EVERY DAY MY DAUGHTER asks me the same question: “Papa, when can we go to Israel?” The three-year-old understands that while we’re here in Berlin freezing snow and rain, the sun is shining in Israel. She imagines people over there going to the beach and swimming. I laugh to myself as I remember a line from a poem by Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin: “In Israel there are only two seasons a year: summer and war.” But now the war is not against Hamas or Syria or Hezbollah, it is against coronavirus.
Almost every day my daughter talks to her Israeli grandmother on WhatsApp. We were last able to visit Israel in March. Before that, we went twice a year. And we don’t know when our next visit will be. Soon, almost half the people in Israel will be vaccinated, three million out of seven million. In contrast, Germany has vaccinated about 200,000 out of 80 million. In Israel they are planning to re-open the schools in a month or two. Here it is a total mess.
My daughter sits in the hot bath and talks to her grandmother, and to my nieces and nephews, to my uncles and aunts, and for a moment it seems to me that she is getting used to the online conversations. But once we turn of the phone, she asks: “Dad, when can we go to Israel, I want to go to the sea … I want to eat the chocolate that grandma bought for me”.
It’s not only my daughter who misses Israel. I long to swim in the salty waters of the Mediterranean. But it is not only the fun things that I miss. Last year my great grandmother passed away. She was the last remnant of a glorious community of Jews living in Baghdad. And I long to go to her grave and pray for her soul.
But with quarantine in Berlin and in Israel and the new mutations penetrating our world, I fear to travel with my daughter. We just heard about a German Israeli family that went to Israel a month ago and when they returned to Berlin their kid got Coronavirus. Luckily, during our visit last March, my daughter and I were able to visit my great-grandmother at her home (before she was hospitalised and died in hospital in Haifa).
I remember the visit as if it were yesterday. She sat huddled in her various ailments, with a big smile, amused by my daughter’s frantic movements. My daughter had grabbed the playing cards, which were on the table. My grandmother liked to play Patience. Man, I do miss her. I can’t believe I can’t go to the cemetery on her Yahrzeit.
There are variations to the question: “Papa, can I go to Israel today? The snow gives her some excitement. Maybe it is similar to the excitement of the rain I experienced when as a child in Israel. “No, my sweetheart,” I answer, “And do you know why?”. She replies: “Because of Corona.” She and her friends know this awful word that’s brought loneliness, boredom – and the end of travel.
My mother promised to send her a box of surprises. Every time we talk on the phone she mentions another item that has gone into the box: a cat costume, children’s books from my younger sister, chocolates from my stepfather, new clothes bought by my older sister, and Maulams (traditional biscuits with dates made by Iraqi Jews). From my niece, Moroccan biscuits (not to be found in Berlin) and a unicorn sticker album. The question changed to “Papa, when will the package arrive?”.
The package finally arrived and my daughter was super happy, for a few days. As much as they like gifts, children don’t treasure them for long. My mother then knit a scarf and a hat and sweater for her granddaughter.
And so, in the daily phone calls my daughter watched how her grandmother chose the colours she liked most in the rolls of wool, and how far the knitting went during each call. And then, another box was sent in this direction.
Only this time, thanks to the Israeli and German mail, it takes another month, and in every conversation, the question is asked: “Grandma, when will the box of surprises you sent me arrive?”.
And I know that beneath it always lies the other answer: “When Corona is over, we go to Israel.” She has things in mind when Corona is over. Like playing at her friend’s house. Or birthday parties. But flying to Israel is at the top of her list. And it’s on top of mine, too.
The article was published on plus61j. Cartoon: John Kron