Is the coronavirus killing Israel’s granny state?

On an unexpected 24-hour furlough from combating Hamas in Gaza, my son embraced his wife and broke the news. Dazed, disheveled and in sore need of a shower and shave, he smiled.

Airline employees wearing masks walk in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)
Airline employees wearing masks walk in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)
It was during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 that I learned I was going to become a grandmother.
On an unexpected 24-hour furlough from combating Hamas in Gaza, my son embraced his wife and broke the news. Dazed, disheveled and in sore need of a shower and shave, he smiled.
I burst into tears.
The relief of seeing him in the flesh after spending sleepless nights worrying about whether he would return home in one piece was sufficient cause for a flood of emotions. Hearing, too, that a baby was on the way was almost too much to absorb.
The joy was as overwhelming as the fear and the guilt.
I had been a fierce proponent of the war. But, as I wrote when my son’s infantry unit was given the command to enter Gaza:  “It’s one thing to be convinced, as I was and still am, that a ground incursion (with Israeli soldiers going literally and figuratively door-to-door to snuff and stomp out terrorists and tunnels) is the way to go. It’s quite another to cheer on such a campaign when one’s own child is taking part in it.”
Israeli parents experience this kind of cognitive dissonance on a regular basis. Indulgent and over-protective throughout and beyond our kids’ formative years, we know and accept the fact that as soon as they finish high school, the tables will turn. At that point, it will be their job to defend us - even if we’re the ones ironing their uniforms on the weekends while they sleep and play video games.
The mutual responsibility doesn’t end there, however. The same family dynamic of generational give and take continues as they mature and we grow older. They continue to depend on our moral and often financial support, while putting up – not always graciously – with our flaws. We rely on them for the strength of their youth, alternately hoping for and dreading their phone calls, not entirely convinced that no news is good news.
The call informing me that my daughter-in-law was in the delivery room was a perfect example. The butterflies in my stomach were in overdrive - until my son told me not to come to the hospital.
“No parents,” he announced with authority bordering on reprimand.
“OK, dad,” I said under my breath. I figured he’d be changing his tune after the baby was born and he and his wife needed a nap, or an evening at the movies.
Five have passed since then. And just as my son has morphed into a full-fledged father, with child-rearing skills that far outweigh my own, I have transformed into a grandmother whose heart melts into a puddle at the mere sight of my son’s (now) two kids.
My grandchildren adore coming to my apartment. The first thing they do when they walk through the door is make a beeline to the toy box to discover what new treasures have materialized miraculously in their absence.
Then they turn my sofa cushions into a large fort and ask for apple juice. They also play with my jewelry, wrap themselves in my scarves and curl up on my lap while we read books together.
No matter how exhausting the preparation and cleanup, these visits are like an injection of energy. That’s love for you.
Or at least it used to be, before the COVID-19 pandemic penetrated our borders, and we were warned to keep our distance from other people, including friends and relatives.

TO MAKE matters more disconcerting, the biggest no-no – according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov – is physical contact between grandchildren and grandparents.
In a press conference he held to announce the closure of the education system until after Passover, Netanyahu was specific on this score. Fully aware that grandparents are natural fallback babysitters whenever schools are out - for holidays, teachers’ strikes or snow days – he insisted that the current circumstances created a different reality. 
The coronavirus, he explained, is both wildly contagious and tricky. Many carriers of the virus are virtually asymptomatic, yet spread it to others for whom it is potentially life-threatening. Among the latter are people over 60, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions. Though most of the senior citizens in the world who have died from coronavirus complications are over 80, the general grandparent rule still applies.
When Netanyahu first brought this up, my friends and I teased one another about being off the babysitting hook. That was because we didn’t really believe that the admonition pertained to us.
We’re too young and hip to be grannies, after all. If we can climb up monkey bars and ride down slides with our grandchildren, we can’t be considered senior citizens just yet.
My kids disagree that the coronavirus makes such distinctions. How could they not, with Bennett declaring that the “deadliest connection is between a grandparent and a grandchild, between an elderly person and a young person”?
The statistic he cited on Tuesday – that “one in five grandpas and grandmas who contract the virus from hugging their grandchildren could die” – referred to the over-80 crowd. But it’s pointless to argue when health officials such as Bar Siman-Tov concur.
“Stay at home. Don’t visit grandma and grandpa,” he stressed this week, adding, “I say this with a heavy heart: The way to protect our parents and grandparents is not to go visit them.”
Bennett reiterated his own and Bar Siman-Tov’s mantra: “Do not go near them. You may be infected and have no problem getting well. But you are liable to kill grandma and grandpa.”

The alarmist rhetoric is so ridiculously jarring that it sounds like satire. What it reveals, however, is an assumption about the grandparental bond: that no Israeli would sever it for a split second – let alone for an extended period - without believing in its potential to be fatal.
In this respect, the coronavirus crisis, like the virus itself, is genuinely novel.
It’s true that Israelis are well-versed in national emergencies, from enemy attacks to forest fires and floods. Yes, we Jews have been through the 10 plagues of ancient Egypt (blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the slaying of the firstborn), which we’ll be reciting next month at lonely Passover Seders across the country and the globe. We’ve overcome some horrific modern evils, as well. We should be able to withstand a virus for a few weeks. Even muddling through a massive recession isn’t beyond the realm of our capabilities.
Yet we keep calling the current situation “uncharted territory.”
The reason is that we’ve never viewed our own family members as hazardous to our or their health. Nor have we ever willingly forfeited the embrace of loved ones during hard times.
Luckily, the Internet provides us with what the defunct Kodak company coined for photos as the “next best thing to being there.” Skype kisses aren’t ideal, but they’re better than nothing, as anyone who lives far away from children and grandchildren can attest. It wasn’t long ago that such technology was the stuff of science fiction, not a mundane tool that is taken for granted.
For the sake of our adult kids’ sanity, which is slipping away with each passing hour of isolation and forced lack of outside entertainment options, we wish we could come to their rescue and lighten the load. They undoubtedly would harbor the same fantasy if they hadn’t been persuaded that their physical presence was liable to send us to an early grave. Sort of like the way I felt about my son’s proximity to Hamas. 
The last time I saw my grandchildren, I kissed them goodbye and waved as I watched my son’s car disappear around the corner of my street. I had no idea that a combination of the virus and the nanny state was conspiring to put an end to the ritual for God knows how long. Getting COVID-19 doesn’t sound so bad in comparison.