It came upon us suddenly. The thought that we would be locked in our homes was almost laughable. Israelis? We, who get up before the plane lands and survive every calamity?
Soon we were told, like the rest of the world, to stay home and keep safe. At first, I was hyperactive. I walked, shopped, did online classes, organized Zoom meetings (who had ever heard of that before?), created and posted funny videos, and cleaned the house well before Passover.
Now what? Finally learn the piano? Brush up on my Hebrew? Walk the dog again? Clean what is already spotless? There is an atmosphere here in Israel, similar to that of a war or a Shabbat. Few cars are on the street as there is no place to go. Buses run, careening around corners with no passengers. There are no eggs on the shelves in the stores. Nobody understands why. And, for the first time in as many years as I can remember, we are not alone. We, like the rest of the world, are stunned and helpless in the face of this crippling pandemic. Nevertheless, in the midst of it, beautiful things are beginning to happen.
Neighbors are getting to know each other. Last week I gave out some fresh flowers, and one neighbor gave me just-picked lemons from her tree. We accomplished this from the requisite distance of two meters. We met some other neighbors on our nightly walks. We liked them and promised to visit when we could.
Food banks, prayer chains, Zoom groups, concerts, and virtual birthday parties abound. All are evident and springing up like the dazzling seasonal flowers. We may be isolated, but we are not alone. Instead, there is an outpouring of caring and love. Everywhere, people are realizing they are human beings and not human doings.
I have been watching snails, which are abundant after the prolific winter rains. They just exist slowly going from one leaf to another. Unhurried. Simple. Slow.
Despite the virus, every day, new flowers and blossoms are on the trees, and we can hear the birds and feel the wind as we get out of our cars and onto our feet. Even on the beach in Eilat, wild Ibex are serenely strolling amid the sand and surf.
Nature seems to be recalibrating herself.
I called people from our congregation to see how they were faring and to see that they had plans for the Seder. Everyone was fine and grateful for the call. Most had plans for a “virtual Seder” of their own.
We don’t have to worry about space or food this year! There is room for everyone. All are welcome. There are no exceptions.
People are buying matzo and cleaning their homes as in other years. I believe that this year, especially, people are searching their hearts. We are searching deep within so that we may understand what this sacred time is trying to teach us. Sacred time? Yes, I believe so. Sacred and ordained.
What is it that God is saying? What is this virus about, and why did it appear? What are we to learn?
Before we left Egypt, we were told to stay safe in our homes while Death stalked the streets. They tell us the same today. If I may offer a few observations, I believe we are once again reminded of our frailty and God’s sovereignty. We are reminded to hold our plans loosely as they may change in an instant. We recall that “with an outstretched hand He delivered us” and will do so again. We remember that we must not exploit the earth nor any species in it. We are reminded not to enslave nor be enslaved.
What is it that enslaves you? Perhaps, at this time, you will throw off those shackles and emerge into freedom.
I believe the world and we who inhabit it will be forever changed during this time. I pray that we learn the lessons both corporately and individually and move back into the world with a great deal more respect, love, and gratitude than we had previously. Let us reevaluate and emerge from this plague with more courage, resilience, and strength. May we discover more compassion and find more ways to care and reach out to strangers as well as to our friends and look deep within ourselves to discover what God requires of us.
May we emerge from slavery into freedom this Passover.