Quarantine Diaries: a story in 5 parts (part 3)

Our family's journey from Washington DC to Sydney during Coronavirus. A special passover seder delivery arrived to our hotel room from the Jewish community

Quarantine Diaries 3 – Pessach in Quarantine

Midway in the Pessah seder, we are asked to dip our pinky in a glass of red wine and drop 10 ruby droplets onto a plate to remember the suffering caused by the 10 plagues which God brought upon Egypt.

This Pessah, locked in hotel captivity, I could count at least two plagues in our midst. The pandemic plague known as Coronavirus, and the smaller, less significant but highly irritating pestilence known as lice, which my youngest  had brought to Australia’s shores all the way from the US. Sorry Australia.

The lice seemed to have jumped onto my head too. Probably because I used our enforced proximity to embrace her multiple times a day. I searched for our lice comb for an hour in every nook and cranny of our 15 suitcases and finally found it. And then I attacked those lice with a zeal they did not see coming.

This year instead of following the rabbinical precept to read the Haggadah as if we ourselves were released from slavery in Egypt, I read the Haggadah as if we ourselves are still in Egypt. Freedom is still somewhere off around the corner.

While we all sit isolated in the straits and narrows of our homes and hotel rooms and an actual plague lurks outside our doorway, running havoc with our lives and the world we’ve made and known, Pessah seemed almost too close for comfort. Though we were not biblically daubing our door posts with lamb’s blood to evade the angel of death, we are still manically washing our hands, distancing and sterilising in an urgent secular prayer that the coronavirus will pass-over our home and our loved ones.

The messages of Pessah seems muddled with the intensity with which we are living through our present moment. It’s hard to get disentagled. Or maybe, the point is that we shouldn’t.

My son woke up with a cough on day 4 of quarantine and the powers that oversee our hotel captivity decided that he needed to be tested for Covid-19. A doctor and a nurse arrived at our door in full protective gear and kindly asked my son to step outside. I pushed myself up close to the door spyhole and maintained a fish-eyed lens vigil on the entire proceedings. The doctor used a long cotton swab to stroke his tonsils and then another two high up in each nostril cavity for what seemed an interminable length of time till l saw his eyes water and his body tremble.

I don’t know if you feel it too, but grief is very close to the surface now. We are grieving the lives we used to live, we are grieving the distance from our loved ones, we are grieving the loss of touch. Some are grieving far worse. It feels like a darkness. Our vulnerabilty too, has come to the fore in ways we usually work very hard to keep at bay. Will we feel a rush of freedom when all this is over? Will a return to normal even feel like freedom or will this be our portal to a different way of living, with our selves, with each other, with the earth?

For the first time at this years’ Seder, I connected much more intimately with what the Jewish people must have felt at leaving their homes in Egypt. I usually struggle with their complacency and find it difficult to comprehed their reluctance to embrace freedom over slavery. They needed the plagues to convince them as much as Pharoah did. But now that I have left my own home at a volatile unsteady time with no place to call our own on the horizon, I see that what they were experiencing was not complacency, but vulnerability. What I see now is that they were lost, the way we are lost.

Freedom is still around the corner, but when I think of freedom now, I think of it much less as a journey out than a journey in. It is a journey that asks us to make spaciousness in the tight dark places, It asks us to sit with the ache and grief and vulnerability, to hold it tenderly and see what takes root.

Something will grow from this, I’m just not sure what.

About the Author
Gadia Zrihan is a Jewish wanderer par excellence. Born in Paris, she is a citizen of Australia, Israel and France with a touch of vagabond. She recently spent 4 years sojourning with her family in Washington DC and has now relocated to Sydney. Her heart's home is in Jerusalem. But for now, it’s about the journey not the destination.