Biduud in Hebrew means isolation. Isolation is how they refer to 14 days of quarantine.
I talked about this many times with my brother and sister well before I came here, and we agreed that I would break the ironclad rules of Biduud to see my mother, who lives a 5-minute walk from my brother’s home, where I’d be staying, and to see my sister who’d visit here. My brother in law arrived, too, and gave me a hug, to my delight and surprise.
I leave the house to see my mother twice a day; I also plan to go walking once or twice, morning and early evening when it cools down. This is somewhat chancy as they told me in the airport, upon my arrival, that the police would come checking on me.
Being in a plane for a long international flight felt like being in a flying hospital. The stewards, masked and gloved, did minimal contact. American airlines have radically skimped on food service since 2008; this was even skimpier, and very heavily packaged. No alcohol/drink service, no coffee or tea after dinner, no handing out of menus or earphones, no handing out of nonessentials.
Once we arrived, we couldn’t exit without having a health interview and filling out a questionnaire:
Where are you staying?
Who else lives there?
If someone else lives there, do you share a kitchen or bathroom?
Do you have a phone number?
And finally: If police come to check on you and you’re not there, you’ll be fined 5,000 Shekels (equivalent to $1,500).
So I don’t see Jerusalem. I sit indoors or in the small patio outside the front door (see above). Masks are mandatory everywhere while walking outside. My family has cooked marvelous meals for me; still, I miss cafes, I miss restaurants, I miss going places. Can’t do any of that, I’m in Biduud.
I talked to Swapna, the lovely Indian caregiver who lives with my mother. She was supposed to go home to see her family—a husband, little daughter, and parents—last spring. She never got to fly out. She hoped for September; it doesn’t seem possible now.
“So when will you go?”
She shrugs. It’s not up to her, it’s up to God.
“Don’t you miss your family?” I’m not ready to leave it up to Him/Her so quickly..
She has black, shiny circle eyes which she squints as she shrugs again.
Which brings up the question of what you do when you live far away from your family. All these years we’ve been sure we could bridge the gap: I’ll come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas; I’ll see you in the summer; I never miss big family events.
Swapna’s parents and little girl live in a fairly remote village in central India. She works in Israel and her husband works in Qatar in the Gulf, both sending money home or else saving up, and the two have managed to coordinate their visits home so they could be together. Whenever she goes home she posts photos on Facebook, and I see the young woman whom I always spot in pants and a T-shirt posing in gorgeous saris bedecked in gold posing formally for family photos.
“Would you consider settling here?” I ask her. Her sister has done that, but she shakes her head.
What happens if we can no longer travel with ease, if we can no longer bridge the distance? How does that affect our plans for study, work, home?
And I’m reminded of the old stories I’ve read of what it was to immigrate to America 100 or 150 years ago. Whether it was a Russian shtetl you left behind or an Irish family that came to wave goodbye to the boat, you often knew you were never going to see your parents or siblings again, and they knew the same about you.
“After they come up with a vaccine, things will be different,” I assure my 92-year-old mother.
She doesn’t hear me; instead, she looks yearningly out the bedroom window.