a small country, it is possible to vaccinate everyone in only a short time, making Israel the safest place in the world for a vacation. I envision our dormant hotels coming to life, like the palace in Sleeping Beauty, the cobwebs wiped away, and the bellboys rolling luggage carts jammed with suitcases into sparkling clean lobbies. I envision crowded beaches and poolside dining in Eilat. I envision a huge family gathering for Passover seder in my living room. I envision hearing the Torah reading in a synagogue. I envision crowded malls, and people waiting on lines at cinemas and concert halls and theatres. I envision restaurants turning away diners because there is simply no more room. And all the businesses that have closed? I envision a new Israeli government giving out loans to people so they can reopen, and every storefront with a “Help Wanted” sign. And I envision the rest of the world slowly breaking out of their own cocoons, emerging healthy, happy, and grateful to God Who has allowed us to put this terrible scourge behind us.
Welcome 2021!! And a better, blessed year to all.