Notes From a Quarantine

I’m a “Godfather” fan, and by fan I mean fanatic. The type who, when he chances upon Parts I or II while channel surfing, stops to watch just a minute or so and returns to real life a few hours later. The type who has not only seen the “Godfather Saga,” the chronological version recut by Coppola that includes scenes not in the originals, but also owns separate DVDs with those extra scenes. The type who makes one of his daughters, in her bat mitzvah d’var Torah, contrast how Yosef and Michael acted toward their brothers after their father’s/mother’s death. The type who revels in iconic Godfather quotes (“I believe in America,” “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” “revenge is a dish best served cold,” “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” “it’s not personal, it’s strictly business,” and so many many more), and smiles knowingly when others quote these lines (other than Rudy Giuliani, of course, whom even the Godfather can’t redeem).

You may have noticed I referred to Parts I and II but not III, because Godfather cognoscenti do not think highly of the last film. It has a difficult-to-follow and sometimes incoherent plot and an inadequate Sofia Coppola in a major role (nepotism often doesn’t work out well), deeply misses the powerful acting of Brando, De Niro, Duvall, Caan, and Castellano, and lacks much of the rich texture and gripping family (in all its meanings) drama of the first two parts. (The recently re-edited Part III, now called “The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone,” is an improvement, though it’s still a minor league version of its two world series winner predecessors.)

But even Part III/Coda has one great, memorable piece of dialogue by Michael, as he laments the impossibility of his becoming a completely legitimate businessman: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” (To get that line’s full effect, close your eyes and imagine an older Al Pacino emoting it.)

I feel a bit like Michael. As someone who acted with extreme care during the pandemic but recently eased up a bit after my second vaccination (e.g., returning to indoor services in shul on Shabbat morning, albeit in a masked, separate, vaccinated section), I’m now in Toronto with my wife, Sharon, and our daughters Micole and Daniele, observing a strict two-week quarantine in anticipation of my oldest grandson Ezra’s bar mitzvah, and feeling: Just when I thought I was beginning to be out of pandemic limitations, just when I thought I could begin to rejoin the world, see my friends and family, eat a meal in a restaurant, watch a movie on a large screen, or attend a class with real-sized actual people rather than 25 boxes on a screen, I’m being pulled back into pandemic restrictions even more severe than what I’d endured for almost fifteen months.

What’s particularly frustrating is that Canada ignores the fact that I’ve been vaccinated twice, took a PCR test before leaving Teaneck (negative), had another one at the border (ditto), and a third, via telemed and overnight delivery, on the eighth day of quarantine (yup, nothing changed). And yet the fourteen days is inviolate; we have to endure all quarantine restrictions until midnight of the very last day.

The most basic rule is that we’re not allowed to leave my daughter Raquel and son-in-law Jason’s property — thank God for their backyard and driveway, though walking around and around in circles to get my steps is difficult and would probably be impossible were it not for audiobook listening. We therefore can’t go to the supermarket, take a walk in the park near their home, or visit Jason’s parents and Bubbie Dinah as we usually do when we’re in Toronto.

And since attending shul is forbidden and Shavuot fell at the beginning of our quarantine, I once again couldn’t chant the priestly blessing (birchat kohanim) in shul, and missed hearing live the special davening and readings associated with the holiday. Because of Congregation Shaarei Shomayim’s thoughtful erev yom tov Zoom programs, however, I was able to recite yizkor remotely (thank you Rabbi Strauchler and Chazzan Freund) and hear the reading of Ruth, with Raquel chanting her assigned chapter from her dining room and me listening from the basement.

We have separate living quarters in the house, check in daily on the ArriveCAN app, receive calls from the government every other day or so to make sure we’re following all the rules and don’t have any covid symptoms, and even had a federal officer stop by one morning to see with her own eyes that we all were exactly where we were supposed to be.

But it’s all for a good cause. No, make that a wonderful occasion. At the very beginning of the pandemic, Sharon, who was prescient about many covid-related matters (when others were angsting in March 2020 about making a covid Pesach, she was worrying about what would happen on the Yamim Nora’im), told me that she had one major goal — to be in Toronto for the 2021 Memorial Day weekend and participate in Ezra’s bar mitzvah.

That was a refrain repeated numerous times over the past fifteen months. And we are blessed that we’re here, and that by the bar mitzvah we’ll be out of quarantine and able to revel in the accomplishments of our beloved grandson and nephew. (Note: The quarantine hasn’t ended and the bar mitzvah hasn’t occurred — column on that to follow — as I write this, though they’ll be over by the time the column appears.)

I’ve noted in earlier columns that compared to many, we were quite privileged as the world turned upside down. So in certain ways, this quarantine is really the first hardship we’re enduring. Except it’s really not. Other than my not being able to get a daily print copy of the New York Times (though my Toronto kids made an effort to get it for me, they were successful, unfortunately, only once) or watch the Yankees on YES (which isn’t available in Canada) and thus missed seeing Kluber’s no-hitter, we’re privileged even now. We’re surrounded by loving family (though on different floors), in a comfortable house with plenty of space and the ability to go outside (with the weather helping for once), piles of food (take-out and homemade, all delicious), and, critical in 2021, lots of working wifi, which enables Sharon to continue her exercise and cooking and me my beit midrash classes while my grandkids go to Zoom school and Raquel and Jason Zoom work.

And most important, at the end of the rainbow — make that gray thundercloud — there’s a pot of gold: We get up from quarantine and go straight to celebrate Ezra’s bar mitzvah. In the scheme of life, all else — the endless covid testing, a nine-hour car ride with an unpleasant border guard (the exception that proves the rule about how nice Canadians are), an unnecessary and overly long quarantine, and, due to Ontario’s lockdown, a very incomplete bar mitzvah guest list, missing many beloved relatives including an aunt, uncle and new baby cousin and great-aunts and -uncles, who will all be relegated to Zoom — fades into the background.

The civil rights hymn teaches us to keep our eyes on the prize. The prize in this quarantine is Ezra; a prize that makes it all worthwhile; a prize that makes us feel blessed.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is the author of “A Passionate Writing Life: From ‘In my Opinion’ to ‘I’ve Been Thinking’” (available at Teaneck's Judaica House and its website). A retired lawyer and long-time resident of Teaneck with his wife Sharon, they’ve been blessed with four wonderful daughters and five delicious grandchildren.
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