After over a month, Israel last week began lifting some of the restrictions of its third national lockdown.
Most of the changes involved non-customer businesses. Schools were allowed to open for younger grades, but only in cities with “yellow” or “green” ratings on the ramzor (traffic light model). Our city of Modi’in is still seeing a high level of positive cases and has an “orange” ranking.
The only real change in restrictions that trickled down to our family was the lifting of the restriction on traveling more than one kilometer from one’s home. As my kids and I have taken daily walks for a month now, it is not an exaggeration to say that we literally know every crack in the sidewalk within our allowed kilometer. So walking even just an extra block now is like a breath of freedom – even from behind our double-layered masks.
Just a few days into this newfound freedom, I received a WhatsApp message from my old college friend, Danya, inviting us to join her family on a tiyul (trip) to see the “shkediah” (almond tree) blossoms. My immediate reaction was: No way! An outing? With other people? Simply out of the question!
My husband, however, saw things a bit differently. Baruch Hashem, he is fully vaccinated, and I have already had my first shot. We will have to eventually venture out again, and what better way than with an old friend in an outdoor setting?
Though nervous, I couldn’t help but start feeling excited as we arranged to meet at Park Canada, a national park just 10 minutes from our home. (As my husband is originally from Canada, we teased him that he was finally going home for a visit. We also laughed that we must be crazy going to Canada without our winter boots and coats!)
As we pulled into the dirt roads that double as the “parking lot” for the park on Friday morning, it was clear that we were not the only Israelis taking advantage of the lockdown freedom. From my count, hundreds of cars packed along the road, and groups of families huddled around picnic benches and mangalim (portable barbeques). My son’s eyes were bulging as he noticed people pitching tents, as his ultimate and yet unfulfilled dream is to go camping here in Israel.
(I would later read that thousands of people flocked to the national parks this past weekend. Magen David Adom even set up a pop-up vaccine station in one of the southern national parks in an effort to vaccinate more people!)
As it turns out, I was not the only friend that Danya had invited along. More than a decade ago, during my Yeshiva University days, I had a close chevra of friends who dreamed of making aliyah. Over the years, while my husband and I continued to plan our aliyah, many of this chevra blazed the way for us, building their homes and families in Israel.
Since our arrival, without fail, one of them has messaged us each week to check in on us. And now, thanks to Danya’s efforts, a few members of the old crew were reunited, along with the addition of a whole new generation of future friends. After a quick snack of Bissli and chocolate spread sandwiches, we managed to assemble the crew of kids – ranging from just seven weeks to 10 years old – and headed out in search of the blooming almond trees.
Walking along the trail on the beautiful sunny day, surrounded by colorful kalaniyot (anemone wildflowers) blooming all around, felt almost surreal. After more than a month of staring at the walls, we now looked out at an endless number of trees and hills.
The older kids quickly ran ahead, finding boulders to climb up and dirt hills to slide down. It was clear from their excited shrieks that they were enjoying being able to let loose out in the free air in the company of other kids. Even the toddlers could feel the excitement as they tried their best to conquer the uneven stone paths and keep up with the big kids.
While I could not exactly set aside the reality of our lives these days, which forced us to walk two meters apart, spending time again with these friends and their families felt like a part of my aliyah dream finally coming true. At long last, we were here together in Israel for good.
For those friends who have not yet been able to make the move, keep at it. It may take time, but you will make it here too and we can’t wait to welcome you and the family when you do.