March 5, 2020
While the hubby davened (prayed) in the hotel shul (synagogue), I made myself my very first Nespresso (Mr. Clooney would be proud) and watched an old lady feed the stray cats and pigeons across the street while I checked the headlines and caught up on whatever English-speaking news I could find on the television. The United States had already shut its borders to most Southeast Asian countries a month ago, but now various flights to/from and events in Israel were being cancelled in response to this new, quickly spreading coronavirus. I began to wonder if we had made a mistake in travelling while all this is going on, yet secretly wished we would “get stuck” here.
In just the past 24 hours, COVID 19 has spread to most western European countries, Italy being hit the worst. Why Italy? And now anyone coming from outside Israel must quarantine themselves for two weeks, a situation we missed by one day. Gatherings of more than 5000 people are now prohibited. This would explain why the michve alon tekes was cancelled. I also heard there was a new case of corona in New Jersey, a woman just having been in Jerusalem last week, and a case in New York, a man who also had been to both China and Israel in one trip. What am I missing here? Everyone’s walking around Israel like nothing’s happening. I’ve done my research. Coronavirus is nothing new. It’s been around since at least the 1960s, and that’s just when it was finally given a name. I lost a great number of relatives in the 1918 Spanish flu (H1N1) epidemic, which killed between 50,000,000-100,000,000 people. My parents still talked about it decades later. H1N1 was much worse in 2005. People still die from H1N1, and we have a vaccine for that! H3N2, which is the vaccine we can get now, has killed more people this year than COVID19. So what am I missing? I need to walk away from this…
Since we wouldn’t be able to occupy the apartment until 4:00PM, we decided to have brunch at a restaurant called Roladin located in the Mamilla Mall next to the Old City – the perfect distraction. The hubby and the kid had eaten breakfast there last year while I stayed at the apartment nursing the respiratory illness passed from the kid to the hubby and then to me. They made sure to send me multiple photos of the wonderfully fun time they were having, along with all the food they were consuming in my absence. For the past year, the hubby has promised to take me there so we could have our own wonderfully fun time. I was looking forward to it.
With Bibi announcing a 2-meter social distancing today, the streets are almost completely empty, including the restaurant, which has always been packed with a line out the door every time we’ve come to Israel. Today there were a few people eating on the patio and inside we had to spread out – not a difficult task, considering we were only one of three couples in the entire place. If this had been my first visit to Mamilla Mall, I wouldn’t see this as a raving endorsement, wondering why there were so few people in the restaurant. However, I will tell you it is definitely worth checking out.
Still needing to kill some time, the hubby and I decided to visit the Old City. We were swiftly turned away from our usual portal without explanation and redirected to the one and only entrance to the Kotel. At the security check, two b’nai mitzvah were in progress and holding up the line to enter. Once inside, dozens of b’nai mitzvah were taking place in every nook and cranny imaginable. What is going on here? We’ve never seen more than a couple at a time, if any at all during our visits. Do these people know something we don’t? My mind keeps wandering off to World War Z. I’m not liking that thought process…
Needing to have some fun, I suggested we walk over to Mike’s Place. In case you’re not familiar with my story about Mike’s Place, I’ll give a somewhat brief synopsis: My brother, Michael (for whom I started this blog in the first place), was a big beer aficionado. After he died in 2015, my sisters and I have looked for pubs with Michael, Mike or Mikey in their title and have a beer in Michael’s memory. On March 1, 2018, Purim day, the hubby and I walked by Mike’s Place while shopping for costumes, me immediately telling the hubby that we were going to go inside at some point during our visit so I could have a beer on Mikey Bro. Mentioning the bar to a friend who was studying in seminary, she took us later that day to check it out, saying she wanted us to meet a friend of hers who was bartending there. In the end, I learned that the bartender, Jamie, went to high school and graduated with my sister, Kathy, both having seen one another three years earlier at their 40th class reunion. The other bartender on that day was the son of Rabbi Mike Stern (Rabbi Without Walls), who the hubby knew from the Philadelphia area. And sitting at the end of the bar was Chaim, a man from Ohio who knew the parents of a friend/neighbor of ours back home. This wasn’t all just simple coincidence – this was meant to be! What are the chances?! Needless to say, we have gone back to Mike’s Place during every visit to Jerusalem.
Arriving at Mike’s Place, I immediately attempt to hug Jamie, only to be informed that “Bibi says, ‘Namaste’,” both Jamie and Chaim making “folded hands” (two hands pressed together with fingers pointed up). Getting away with a quick hug, the hubby and I sat down for a “quick beer” before heading back to the hotel to meet the kid, collect our belongings, move into the apartment and make our way over to Zappa Jerusalem for Shushan Fest, a four-hour music fest with an open bar and kosher chow featuring the Moshav Band, Portnoy Brothers, NURIEL and Solomon Brothers…but then the hubby met Travis, a U.S. Marine working at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. For the record, the hubby was in the U.S. Army as a young man and loves to talk about the military with other comrades-in-arms, thereby turning our “quick beer” into several beers, wines and whiskeys in honor of Michael and Travis, who was celebrating his last day working at the Embassy, leaving Israel the next day and returning to the United States for the first time in three years.
Then a man with a guitar case slung over his shoulder came in to tell us that the Shushan Fest was being cancelled because the crowd restriction was now changed to no more than 100 people in one gathering…and on the way back to the hotel, we started noticing face masks and vinyl gloves strewn throughout the city. I’m beginning to think again that this might have been a really bad time to travel…
Meeting up with the kid at the hotel, we took a taxi to the apartment in Talbiya, where the owners left a special package for our little lone soldier, a fully stocked fridge and pantry and an arrangement of nuts and dried fruits to welcome us back. Now that the concert was cancelled, we decided to check out Luciana for dinner, an authentically Italian dairy restaurant with fresh ingredients and homemade pastas. And the place was packed, no one seeming to care anything about coronavirus. Am I missing something here?!
I was walking alike a zombie toy
They gave me pills to kill with joy
They said it’s alright
Song for the Sun – Namaste