Nowadays, physical health is not our only concern.
Like most of my neighbors in Jerusalem, we wore our masks, practiced social distancing, took off our street shoes at the front door, and disinfected handles, cell phones, and keyboards obsessively. We constantly rubbed our hands with Alcogel for 30 seconds, almost in our sleep, a la Lady Macbeth.
That was all back in March and April when we were still learning the steps of the dance. But when our intricately planned trip to Madrid-Barcelona-Lisbon was cancelled in May, I fell flat on my face. What now?
Not only did I grieve over the lost adventure, but also over the lost airfare with the low costs I had booked with. Not one to give in to despair, I hoisted myself up from the dance floor, and for the next ten days we cavorted through our destinations virtually.
We took off from the comfort of our kitchen table and landed in the different airports (Madrid was the nicest!) and visited our designated sites (so much Jewish history!). Never before did we have such a glitch-free vacation. We didn’t miss any flights or trains, lost no luggage, slept in clean, comfortable beds, saved tons of money on admission fees, didn’t have to break our teeth in Spanish, and met neither pickpockets nor policemen. I even shopped around online for souvenirs and ordered some chotchkes from the Alma Nostra site for the grandchildren. Best of all, we had no problems with kosher food, as restaurants in Jerusalem were closed, but open for take-out.
Then our spiritual well-being was challenged. Schools and yeshivas closed, reopened in small capsules (yes, as in rocket ships), then closed again. Even our shuls closed and opened and closed again. We davened down in the parking lot, midair from our balconies, and up on the rooftops. Pesach passed over us without guests, and we did solo Shavuos mishmars. Unfortunately, despite many varied and learned predictions, Moshiach didn’t arrive, and our patience and perseverance waned.
As the number of infected and deceased leaped up dramatically at the summer’s end – together with a commensurate increase of protests, strikes and Covid-deniers – our government decreed the Tishrei lockdown. Now everything was closed, except for supermarkets and medical facilities. No one was allowed to stray more than one measly kilometer from their home.
The lockdown was a necessary but tortuous measure. Parents lost patience with their home-schooled children and store owners lost their businesses. Of course, the growing loss of lives was the most excruciating and frightening for all.
But even non-life threatening losses that the lockdown caused, such as not being able to see your grandchildren, forfeiting your daily swim, being deprived of a wedding with more than 10 guests, not being able to participate in a close relative’s funeral, or failing to reach Uman for Rosh Hashanah, were agonizing for the people to whom these activities were crucially important.
For my husband and I, not being able to daven at the Kotel every Wednesday morning as we had done for many years was agonizing. My daughter attempted to reach the Old City from Bayit Vegan and a kind policemen sent her home and graciously did not issue a fine. My neighbor’s son was not so lucky. He and his little boy were each fined 500 Shekels. As law abiding citizens, we didn’t even try.
Yet a friend who recently retired and came on aliyah did venture out. Ever since he had settled in the holy city of Jerusalem, he made the commitment to daven at the vasikin weekday minyan at the Kotel every morning. So on the first day of Chol HaMoed, he jumped into his car at 4:20 a.m. and drove to the Old City. A policeman promptly stopped him at Jaffa Gate.
“Do you live here in the Old City, mister?” the policeman asked.
“No, I live in Ramat Eshkol.”
“Then what are you doing here, outside the kilometer limit?
“I’m going to my doctor, that’s allowed according to the rules, isn’t it?” he replied without batting an eyelid.
“Your doctor? Really! At 4:30 in the morning? C’mon. Who d’ya think your kiddin?” the policeman chuckled as he flourished his pad of ticket forms and eased his pen out from behind his left ear.
“Yes, really,” he retorted indignantly. “I am telling you the truth. I am on my way to the Kotel to daven to He who heals all flesh – rofeh kol basar!”
The policeman grinned, moved aside, and waved him in.