When we first arrived in Israel six months ago, we were among the first olim to head straight into a 14-day mandatory quarantine. We arrived in a city where we barely knew anyone to an apartment we had never visited, and all we had in our possession were 15 suitcases. For two weeks we lived off the kindness of the community, as they provided us with meals, groceries, toys, and whatever else we were lacking.
Now, six months later, we find ourselves back in quarantine.
In Israel, it’s very easy to find yourself in quarantine – a friend of mine has been unlucky enough to already experience it three times. I’m actually surprised that somehow we’ve escaped it since our arrival. According to the rules, anyone who has been in close proximity to a confirmed Covid-19 case for 15 minutes must immediately enter quarantine.
Quarantine means absolutely no in-person contact with the outside world. You quite literally lock your apartment door and don’t leave for 14 days. During our first round of bidud, the police actually came by to check that we were quarantined as required. Quarantine in Israel is taken seriously and any violation can result in a steep fine or even a prison sentence.
One way you learn that you’re being sent to quarantine is via an alert on your phone. The Israeli Ministry of Health has an app called “Hamagen” (the shield), which Israeli residents can download onto their phones. This app, according to the Ministry’s website, cross checks a cell phone user’s GPS history and bluetooth services to determine if the user was in the same location as an already confirmed Covid-19 patient.
Should the app find a location overlap, an alert pops up on your phone. The app essentially operates on an honor system. Anyone who receives a notification must either confirm the overlap through the app (in which case he must immediately enter quarantine) or respond that he was not in the area indicated. I myself have received notifications on two separate occasions, but thankfully, they were false alarms and I was able to avoid quarantine.
In addition to this app, Israel also relies on virus tracking conducted by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. In true “Big Brother” fashion, the Shin Bet finds contact points between Covid-19 patients and others using cell phone tracking systems generally employed for counterterrorism operations. If the Shin Bet determines you’ve been in contact with a patient, there is no disputing it. Whether the information is accurate or not, you must immediately enter quarantine.
Most people enter quarantine, though, after receiving a notice from a local shul or school. The shul or school administration sends a friendly WhatsApp message that lets you know that you have to quarantine and ends with a wish that it hopes to see you again soon.
For us, it was my husband’s very small, very socially distanced, masked Rosh Hashanah minyan that sentenced us to quarantine. (Thankfully, the congregant responsible for the WhatsApp message we received has a mild case and we wish him a refuah sheleima!)
This quarantine round we have been able to mostly care for ourselves as we are fully stocked up with foods, crafts, books, and toys. We have favorite restaurants to order delivery from and friends to call to drop things off in a pinch (like our arba minim for Sukkot!). My son is able to have Zoom play dates with classmates and even my daughter receives WhatsApp videos from her teachers to brighten her day.
As the entire country is currently in a state of lockdown, schools have gone online, so my son is able to continue his kita alef studies, and I can continue with my ulpan (at least as long as my daughter cooperates). While it certainly can feel lonely in quarantine, this time we don’t feel quite as adrift at sea as we have set down roots in our new home.
Obviously, quarantining is frustrating and after one week inside, even I’m climbing the walls. But I’m thankful that, Baruch Hashem, we are all healthy.
May Hashem continue to protect us and all of Klal Yisrael in the new year.