I haven’t decided yet if the required two week quarantine I am living under now is a blessing in disguise or a pain in the neck. As I mentioned in my last post, I am fortunate to have a support system here in Israel and I am carrying out my isolation in a fully stocked, furnished rental with outdoor space. This allows me to have socially distant visits on the patio. The alternative is fulfilling my quarantine at a hotel where – to put it mildly there is less freedom of movement (not to mention guards on each floor enforcing it).
Quarantine is tough and jet lag doesn’t help. I am sitting with a to do list that seems endless. Aliyah as a concept is different from reality. In my pre Aliyah fantasies it’s all about the shuk, kuba soup, hanging with my family and Shlomo Artzi on the radio. Reality is about going from quarantine to the Interior Ministry to get a biometric identity card. From there to a bank to open an account. When I heard about how banking works here I finally had my “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. There’s more, lots more.
On the other hand, quarantine has forced me to hurry up and wait. There is absolutely nothing I can do until it’s over. So for now I’ve made the requisite appointments for when I am done, researched car leasing options, took virtual tours of apartments for rent, facetimed with the US family, binge watched “The Crown” and I am tackling Barack Obama’s newly released memoirs.
I take comfort that the more things here are different the more they seem the same. In my home in New York especially during Covid, CNN was continuously on in the background. While I am not a big fan of CNN International (too eurocentric for me), I do tune into it periodically. However, when they have news hours, I prefer Israel’s channel 12. My Hebrew is proficient enough to understand 90% of what they are saying though admittedly, my brain still has to translate so the broadcast reaches my brain as if on a 2 or 3 second delay.
I was always a consumer of news from Israel and thus am up to date on the political situation here, but looping local news is discrepant from cherry picking news stories from Haaretz or the Jerusalem Post on my iPad. The first thing that struck me after a couple of days of watching, was just how similar to the US events here in Israel are unfolding. There was a big uproar here about a funeral held last week in Jerusalem for a Rosh Yeshiva from Mir, attended by tens of thousands of mostly Haredi men, many without masks. When interviewed, a correspondent from a Haredi broadcast station claimed it was no different than the weekly protests held outside the prime minister’s home on Balfour Street. Sound familiar?
Political maneuvering is hindering the passage of a budget including Covid relief. Many would be surprised to know I am referring to the 2020 budget. Israel does not have a mechanism that allows the government to shut down like in the US. There is usually a deadline to pass the budget but the political impasse that caused three elections in twelve months here allowed the Knesset to extend the deadline again and again. The final deadline is set for December 23rd at which point if no 2020 budget is passed the government will fall, by law. That should be easy to fix or so you would think. But in Israel governments are formed with coalitions and the main coalition partner will not agree to pass a budget for 2020 this late in the game without passage of a budget for 2021 as well. Makes sense, except this is Israel and politics here doesn’t always make sense.
While there is plenty of finger pointing and each side is claiming to be on the side of justice, they fiddle and thousands of businesses are closing, people cannot pay for rent, health insurance or buy food. Nobody seems to be happy with how the government is handling school openings. There is talk of another national lockdown and they have already announced curfews for all of Chanukah and New Years Eve. It’s a mess. A mess no different than the one I left behind.
Then just like that I am given a reminder of why I am here, what made me come here in the first place. For a moment – Covid, the coalition crisis, my upcoming bureaucratic nightmare battles all seem irrelevant. I had to call some ministry for some information and endured the usual wait time. I got the information I needed and the woman who was helping me wished me well and ended the call with “Chanukah sameach.” I may not be in “Kansas” anymore but that greeting reminded me that I’m home. Those intangibles convert negativity into hope and hope is what we all need more of right now.