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The big, small, sea-less world

How easily the coronavirus made all of my stomping grounds, from my village to my city and the country and the world, fade from my awareness
Sunset in Sinai (Ruthi Soudack)
Sunset in Sinai (Ruthi Soudack)

It was when I saw the stone buildings at Har Herzl tinted by the pink light of the setting sun, or that same evening sun reflecting off the windows of a high-rise building in the Katamonim, that I realized how small, how intimate, my world had become. I don’t know what it was in that sunset glow, perhaps that I hadn’t seen it in quite that way for so long, but it suddenly made the obvious obvious – I had grown completely accustomed to a life confined to a limited space, to its views, and to minimal social interaction.

For three months now, I have been at home. Like most other people in the world. But each has his or her own circumstances – alone, with a partner, with a family, going out to work or not, or simply ignoring the situation and continuing to socialize as usual. My life during this period has been populated by myself, my cat, the people I pass on the street on my way to walk in the forest, and the one or two friends who live close by, with whom I share an occasional Shabbat or holiday meal, or a walk. But last week, I went out, twice, for the first time since the beginning of the Corona crisis. That is, other than my as-infrequent-as-possible jaunts to the supermarket or the shuk or the cat food store, or to eat take-away sushi with a friend on a park bench (and that was a long time in coming), or a quick outdoor shiva call (where someone tried to hug me and I completely freaked out). I went to two actual events, outside of my village. The first was a music evening, at which I knew the people would distance and wear masks, so it was a safe first venture out. At the second event, though it was held outside, many people were unmasked and close to one another, and I felt vulnerable. These were my more-or-less-comfortable trips out into the bigger world. And it confirmed, there’s no safe place like home.

Before Corona, I regularly traveled out of and around the country. And though I live in land-locked Jerusalem, I always spent time by the sea, whether it was in Sinai, Turkey, or even on a trip to Tel Aviv on a day off of work.

I went to endless cultural events, lectures, films, and seldom ate a meal at home. But during Corona time, I’ve hunkered down in my house and in the forest surrounding Ein Karem, seeing the same wonderful mountainside, with its domed and spired churches, through the window behind my computer screen each day, as I sit at my kitchen table, working from home. For three months, I’ve cooked for myself (unthinkable). And while, for many, the world has begun to open up again, I have stayed home, as going out is surely no safer now than it was three months ago, likely less so. I haven’t seen the sea for six months.

The view to which I work (Ruthi Soudack)

It’s astonishing how quickly and radically the scale of our reality can change. How easily the city beyond my village, and the country beyond the city, and the world beyond the country – all of which were once my stomping ground – have faded from my awareness and experience. Except for the sea, which I can never forget — the moist air, the water, the damp sand under my bare feet. The sound of the waves.

I have become accustomed to living in this small, intimate, world. I don’t watch Netflix or socialize online (although I do “attend” a few meetings and classes). I miss the sea terribly,  and, as I’m not willing to travel on public transportation, seeing it still seems to be a distant dream (yes, suddenly something seemingly so mundane has become a dream). But you know what? Other than missing the sea, and my friends, I’m not rushing to change anything. I’m enjoying it. I’ve discovered how big and beautiful a small world can be.

About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic. (Profile picture by Shira Aboulafia)
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