My parents immigrated to Israel four years ago. In the nine years before they did, we saw each other once, maybe twice, a year. Every time we parted, it was deeply and painfully emotional. Those years were hard, and continuing a relationship via phone and video chats, plus a seven-hour time difference, was extremely difficult.
So when they made aliyah to be with their daughters (all three of us live here), it changed all of our lives for the better: Shabbatot together, holidays together, beach runs (even in November), Friday birthday parties and Tuesday BBQs. We’d waited so long and took full advantage.
And then came corona.
Suddenly, hugs were via video chat. Bedtime stories were told over speaker phone. And birthdays were shvach.
Visits were socially distanced, fraught with anxiety, scented with copious amounts of alcogel, and filled with mumbled unintelligible conversations through masks. This was life in “corona time,” and only when we were allowed to leave the house
It was a miserable, hard, sad existence spent wondering when things would get back to normal again.
Fear of making grandparents sick or worse kept us sticking to the rules, meeting outside and not touching one another.
For the most part, we stayed inside and hunkered down. We wiped off the groceries. We watched the numbers rise, here and around the world. We saw the death notices. We attended too many Zoom funerals of those who didn’t escape the virus. And we waited as the world’s pharmaceutical companies raced to find the way to end the pandemic.
We held a Passover Seder with parents on Zoom. We went through Shavuot outside. We hoped to be together for Rosh Hashanah, then watched Sukkot go by. Before long, it had been a full year since we’d seen our American family.
We tried to keep one another’s hopes up and were rewarded when our prime minister, in true Israeli style, pushed to the head of the line with convincing arguments and an offer Pfizer couldn’t refuse: our data for your cure.
And it worked. Israel was to get enough of the vaccine to get us to herd immunity. In exchange, Pfizer would receive information on the efficacy of their vaccine on a small, contained population with highly digitized health records.
The Israeli healthcare system is nearly fully digitized. The data go back 20 years. This means that the vaccine and its efficacy could be tracked based on age, gender, prior conditions and more. It would be an incredible wealth of information unmatched in the world.
Some people, of course, spoke out against the vaccine, on how it was too new, untested and made by Big Pharma, which just wanted to profit off of us.
But I knew it had been tested and was based on previous science, and I trusted that the pharmaceutical companies were motivated to end the pandemic, not to alter our DNA, implant microchip tracking devices in our bodies or end our fertility.
I will pause here to note that anti-vaccination campaigns cost people their lives, as the family of Osnat Ben Shitrit, who died along with her unborn child, learned too late. Campaigns by “influencers” in the US speaking out against Israel and comparing the vaccination campaign to the Nazi-era Nuremberg Laws should not see the light of day, except to warn people against them.
And that is all I will say about conspiracy theories.
SOME PEOPLE did not like that Israel would be providing data to Pfizer. However, in a country where, let’s face it, we are more surveilled than most, where we send our kids to the army and where our medical data is already available to the appropriate healthcare personnel with a swipe of a magnetic card, should we really care that Pfizer knows how many anonymous 35-year-old Ashkenazi women reported migraines after the shot? Don’t we want to contribute to the world’s knowledge about the vaccine?
That’s how I felt. So when the health clinic said it had extra shots (at the time, they were only being given to people 65 and older, but extras that were thawed and would otherwise be thrown away were given to any who came), we ran over and got vaccinated.
My parents had been vaccinated the week before in an orderly fashion at Teddy Stadium along with thousands of other seniors. (I sent my EMT husband to be with my mother, who has been known to suffer severe allergic reactions.) But, thank God, everything went off without a hitch, and we literally counted the days until they would be a week beyond their second shot.
After nearly a year of masking and not touching, going in for the hug was hard. We kept the windows open and remained cautious, but the crippling fear was over.
What a relief! How wonderful to no longer fear you might be endangering your parents. How incredible to see them snuggled up with the children after so very long.
Shabbat meals are joyous again, bedtime stories happen as they should, with Zeyde stuck for hours telling the kids stories of when he grew up, using naughty words that I must then explain to the children – and tell them not to say. Cookies are baked with Bubbe, and the teenagers can sleep over to escape their parents, or their national service dorms.
Why did I get the shot? Because I missed my parents. Because I didn’t want to be a statistic. Because I have faith in God, and in science.
I got the shot because so many people have died, because so many medical professionals have worked so hard to save so many, and because so many formerly healthy people are still recovering and don’t know the long-term effects of their illness.
I got the shot because science, Israel and God sent me a lifeline, and I’ve been taught to never look a gift horse in the mouth.
I didn’t get the shot so I could go out to eat. However, on the first day restaurants were open, I did use my Tav Yarok, the “green pass” given to those who are fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID, and I must say, it was very cool.
They scanned our QR codes (no, I don’t care that “they” knew I ate at Rubens with Laura Ben David) and sat us – unmasked – separated from the next guests by a table. It felt great. And I was appreciative of all those who had worked so hard to get us to this point and all those who work to keep us safe.
So many around the world have no end in sight, they don’t know when “normal” will return or if there will be more lockdowns and other variants.
I am so grateful to God, to my country, to Pfizer and to science. I don’t take hugs for granted anymore. We weathered the storm and were given a lifeboat, and I truly hope the whole world can soon experience what we are experiencing: the simple joy of “normal.”