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Quarantine Diary Day 7: Israel, a country under quarantine

Z ack Dinerstein and Lisa Tauber, both 35, moved from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to Tel Aviv a year ago for her job at Fiverr, an online marketplace for freelance services (he is a web developer and former podcast producer). Newlyweds, they recently went for a romantic getaway to Paris — only to find on their return that France had been added to Israel’s list of countries from which travelers must stay in isolation. Now, they are among 80,000 people confined to their homes, and they’re letting us follow along.

Israelis wearing protective masks vote at one of the special polling station erected for the 5,600 voters under quarantine, many of whom had visited countries where the coronavirus COVID-19 is prevalent, during parliamentary election on March 2, 2020 in Tel Aviv.

Israelis wearing protective masks vote at one of the special polling station erected for the 5,600 voters under quarantine, many of whom had visited countries where the coronavirus COVID-19 is prevalent, during parliamentary election on March 2, 2020 in Tel Aviv. Image by GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images

Day 7: 7am (Lisa)

Last night, Israel mandated that anyone coming from anywhere will be required to self-quarantine. It’s a drastic move that isn’t immediately affecting us personally, but will of course have huge repercussions for many friends and family, tourism, and the country’s economy at large. It’s hard to imagine a country essentially closing its borders, but it’s also hard to imagine what’s happening in Italy, China, or now in parts of the US.

Every day I see more friends from the US working from home (voluntarily or otherwise), I’m hearing more stories of the accusatory glares anyone receives after coughing, and even sadder, stories of discrimination against Asian Americans. It’s hard for me to say what the overall sentiment is in Israel — we live here, but right now we’re not really living here — but the few friends I’ve chatted with all have the same attitude— it’s harsh, but maybe necessary. They all bring up Italy as a case study in what not to do.

Meanwhile, the number of cases of coronavirus in Israel crept up to 50 seemingly overnight and I’m starting to hear folks speak of stocking up on dry goods and expecting we’ll all soon be told to work from home. A colleague’s husband works at Intel, where they’ve already told employees not to come in.

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I can only imagine what’s happening in the States: the scores of families who planned Pesach in Israel now scrambling to make other plans while stockpiling matzah. In the last 24 hours we’ve received two seder invitations, as friends whose families were meant to join them are now hosting friend-seders instead.

It is such a strange time and even stranger to think what the world will look like in a week when we’re out of isolation. Will everyone be working from home by then? Will we have a more firm understanding of the incubation period that will make these quarantines less taxing? I sincerely hope that this new policy manages to curb new cases so we can simply treat those who are currently ill, but that depends on so many factors, including the public’s willingness to obey the law.

As an extrovert, the toughest part about quarantine for me has been the lack of interaction with others. Video chat and deliveries from friends help, but they’re not the kind of sustained human interaction upon which I thrive. I think about what will happen if and when the entire country is essentially in isolation and what kind of collective impact it will have. It’s certainly true that new communities crop up when new problems arise (just look at my WhatsApp support group), but people also may burrow into their own little fearful holes.

We can only hope for the best in such a time of uncertainty. But being stuck inside certainly gives you ample time to consider worst case scenarios.

Day 7 – 3/10/2020 – 6pm (Zack) | In quarantine, you realize who your friends are

I’m beginning to feel addicted to my phone in a way I never have before. I check it constantly. Whenever a friend messages us, I relish it. Starved for any real contact (besides my beautiful roommate), all social interaction is a gift.

Last night, my friend Matt called from the States. We caught up for an hour. Work, life, etc. Aside from quarantine talk, it was no different from the conversations we always have. But for me, that call felt like being tossed a tiny life preserver after treading water in the middle of a swimming pool. It took the pressure off for a while.

In many ways, moving to Tel Aviv from the United States was an act of self-isolation. For both of us, no question. But, in some ways, certain aspects were acutely difficult for me.

When Lisa and I moved here, my Hebrew was almost non-existent. We have no family in Israel and only knew a handful of people through Lisa’s job. I spent my first two months looking at apartments. The only friends I made were brokers.

Attempting to communicate with repair men who spoke zero English was a nightmare. Banks yelled at us when we didn’t understand their contracts, written solely in Hebrew. Every day was a gauntlet with a hint of Kafka sprinkled on top, for fun.

The feeling of isolation was real.

I thought quarantine was going to feel like that, only intensified. But I’m surprised by how much this experience has actually made me feel closer to everyone we know here.

Friends stop by unannounced carrying Purim gift baskets. We’re members of a quarantine chat group where people we haven’t met share encouraging tips on how to make it through this time in one piece. My poker group even reached out to schedule a celebratory game for when I’m released next week.

Making friends in a foreign country can be tough, especially when your twenties are a few years behind you. This experience has made me realize just how many good friends we’ve made since we started calling Tel Aviv home.


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