Our Exodus: Part 3, The Final Chapter
By the grace of God, my husband managed to rent a huge luxury SUV for pennies so we could drive to New York to catch our flight to Israel. We figured it would be safer to avoid as many airports as possible.
I called friends and arranged for them to empty our freezer and fridge, and to pick up our Pesach order of food and paper goods. I wouldn’t need it anymore. We’d be in Israel for Pesach. When they cancelled schools, I had made a huge order from our local kosher collective. It included almost everything you would need. Who knew what Pesach would look like now?
My kids stood far away from the neighbors. They shyly said goodbye to their closest friends in Cleveland. My friend, their mother, wouldn’t come outside. Finally as we loaded up the car, she came out to say goodbye. Clearly she’d been crying. I burst into tears and shouted blessings and we’ll miss you and see you soon and thank you for everything out the window of the rented car.
(A few weeks ago, I asked my two eldest kids what the best and worst parts of Corona were for them. My son sat quietly for a minute. When we had to say goodbye to the neighbors, he said. That was the worst day of my life.)
And we drove away.
Before we left the city we picked up wipes and gloves and masks and some antibacterial wipes from a few close friends who had a stockpile at home. This was way before it became the norm, and it was a Godsend. We even picked up the school-provided lunch and said goodbye.
We drove East.
That day was rainy and cloudy. As we started to drive towards New York, massive rainbows filled the sky. The roads were deserted. Signs flashed on the highway, Stay Home, Stay Safe. All the rest stops were closed. Every single one.
As we drove my husband and I looked at each other for what felt like the first time in days.
It feels like we’re driving away and God is closing the door behind us, I said.
I know, my husband said. I was thinking the same thing.
I've never had a smoother drive with my kids, before or since. It was like we were transported on a magic carpet for the next seven hours.
The airport in New York was apocalyptic. The only flight leaving in the entire airport was our flight to Tel Aviv. But it was quiet.
Everyone had masks on, a new sight for all of us. One family had goggles on. Several people had dogs. Clearly these people were not going on vacation. These people were going home. The Jews had to get home before the gates closed.
I was terrified the entire time. My youngest wouldn’t keep a mask on and touched everything and then put his hands in his mouth. I taped surgical gloves on my kids because the gloves were too big, and obsessively wiped them with antibacterial wipes after passing through security.
Normally I would have watched a movie or read a book on the flight. This time I stared at the seat ahead of me, not once taking off my mask, not touching anything. I didn’t eat and barely drank. I prayed, please God don’t let us get sick. Please God let my parents forgive me for leaving like this. Please let me seem them again.
And just like that, we were there.
We arrived by a miracle at the Kibbutz where my husband and I met. Where he grew up. Where my In-laws still live. My mother in law had prepared her house for us, and she moved out temporarily. At the time, there was a mandatory two week quarantine law in Israel. We arrived exactly two weeks before bedikas chametz, the night before Pesach.
Our quarantine was blissful. I can't even believe I'm typing this, but it was. We were in Israel. My kids woke up and played in the garden which is surrounded by a high fence. They played in a baby splash pool. We colored and read and took naps. I believe God gave us that time as a gift.
When we came out of quarantine, the Kibbutz provided a huge box of food for the seder. Everything we needed. Just like the box of food we had to leave behind in Cleveland; nothing was missing. I am eternally grateful for everything the Kibbutz did for us.
I didn't realize it then, but we would live on the Kibbutz for six months before we finally made it back to our home in Ramat Beit Shemesh. It was a beautiful place for my kids to explore. It had its difficulties, as anyone who has ever been displaced knows. We were home, but not really home, yet. We didn't have jobs, as my husband left his aviation career behind in the States. The future was unsure for us.
Chasdei Hashem, It's been a year. We live in our house, surrounded by lemon trees and friends. Our shul is across the street. Our children are finally in school, and they come home singing songs in Hebrew (which they had all but forgotten). My husband was able to start a new business and miraculously got customers right away. I've finally been able to sit down and write. We are vaccinated against the virus that stopped the World, a complete dream a year ago.
This year, my house is clean for Pesach. My refrigerator and pantry are stocked. The lemon trees are bursting with blossoms; the promise of next year.
We are free. We are home.