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I didn’t recognize you without your mask

Remember being stuck within 100 meters of home? Ordering groceries? So much Netflix. Finally, at least for now, we're reclaiming our lives - and our smiles

On the bus this morning in Tel Aviv, nearly half the passengers and the driver were wearing masks. The loudspeakers played a message stating there was no place for coronavirus. Earlier at the train station, masks hid the faces of foreign workers and the elderly, but also the faces of several soldiers and businessmen. I rubbed my exposed chin, wondering if I should have worn my mask after all.

Two years into the pandemic, we could be at the end of the pandemic, and it is strange. Leaving home without a mask, I felt like I had forgotten something. I felt naked, unprotected. Yet, I also felt safe.

A few weeks ago, I tested positive for COVID-19, but it was an almost symptom-free case. While many of my coworkers reported fevers and that they could barely get out of bed, I experienced nothing more than one evening of chills. My wife also had a mild case, and luckily my children had just a day of discomfort. My granddaughters also tested positive and except for my son-in-law, every member of my immediate family has had coronavirus.

Maybe it was the two vaccinations and the two boosters that protected me. I had two bouts of persistent coughs over the past year that were more serious. Like most Israelis, I tested positive for the virus, but it wasn’t entirely a negative experience.

I remember back to the early days of the pandemic. We monitored reports of when people with coronavirus visited a supermarket, or traveled on a bus, fearing that we had been exposed. We wore masks everywhere, even outside. We were not allowed to go more than 100 meters from our homes. Police stopped my car on a traffic-free highway during a closure, and only let me continue driving when they learned I was on my way to a pharmacy.

Everything became part of our norm. Working from home; watching Netflix; ordering groceries and other products online; office meetings, family gatherings, and even Passover seders on Zoom. What about our children missing so much school and social interaction? Israel, along with the rest of the world, shut down. No air travel, no tourists, no restaurants or hotels. No normal life.

But, little by little, we began to reclaim our lives. Until the next variant arrived.

For the time being, we are mask-free. There are still reports of Israelis testing positive every day, but the number of serious and hospitalized cases remains manageable. Things are looking up and my wife and I are planning a trip overseas. We are very positive, and that’s a good thing. Our biggest worry today is how crowded the airport will be when we leave for our vacation.

Masks are off and it’s wonderful to see people’s faces again, and their smiles.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.
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