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  • kchanaharris

Our Exodus: Part 1

A year ago my family made a choice. 24 hours later, we left our home in Cleveland, Ohio with just our suitcases and travelled to Israel. We didn't know when we'd be back, if ever.

We had no plan except: let's get out of here.

Here’s the story.

My son was turning 3 on March 8 2020. By then we had been living in Cleveland (my hometown) for about a year and a half. My Israeli kids adjusted to the cold and the new school culture. I struggled but ultimately made some close friends. My husband was having a blast living his dream as a commercial pilot (the reason for our move).

My parents requested that we get together for my son’s birthday. This was normal. They insisted on it, they said, because they didn’t know when they would be able to see us next.

I didn’t understand them at all. Why?

The Corona virus, they said. It’s going to get worse.

I thought nothing of it. I took my son to get a blessing from my rabbi and to get his haircut (it’s tradition in Orthodox Jewish culture to let little boys hair grow until they turn three). He was so cute. This little guy was my bonus, unexpected baby. And what a gem he is. We planned on having pizza and cake and opening presents at my house.

My parents arrived but my dad called me from the driveway to ask if I had a thermometer. My mom felt hot and wanted to check her temperature before she came inside.

Um, ok, I said.

I brought it outside. It was rainy, and she had on a bright yellow rain slicker and was sitting in the front seat. She made me hand the thermometer to my dad and she took her temperature. She wouldn’t get out of the car until she saw that it read normal. I still remember the panicked look on her face as she waited for the beep.

Now I’m thinking these people are nuts. This is going to be like those health scares, like bird flu. This isn’t going to touch us and everyone will feel silly.

We had a beautiful birthday party. My dad was sitting on my couch and explaining to me what he thought might happen. This is going to be a really big deal, he said. And it’s going to last awhile.

He told me my brother had pulled his kids out of school.



For a virus?

Doesn't the doctor always tell you when you go to get a strep test for your kids and its negative, "Oh, it's just a virus. Go home and rest up."

I didn’t feel alarmed, I felt like I was surrounded by alarmists.

I hugged my parents and thanked them for the presents and watched them drive away.

I had no idea that was the last time I would see them in a long, long time.

What must have been a day or two later, we got the email that our kids school was also shutting down. They were calling it a precaution, and an early dismissal for Passover vacation which was anyways about a week away.

I felt dumb now. Here I was giving my brother a hard time about pulling his kids out of school and now ours was closed too. Schools don’t just close, I thought. This feels weird.

We had become extremely close with our neighbors, a big, warm family with lots of kids. Our crew of kids were thrilled to be set free early. They started planning all sorts of fun activities. Little did we know that soon, that would end too.

Word spread that the virus was dangerous, and not just a fluke. People started talking about stocking up on food. The local Walmart ran out of essentials. My husband went out and did a massive grocery shop in a lesser known store which hadn’t yet been picked over. He bought big bags of beans and rice, potatoes and onions.

We started homeschooling via telephone learning. All of a sudden I was expected to entertain my two preschoolers and also facilitate the learning and schedules of my two older kids. And Passover, a huge, time intensive holiday, was looming over me.

That Shabbos, we sat down to our Friday night meal. We went over to ask our neighbors for something, and after talking, realized they weren’t going to let their kids play with our kids anymore. It was too much of a risk.

This family had been our literal lifeline in Cleveland. The mother was my spiritual mother. The kids were best friends with my kids. We shared a backyard and all of our toys. How could we possibly do this?

That week we tried homeschooling. Our kids didn’t go near their kids. If one family wanted the basketball court, the others waited inside.

Truly it felt like torture. It sounds silly, but I think it was the realization of isolation creeping in.

No one had any idea how long or how bad this was going to be.

To be continued.

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