Israeli Chronicles — Connecting Israel & Cincinnati
Young Emissary’s Work in Cincinnati Cut Short by COVID-19
I write to you from Israel, where I was called back prematurely because of the coronavirus, but where I am feeling like there is more work to be done in Cincinnati. I write feeling frustrated. And far away. And grieving how my journey was cut short. This was supposed to be my shant sherut (gap year)—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the world, meet new people, and serve our Jewish community before entering the Israel Defense Forces and starting my career. It was supposed to end with a summer at Camp Livingston, enjoying the outdoors and working with Jewish kids and teens.
Even though the magnitude of pandemic is global, I cannot help but think about how it is affecting me, my family, and my friends—my community. My sister will miss out on her graduation ceremony. My friends were not able to be part of this year’s March of the Living trip. My colleagues at the Jewish Federation saw programs they worked for months on cancelled, and their work discarded.
Before I returned to Israel due to the coronavirus, I had actually just returned to the US after a break, full of excitement and anticipation for what was supposed to be next. Just days after returning from the AIPAC convention in Washington, DC, with an amazing group of people who had become my close circle in the US, things changed. And they changed quickly. My partner in this journey, Darya, learned she had to return to Israel for personal reasons. Then we were told someone at the convention had tested positive for COVID-19, so we all had to stay home for the next two weeks in isolation to make sure we did not have it as well. So I sat at home, supported by my host family and cheered on by the community, and reflected on my work so far this year—in retrospect, the only work I would do. And I thought about ways that I could still make an impact from home. But a day before my quarantine ended, I got a phone call announcing the inevitable: that all Chaverim M’Israel must return to Israel immediately. Time sped up, and two days later, I was on a flight back to Israel.
Goodbyes were almost impossible. And they were hard. In this case, though, hard was good. It meant that the experience was meaningful and impactful. I may have cried because it was over, and ended so abruptly, but I also smiled simply because it happened. Aside from returning with two overweight suitcases, a little trolley suitcase, and another small bag, I came back with an extra two families, plus a whole new community that I am now a part of. I feel as if the entire Cincinnati Jewish community is now my family. I want to believe I came back a better person, too—more understanding and more accepting. I learned to appreciate the little things: a hello from my boss, Barb, in the morning; the respect of my mentor, Jennifer; conversations with one of my host moms, Lara; and hugs from my friends Sophie, Shoshi, Roy, and Jacob. I brought all that love back with me to Israel.
In addition to being grateful for what I had, I cannot help feeling a little angry. And sad. Because I had no closure. Because my end was not sweet. Because I did not get a proper goodbye. For now, I have to take comfort in the hope that one day I will return to Cincinnati and get some of that closure. One day I will be able to experience what I was looking forward to most: overnight summer camp. I still have so much to learn from this community, and so much more to offer. I don’t feel like my time here is finished, and I am looking forward to better times when we can be together again.
So I will see you soon, and it will be the best reunion ever.
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