Kim Salzman

22 Days of Israel Quarantine (But Who’s Counting?)

I remember way back in February 2020 when the coronavirus was still mostly contained to China. I had a work trip to the United States on February 23, the day after the Israeli media reported that a group of pilgrims from South Korea had traveled to Israel while unknowingly sick with the virus, presumably spreading it all over Israel from the Golan Heights all the way to the Dead Sea. In Israel, we saw it coming. By the end of February 2020, the word “pandemic” was already being; when I arrived to the United States, however, I was surprised to discover that it did not yet seem to be on anyone’s radar.

Fast forward to Israel’s first wave of coronavirus, which our country managed quite well, in part because our leaders identified the virus’s potential at a relatively early stage. Israel even received international recognition for our successes in curbing the spread of the virus, including the strictly enforced quarantine measures put in place. One by one, Israelis all over the country got the dreaded message that they had been exposed to the virus and needed to quarantine themselves. My family got ours following attending a Purim tennis happening, where we were exposed to a confirmed case, and thus began our first quarantine of seven days. This was shortly followed by a nationwide month-long lockdown where Israelis were required to stay at home – other than for attaining the most basic of necessities – and where remote learning had us juggling laptops and zoom accounts, leaving me and my husband emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day. But Israel’s lockdown worked, and so Israelis including myself complied and had faith in the system.

By the end of May we had hardly any new cases, and life in Israel went back to normal – or at least our new coronavirus version of normal. Children including my own returned to school – at first in “capsules” or smaller groups of children, and then together with their entire class – and many workers returned to their offices. Some wore masks outside but others did not, but neither course of action was a political statement in any way. After two months of virtual lockdown and the resulting economic crisis, Israelis embraced their newfound freedom and we went back to living our lives as we did before the pandemic. My husband and I went to two live concerts at the Pabella, a small pub on our community village in Misgav, Manof, enjoying the soulful music of the talented Banai family. My kids went to birthday parties (outdoors, of course, but without masks); they had friends over for sleepovers; we went camping with friends; met with family inside their homes; we hugged, shared food, went to the beach, and lived life to its fullest. None of this behavior seemed to be atypical at the time and it was all in compliance with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines. In our complacency, Israelis behaved as if the coronavirus was a distant memory. Restarting the economy was the now the national priority, not flattening the curve.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus landed a massive slap across the face of the Israeli public as it began to spread like wildfire around the country. And before we knew it, we were in our second round of quarantine, this time for seven days due to my daughter being exposed to a confirmed case at an outdoor birthday party. Quarantine and all that it entails ensued – feeding three hungry children three times a day, running the dishwasher and then emptying the dishwasher (sometimes three times a day!), cleaning, laundry, ensuring the kids are safe and happy, and of course trying to stay on top of work throughout it all. Our amazing community did what they could to help – bringing us groceries, baking cookies, calling us to make sure we are okay, and more – and our house and garden provided us with enough space both indoors and out to not feel too stifled, a luxury that that far too many families in Israel do not have. Even with the maximum amount of support and resources, quarantine was still was challenging, and we were ready for it to be over. And then, on the Tuesday we were supposed to become free again, we got word that my son had been exposed to a confirmed case the day that we went into our second round of quarantine – and now we were to be on our third round, this time for eight days. We were all crushed. And exhausted.

But the exhaustion is not solely the result of staying at home for days on end as one might think. More than anything, I am exhausted from watching my country self-implode right in front of my eyes. In Israel, the self-defined coronavirus government – a reluctant coalition formed by Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White – has let the country down, spending more time on political squabbles than on taking care of the public health and getting the economy back on track. Unlike with the first wave, it appears as if the second wave we are currently in completely caught the government off guard, despite them having plenty of time to prepare for what should have been considered a likely eventuality. Weekly protests of the government are taking place all over the country, highlighting the degree to which Israelis have lost all faith in the government to responsibly lead.  We are on the verge of another lockdown, threatening even more damage to the already struggling Israeli economy. Schools may or may not reopen on September 1 (as of now, schools are reopening five days a week through fourth grade and are following a hybrid model for the older grades), but this decision could be reversed at any moment, leaving parents like me uncertain about how they will manage. We are now looking at the real prospects of having four elections in less than two years, at a cost to the Israeli public that we simply cannot afford to pay. Nearly one quarter of the population is unemployed, and the gaps between the haves and the have nots are widening to alarming levels. Non-profit organizations helping the hardest-hit by the pandemic are facing increased demands and diminished budgets. The security situation on the border with Lebanon – around half an hour from my home as the crow flies – is cause for concern. The Beirut explosion on the port left me and many other Israelis feeling even more despondent, as the tremendous loss of innocent lives felt so very close to home. And on a personal level, as an olah or immigrant, my parents, grandparents and siblings all live in the United States, and I have no idea when I will get to see them next. And I find myself, a person for whom Israel’s national anthem Ha’Tikvah (The Hope) fills me with tears and shivers, losing hope with each passing day.

The quarantine, with all its ups and downs, forced me and my family into a bubble – a bubble where we could turn down the noise of the country’s turmoil for a full twenty-two days. And while I have never been one to tune out the news, amid all the madness surrounding us, at least I can be safe at home with my three amazing children and husband. They help to restore my sense of hope in a time of hopelessness. And for that, quarantine has been a blessing. All twenty-two days of it.

About the Author
Kim Salzman lives in northern Israel and is the author of the historical fiction novel, Straddling Black and White. She works for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and is the proud mother of three amazing children.
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