Tales from Six Feet Apart

Page 58

Quarantine is a State of Mind Ronit Bezalel

In March 2020, I jumped on one of the last flights from Chicago to Israel. A fraught journey bathed in isopropyl alcohol. The smell wafted through my pores as flight attendants took our temperatures and scribbled down quarantine information. I was sure my sweaty palms and forehead would jack up my temperature, but I passed and was allowed to land at Ben Gurion Airport. I’m now in Jerusalem, 6000 miles from the Midwest, attempting to shield my elderly parents from invisible invaders. I feel useless next to a father who only wants to be left alone and a mother who drowns her anxiety with cleaning. “Please buy me jam, preferably mishmish,” my mother says, handing me a crisp fifty shekel bill. As I don a mask and gloves to venture outside, I wonder, is apricot jam an essential item in a pandemic? I dodge fellow walkers and arrive at the grocery store, called a makolet in Hebrew. I’m not happy about the crowds. I find a clerk and pantomime for jam. “Not butter,” I say, “mishmish”. As usual, I receive confused looks because of my thick accent and rudimentary Hebrew. “But you look Israeli,” people say. “And your name is 100 percent Israeli,” they tell me. “I know.” I nod. “I cannot speak the language of my father, of my extended family. I was raised in English-speaking countries.” I can say “I want” in Hebrew, but the sentence stops short because I’ve arrived at a gaping hole in the road, a crevasse in my vocabulary. My desires are trapped inside my own head, quarantined by lack of language. The clerk points me in the direction of mishmish and I grab the glass jar. However, I cannot fathom waiting in the tangled line, where social distancing is an abstract theory, and the majority do not wear

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