It was Purim in Jerusalem that I decided that being outside is too dangerous because of the coronavirus epidemic. And this week, the day before Tu Bishvat, I had my vaccination (four and one week ago) and I’m free to walk the streets, go shopping, go to meetings, have guests, hug people, travel to Tel Aviv, and be singing in the rain (hopefully still).
I missed spring, I missed summer, I missed autumn. I missed shul for the first time in 40 years, day after day, week after week, Shabbat and Yom Tov after Shabbat and Yom Tov. I wasn’t there for Torah readings, for Kaddish, for Barechu, for Kol Nidre, for Hallel, for predications, and being part of the prayer quorum. Yes, we did a few Minyans on our balconies but the less-scared wanted to sit together again and left the more-cautious ones alone. Yes, a friend came to blow the Shofar under my balcony. I learned to celebrate Shabbat utterly alone — and enjoy it. Praying and sleeping and learning as it worked out or when I wanted.
I missed circumcisions, weddings, and funerals. Demonstrations, fancy dinners, and concerts. Trips and outings. Hugs and handshakes. So much!
But, I started paying more attention to cooking. I became braver in trying to compose new recipes and was awarded success. I found out that I can have extensive health-supporting meals with few shopping requests for my grown kids. I learned to say no to zoom sessions five times a day.
I began to enjoy being in my cave. Nasty people existed only virtually — one press on the button and they were gone. No more waiting for a bus. I gained so much time that I started writing new books, some long overdue.
And slowly but surely, I began to like being a recluse, solitary life. I never knew that that side of me could be so large. When I start to reenter public life, I will look back in nostalgia on the ten months that I stayed a hermit.
I understand that for someone who’s 20 and remembers the last 3 years only, a year of disrupted life is heavy. For me, with 60+ years of memories, and (hopefully) at least the same time span ahead of me, what’s a year?
I understand that the economy lies in shambles. But I never saved so much money not being able to go shop and buy stuff I don’t need. I feel for people whose livelihood was (almost) killed and I’ll try to play my part in vitalizing prosperity in exchange for some luxuries and goodness.
I understand that sadly, so many people died and fell sick and still are, many through no fault of their own, way before their time. So many more fell victim to a lack of proper information or understanding of the dangers.
With the epidemic ended, if only in Israel, so much good will bloom again.
But although I will again enjoy all the good things I missed out on, I won’t forget all the good that this staying put has given me. In the beginning, I’ll be upset by rudeness or challenged by uphill climbs. Let me take earplugs with me whenever I leave my cave. Some Israelis shout terribly even when they’re close to you. Plugs just take the edge off of it. And I hope to re-find my old/new balance but now enriched with a new introverted calmer self.
Tu Bishvat is such a nice holiday to go celebrate. It’s full of traditions, fun, and meaning without much shoulds and musts. It’s really a celebration.