Just another delightful day in quarantine

‘Jerusalem Post’ writer Alan Rosenbaum documents how he negotiates his way through two decidedly unusual days.

THE DIARIST studies Talmud, aided by Apple’s FaceTime app (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE DIARIST studies Talmud, aided by Apple’s FaceTime app
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tuesday, March 17
5:15 a.m.
By nature, I am an early riser, and I usually enjoy the early morning hours to briefly check the news and peruse the Talmud. This morning, though, it’s difficult to concentrate on rabbinic discussions about cooking a kid in its mother’s milk. The coronavirus news is just too depressing.
I finally am able to settle down for a few minutes, until 6:30, when my morning study partner calls me on FaceTime. We usually meet in my home, but corona fears have convinced us to study online. The connection is excellent, and I am thinking that perhaps when this is over, we should continue studying this way; or will we miss sitting opposite each other around an actual table?

7 a.m.
On a normal day, I would be returning from Shacharit at the synagogue, but today I pray at home. There are minyanim here and there, but I am too nervous to join one. Last week, I read the megillah at home for a full house of 75 neighbors, and I am still worried that I may have unwittingly infected someone or become infected myself.
My wife, Talli, comes downstairs, we discuss the news of the day over coffee – and I start my day upstairs in the office.
Stuck at home? I’m always home. Even before coronavirus upended the daily routine of the local citizenry, I spent most of my time working in our Beit Shemesh home, conducting interviews by phone or FaceTime, writing and editing. Other than attending daily services at the synagogue, taking an occasional trip to Jerusalem for an interview, shopping for food once a week, participating in a weekly basketball game, or enjoying dinner out with my wife, I am most often perched in front of my computer, alone at home, though my wife teasingly says that I probably take naps during the day.
If I’m always home, why am I feeling shut in now? “How is this different for you?” my children say mockingly. “You never go anywhere.”
Well, it’s really the little things that matter. Now that the synagogue has closed, I greatly miss my early-morning routine of walking to Shacharit services, and returning for Mincha and Maariv services in the late afternoon. It’s not that I miss God’s presence with the closure. After all, I can put on tefillin and recite the prayers at home. As the Kotzker Rebbe said, “God dwells wherever we let God in,” and I’m happy to have Him in my home. Rather, it’s my friends in the synagogue that I miss – the daily banter with the people sitting nearby, commenting on the speed of the services (it’s usually too slow, they say), the scores of last night’s game, or hastily preparing the Torah reading on Monday and Thursday morning during the repetition of the Amidah prayer before they ask me to read the Torah.
For Talli, a busy therapist who treats clients in Jerusalem and Ramat Beit Shemesh five days a week, and is rarely home, the coronavirus has required a major adjustment of her daily routine. All of her sessions for the immediate future, at least, need to be handled via Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.
She moved her laptop to another room in the house – to the room with the most sun, naturally – so as to ensure the privacy of her consultations, and began working from home.
To my chagrin, she has utilized some of her spare time at home to tackle a number of home improvement projects, which heretofore had been temporarily off of her radar, and permanently off of mine. This morning, she intrepidly climbed the ladder to the attic – her limited height enables her to stand fully upright in this area – and began hurling down bags of garbage consisting of old invoice books and other family detritus that I deemed too valuable to throw away. Once she completed that task, she next turned her attention to one of the bathrooms, decided that the medicine cabinet needed replacing, spoke to a handyman (not me), and arranged his visit.
But perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned from her shift to working at home during this crisis was her recollection of a recent session with a patient (cited with his permission), who is very anxious, catastrophizes, and assumes the worst.
As the session began, Talli asked him how he was dealing with the corona crisis, which has impacted virtually the entire world. “How are you doing with all this?”
He looked her in the eye, and said, “I feel great. I feel strangely vindicated.”

9:30 a.m.
As I listen to the transcription of an interview, I am constantly interrupting my work, picking up my cellphone to see the latest headlines. Terminal 1 at Ben-Gurion Airport is closing, and the government will be using “digital tools” to monitor the spread of the virus. The number of coronavirus patients in Israel has jumped to 304.

9:45 a.m.
My phone rings – it’s a FaceTime video call from Nomi, our daughter-in-law in Migdal Oz, in Gush Etzion. A social worker, she is currently home with Gali, their three-year-old, and Razi, their one-year-old, conducting gan at home, since the kindergartens are closed. She has written out a detailed daily gan program, and it is now time for tefilat yeladim (children’s prayers). Excited to perform before a virtual audience of one, Gali belts out “Adon Olam,” and the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, in addition to a special prayer for the healing of the sick of Israel and around the world. The sheer entertainment value of the call calms me.
While our three older children are married and have left the house, our youngest daughter, Naama, 19, has been doing her National Service (Sherut Leumi) for the Rachashei Lev organization at Sheba Medical Center’s Safra Children’s Hospital, Tel Hashomer, working with cancer-stricken children and their families. Naama is diabetic, and the medical authorities at Tel Hashomer decided that she should be out of the hospital environment due to the increased medical risk. Naama returned from the hospital on Sunday afternoon, and has been working from home, staying in daily contact with the children in the hospital via FaceTime, and prepared a short video about Rachashei Lev that she sent out to the staff.

11 a.m.
While Talli is dividing her time between home projects and clients, I decide to go shopping, a decision that is not taken lightly under the current circumstances. My goal is to minimize the amount of time spent in the store, get the food as quickly as possible, and return home. I prepare my shopping list.
I enter Osher Ad and pull on a pair of latex gloves. I flex my fingers, and the gloves rip. Time to put on another pair. No more flexing. I brought a surgical mask with me, but I am too embarrassed to put in on, so it hangs uselessly from my wrist.
I am using the store’s scanning system, which allows me to scan products and bypass the long lines when I am finished. In an effort to speed things up, I leave my cart in one place, and start walking through the store, picking up a few necessary items. All done, except now I can’t remember where I left the cart – was it in the bread aisle, or near the baking and spices section? Trying not to get too close to anyone, I finally find my cart, pay the bill, and am on my way home, hopefully still safe.

12:45 p.m.
When I work alone, lunch is usually a quick bowl of instant soup, a sandwich, and a yogurt. But now that Talli and Naama are home, it has become a leisurely affair, with eggs, toasts, salad and a conversation – no cellphones allowed, a rule instituted by my wife in the interest of practicing what she preaches – followed by coffee. Unlike pre-corona meals, which were often wolfed down in between reading WhatsApp messages, lunches and dinners are now savored and enjoyed.

2:15 p.m.
In this period of home quarantine – whether total or partial – our treadmill has become one of the most-used pieces of equipment in our home. No swimming, no basketball, no walking to the synagogue. All that’s left is to take a half-hour jog accompanied by Netflix or Showtime.
Today’s movie is about Moe Berg, the Jewish ballplayer and intellectual, who later served as a spy for the OSS in World War II. Of Berg, a superb scholar but a mediocre baseball player, it was said that he could speak seven languages, but couldn’t hit in any of them.

4:15 p.m.
Months ago, long before the word “pandemic” was on anyone’s mind, Naama had scheduled an appointment in Jerusalem with a new endocrinologist for March 17. As part of our trip, we were planning on visiting my daughter Aviva, a graduate student in Talmud who lives in Kiryat Yovel with her husband and six-month-old daughter.
Aviva, who is teaching Jewish history to 10th graders at the Ziv school in Jerusalem, is now teaching online via Zoom, takes attendance online by calling out each student’s name, but speaks to each student individually on the phone when they are doing assignments during class time.
We set out for our 4:15 appointment in Jerusalem, as rain begins to fall. The radio is now reporting that the Health Ministry is recommending that no one leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. Naama and I have mixed feelings. Is it wise to visit a health fund, which has likely been frequented by sick people, some of whom may have the coronavirus? Perhaps we should keep the appointment, as it is important to track and control diabetic health.
As we take the turn at the main Beit Shemesh traffic circle, she asks, “What do you think? Should we go?” I pull over to the side of the road, and we discuss the issue.
The weather is turning colder, plus my car’s heater is broken. On the other hand, we have the feeling that we were the only patients that day, and that the doctor was coming in just for us.
We resume our drive to Jerusalem. The sky darkens further, and arriving at a traffic circle near Jerusalem, I mistakenly take the wrong exit. The rain increases in force, and while I do not believe in omens or signs, we decide that today is not the day to visit the doctor. Naama cancels the appointment, and we return to Beit Shemesh.

Friday, March 19
1 p.m.
Today is my grandson’s sixth birthday, and we are marking the event with a family birthday party, unlike any other.
Our oldest son, Mati, and his wife and two children live in Tzur Hadassah, which is a 20-minute drive. Instead of actually getting together, both sides of the family connect via Zoom, and we watch as Noam cuts the cake, receiving congratulations from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We chuckle at the frustration of Noam’s younger cousins who try to grab some cake through the screen.
Our fondest wish is that next year’s party can be celebrated in person.

4:45 p.m.
Since the quarantine began, the streets have been deserted in the evenings, and I have noticed an increase in the number of cats roaming the neighborhood, who seem puzzled by the lack of activity on the streets.
But Friday night, at least, the humans return. Though the synagogues remain closed, the residents of our neighborhood conduct Kabbalat Shabbat services Friday night, with residents standing in front of their homes, with a significant distance between families standing along the streets.
Along our street, which is 200 meters long, 30 families pray, sing, and enjoy the chance to see, and speak, to each other. The hazan stands at one end of the street, and while the result is not entirely musically harmonious, the atmosphere is inspiring and uplifting.
In the words of our neighbor Nicole, “I saw my friends and neighbors grouped in families, each group standing a few meters away from the next. My breath caught in my throat, and tears stung my eyes.”
Most of the assembled felt the same, though the less emotional might have attributed it to the cold and rain.
Kabbalat Shabbat was the conclusion of a strange and difficult week, where life became far different than it had been until now. We will all need to adjust to a new reality.