This past week has been a whirlwind for us all. Just last Sunday, I was strolling through Liberty Bell Park on a clear Jerusalem day when my mom called and said, “Manya, I think you need to change your Passover flight and come home this week.” I told her I couldn’t leave my position as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow and assured her everything would be just fine. As the Coronavirus situation escalated over the next few days, I realized she was right. I quickly called El Al and managed to change my ticket (after an hour on hold—and I was one of the lucky ones). When I checked back later in the day, all of the El Al flights were gone.
I prayed I made the right decision. At this point, I didn’t know Israeli schools were going to shut down. I didn’t know if Masa would let me come back on the program. I didn’t even know when I would be able to return to Israel. I just knew that right now, I needed to get home.
Ben Gurion Airport was a madhouse Saturday night filled with thousands of yeshiva and seminary students trying to get home on last-minute flights. I overheard one girl saying she found out she was leaving Israel just a few hours earlier. She turned on her phone after Shabbat to a text from her mom that read: “Pack up your things and get to the airport.”
After a long, unsettling flight, I landed in Miami, FL. and stepped onto American soil for the first time in nine months. I was overwhelmed with mixed feelings about leaving Israel, especially when the passport control agent said curtly, “Welcome back.” Welcome back?! In Israel, they say “Welcome home.” But I knew I had made the right decision.
When I opened my eyes this morning in my childhood bed, I felt like I was awakening from a long dream. While the coronavirus pandemic is no dream, it’s a useful metaphor for thinking about our perception of the current reality. Is it a bad dream filled with palpable fear and uncertainty? Is it a nightmare filled with overwhelming darkness and dread? Or is it a good dream filled with love and faith and endless Spring Break?
For one, I am struck by the radical mindfulness Coronavirus has given us. We are literally forced to live day by day, with absolutely no idea what tomorrow brings. All we have is right now. So we must love deeply now, cherish our lives now, say “I love you” and “I’m sorry” now. I’ve always been drawn to the practice of mindfulness but have never been able to fully implement it in my life. In a world that endlessly asks, “What if?” “What now? “What then?” we are conditioned to constantly think about the next step—to be anywhere but truly here. Coronavirus has melted that all away, teaching us how to be radically present. So thank you, Corona.
I encourage you to find your silver lining, whatever it may be. Reach out to others, love, give, pray. And most importantly, remember that all dreams—good dreams, bad dreams and even nightmares—come to an end. We will wake up in the morning to the sun shining and the birds singing with a newfound gratitude for normal, everyday life. So thank you Corona, for being our teacher. What has Corona taught you?