Shlomit Metz-Poolat
If you will it, it is no dream!

Loving Israel in the time of Corona

“Why would you make aliyah now?” Everyone, I mean everyone, kept asking us that. At one point my partner even answered, “Because we are crazy!” Well, yes and no. Yes, it is absolutely insane to pick yourselves up, take your elderly parent, two dogs, with no jobs lined up, ship all of your worldly belongings in a shipping container over the ocean, hoping pirates or storms don’t sink the boat it is on – not kidding, they have insurance for that – and land in a country with different, very different, well everything, than what we have known for our whole lives. Sounds pretty crazy to me, even just reading what I wrote!

But it’s not crazy, not even close. A lifelong dream held by millions of Jews throughout the millennia. One nation, scattered amongst all the other nations, with the same dream – to go home to the land of Israel. Just open a siddur (prayer book); we dream, pray, and hope to return to our homeland and to live freely as Jews in that land. Even Israel’s national anthem is called Hatikvah, named for that hope; for that yearning to walk, live, and exist on our sacred land. It is my dream, and it is my partner’s dream – it became our dream. And here we are. Not crazy at all; we are in good company. We even joined our brave daughter, who left almost one year ago to become a combat medic near Lebanon. I often think, just so I could worry every day like every other Israeli mom!

But the question still remains, why now? If not now, then when. If we had waited for the perfect time would it actually come? Sometimes, now or never is true. Life events can get “in the way.” And that is ok, for me some included education, family, raising a child, a rewarding career, and meeting my soul mate. But the entire, time, over 30 years of my adult life, my heart was pulled east. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Golan, Haifa, the Gush, Eilat, and Ra’anana called. It was time. But then came Corona, something that personally struck me and members of my family. And we knew that going now meant quarantine for two whole weeks. Not American-style quarantine, Israeli style quarantine! Where the police can come and check on you anytime, where groceries have to be delivered, where dog walkers had to be hired, and where our beloved family and friends could only be spoken to from afar, while masked and two meters away, through a door way, or hanging out a window. Thank G-d for video chat!

After two cancelled flights because of Corona, we were on our way, thanks to Nefesh B’ Nefesh! An organization, along with the Jewish Agency, that treated my partner and I like any other married couple. Thank you, Adina, Sarah, and Rivkah. And thank you Mor at the Jewish Agency, who got our visas as the gates were closing for a few months. We were coming to a country that just like any married couple, would have one joint Aliyah certificate. We came because with Israel there is always hope and progress. Thankfully, by the time we came, the hotel requirement had been lifted and we could rent on apartment. And here we are, playing cards like we are in prison, (former prosecutor humor), taking care of our elderly parent, and watching our puppy chase her toys. It really is not that bad. And as my partner said, “Well, you always said you wanted to spend more time together!” And that is what gets one through here, a wicked sense of humor shared by most of the Israeli population. She will be just fine in this country.

And just to provide an understanding of how life is lived here, and how we laugh through the ups and downs, let’s just look into Israeli daily life for a minute. Not kidding, we encountered these during our quarantine time. I tried calling a bank as instructed by our Aliyah network, to make an appointment in order to open a bank account, only to be told by the bank that only account holders can make an appointment! We called a doctor’s office to make an appointment for my mother-in-law, and explained that we just made Aliyah from America, only to be told by the secretary “what a jerk your President is” – because in Israel everyone has an opinion and voices it!

I called a local appliance store, thanks to the 13,000 members of not-so-secret “Secret Ra’anana” on Facebook, in order to get advice on where to locally buy a water kettle for shabbos. I spoke to this man, Effie (everyone goes by their first names here – think Bibi) and he told me it costs 320 shekels. I told him I only had denominations of 200 shekels, that Israel gave us upon our arrival (seed money to help us settle in, which we wanted to return to the economy), to make sure the delivery man came with change, and he said “That’s ok, I will charge you 400 shekels!” And with no delivery man in sight, Effie delivered it himself, on a Thursday night, on his way home, and he is the store owner! (Yes, he came with change!)

Even our dogs felt a difference here. The older one is sleepier and the puppy was eating less. We thought it may be time to change dog foods. I call the local pet store owner (simply named “Pet Shop”), whom I met in February on my pilot trip, Lior, and not only did he remember me, but he had great advice for us. And he too, with no delivery guy that night, brought the food over on his way home, simply because I told him we were in quarantine. That is Israel. We spoke like old friends, as it comes so easy here, and Lior and I also spoke about the heat in Israel.  He suggested that my dog may also be eating less because of the heat, like everyone else. So, I quipped, “Then why is that not true for those of us in quarantine?!” We had a good laugh and I realized what an Israeli sense of humor I have always had. I think I will fit right in.

And we came because we knew about the kindness of family and strangers. Our aunt and uncle, and their granddaughter, stocked our home with groceries we had ordered before we landed. And our aunt Ramona, is a legendary cook, who fed us yummy Iraqi dishes and much love. Uncle Bob brought us newspapers and flowers. Family and friends sent us flowers, challahs, and yummy pastries (some of the best in the world!). Our dog walker, a young man I found, through Facebook again, has this amazing step-mom, an immigrant from Turkey, who offered to help us at night with the dogs when he could not come. She has also offered sage advice and support to my partner, who like her came with no Hebrew. Even, a neighbor down the block, introduced to me via WhatsApp when we landed (by a kind Rabbi who wanted to make sure we felt welcome and included) has checked in on us each day and personally dropped off bandages we had needed. In the bag of supplies, he left his card. I had no idea who he was. He is a professor at one of the largest universities here, who offered to run errands for us. The kindness and lack of pretentiousness is why we came. They have all been a godsend! And no, I am not deluding myself – there is good and bad here, but I believe in my heart that the good outways the bad, because I see it here every day.

That is why we made Aliyah in the time of Corona. Because not only do we love Israel, we love her people. Her one big, dysfunctional, yet functional, family here, where we all look out for each other; because we all know life is too short not to. We laugh in the times of adversity; even through the tears. We care more, fight harder, and look out for one another like nowhere else in the world. That is why we came. I feel safer here; a place where all lives matter, even through the politics, or racial, or religious divides; a place where even when the proverbial s&%# hits the fan, Israel looks out for its people, all of them. With a population the size of New York City, Israel has still managed to come out fighting with “only” approximately 300 Corona related deaths. It refused, as always, to go quietly into the night. It has been working hard to create a vaccine, all while treating the currently sick, and having treated the formerly sick, successfully and in greater numbers than I have seen anywhere else. Loving Israel in the time of Corona is truly about trust and love. Amidst all the political unrest that Israel knows too, the foremost focus here is always on our humanity. Here, every life matters. We trust Israel. We trust her people. We love them both. That is why we came.

About the Author
Shlomit is a former career prosecutor - one who always believes in seeking justice for others. She holds a degree in Judaic Studies from Brooklyn College and a law degree from Hofstra (1998). She is a yeshiva high school graduate (Central/YUHSG,1988). In 2016 Shlomit spoke on a panel at the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) on the necessity for inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Orthodox world and the impact that exclusion has caused to that community. Since then she has been advocating for their full acceptance in the frum world and blogging her thoughts. On June 9, 2020 she and her partner realized their dream of making Aliyah, joining their extended families, and most excitedly, their daughter who is a combat medic in the IDF, and of whom they could not be prouder.
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