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It's the new year and international travel is painful again. Quarantining can be very scary, if you have to do it alone. It's a nightmare, and I purposefully entered that nightmare when I flew back to Israel, knowing I would be put in a quarantine hotel for two weeks.
The quarantine is back, and I bring you my story. It is here to inspire you, and to let you know that you can visit Israel and make it through the quarantine, as long as you're fine with your vacation being spent in the hotel. Now, the quarantine is for seven days, and my story may mean very little to you. Even so, I shall take you into my little journey of how I made it through quarantine in Israel, with my fellow returnees to Zion.
I Was Scared
I was in solitary confinement in a five-star hotel with a bath.
A Corona Hotel
They call the hotel “Corona.” The hotel itself had the virus. I didn’t know if I could touch the closet. Do the walls have the virus? Do I catch it from my bed? I decided it was safest to live out of my suitcase and sleep in my clothes.
Food Rations Don’t Make Jews Happy
I thought I was going to get the Israeli hotel breakfast buffet. I asked them. Then they dropped a bag outside my door. This was worse than being locked up in solitary. At least in solitary they slip the food through a window; you get a bit of service.
They should’ve never called that room service. Three square meals is not... Other people deciding what I should be eating hurts the hotel experience. I don’t want people deciding which cheese I should be eating. I need choices, and they didn't provide that at the corona buffet.
Yes. I complained to management. The same food every day isn’t the five star hotel experience I was expecting. Not having eight cheeses to choose from, and cereal dispensers, is not something I would have chosen. It was hard. I liked cottage cheese two days ago.
No Washing Machines
They turned me into a manual laborer. I was a slave to my dirty clothes, and I was not a good one. Maybe I don’t know how to twist enough. I smelled like Badin detergent suds for a week.
How Do You hand wash? I’ve seen washboards in bands. Other than using it to strum a spoon, I don’t know what that is supposed to be used for.
Why is the Army Here
Soldiers were working the concierge booth. I have to say, they know very little about what there is to do in Jerusalem, when you're quarantined. Their lack of knowledge regarding Jerusalem nightlife was bothersome. They should at least been able to tell me the coordinates.
It was scary coming out of my room and seeing the gun. I ran right back in, and that's where I spent the first three days.
A Shabbat Retreat Where You See People Less
On Shabbat, it’s a religious duty to quarantine together.
Lighting Candles is a Social Experience
As lighting Shabbat candles always do, they brought light to my darkness and people into my quarantine.
We lit candles at a big table in the lobby, as opposed to our rooms. The organizers of the quarantine experience felt that a fire is more dangerous than seeing somebody who you sat next to on the flight. I went to light Shabbat candles, and that was my first interaction with people that weren’t behind plexiglass, or with a gun. I was relieved to hear that they also don’t like cottage cheese anymore. I realized I’m not in this quarantine alone, and there are other people that have no idea how to ring out a shirt.
As I was lighting the candles, I heard about the Minyin, a community praying together in isolation. They said, 'You must stay out of your room to join us.' I said, 'Yes. If me leaving my room is a requirement, I will be there... I will be early.' I had never felt so thankful for ten men in my life. I let them know that I’m happy to join, as long as I didn’t have to hand wash their clothes.
The Chazan did not have a good voice. However, he had to wear a mask, and that helped.
Oneg – Delighting in Shabbat
One deed leads to another and we must share all of Shabbat in quarantine. You’re supposed to delight in Shabbat, and you do that with food. One quarantining congregant brought cake, cashews, peanuts, Coke, herring. One guy really enjoyed it. The first guy who took the cashews loved the experience. After he touched them, the cashews were his. He delighted more than the rest of us. As we learned, big bowls of food are not optimal for pandemics.
When it came to the pound cake, I went in after the first guy. I wasn’t that scared. I had eaten too much cottage cheese to be scared. If I hadn’t caught corona by now, from the corona hotel bedding, I wasn’t going to catch it from a decent pound cake and a cold cup of Coke. In life, you have to be brave and take chances. And when it comes to a wet dense pound cake, those are the times.
How I ate with my mask on is a miracle one can only speak of.
Ingathering of the Exiles is Motivating
After Shabbat we had a big circle where everybody shared their story.
Stories of journeys from around the world were vast. One from Cape Town, one from Buenos Aires, one was from New York, one from Thailand, one from France. Each of us had our own journey back to Israel. Each expedition was more intriguing than the next. Some sat first class. Some sat economy. One even had somebody sitting next to them. A true journeyman. The most interesting story was given by the voyager from France who did not even get a kosher meal on her flight.
Chilonim Became Religious
Everybody became religious. Once the Chilonim, secular Jews, realized they can leave their rooms, they joined the Minyin. They were early. They were devout. They sat there praying, focused on the words of praise. In the end, the secular Israelis felt so comfortable that they also had no problem talking during the services.
This was the first time in my life that I saw so many people return in penitence. Chabad has been trying for years to put Tefillin on people. One week of quarantine is the best outreach I have ever seen.
Religious relationships even developed around the hotel, where new Chiloni couples dated without touching, sitting six feet apart.
Stuff I am Left With
In quarantine, you learn something about yourself.
I learned that I am fine smelling like bath gel if that’s all I have to wash my clothes with. I don’t like cottage cheese anymore, but that may change in a day or two after I get out. I learned how to make going to the reception to pick up milk take twenty minutes, and how to keep a friend on the phone for forty-five minutes when they have to run. I learned that afternoon naps can last five hours, and touching cashews first during a pandemic is much smarter than touching peanuts. Cashews are more expensive; you want them for yourself. I learned that when it comes to leaving my room, I am extremely devout. I even show up two hours early to services. I learned that solitary confinement can be depressing without a Minyin.
Minyin saved me. Shabbat Saved me. Lighting candles saved me. The comradery that quarantining together as a religious nation allows for, saved the secular Israelis.
Only in Israel do people share their quarantine with other people. Everything beautiful about living in Israel is seen in the quarantine hotel, how we isolate as a community next to one another. A nation reuniting in the hardest of times, distancing together in solitude with all of the people, praying right next to Jews from all over the world. When you’re together there is nothing to fear, other than the coronavirus.
Being quarantined in Israel was the greatest experience of my life. Book your ticket. Skip the Kotel and go to the Corona Hotel.
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The Falafel of Etan
Israelis are very possessive of their falafel. Even when they have a shop, they don't like to share it… That's Etan. Standing over them while they eat. Making sure they don't run away with his falafel.