Taking a gap year during COVID-19

By Amichai

While much of the world is being affected by the coronavirus, being in Israel, I feel safe, as if I’m wrapped up in a cocoon that is the Old City of Jerusalem. However, I am also feeling very detached from the world, America, and even my own home. This feeling is both literal, since I am living in a walled city seven thousand miles from my home, but also emotionally, concerned for the well being of my family and community but I am not with them.

The coronavirus didn’t feel real until recently, at the start of March, when the father of a friend from my high school class, who lives in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, was diagnosed with coronavirus. His case was the second known case in all of New York, and when I learned that he was in critical condition, the fact that the deadly virus was attacking NYC became real and was brought home to me. Shortly after he was diagnosed, his entire family, including two sons (one being my friend) and daughter, also tested as infected. As a result, my high school closed down due to coronavirus, becoming the first school in NYC to be shut down due to the virus.Having friends and cousins attending the school, I was overcome with feelings of frustration and restlessness that I was so far away from home, and even though I knew there was nothing I myself could do directly to help, I felt as though being home would soothe those feelings. The town of New Rochelle, where many of my close friends live, by itself now has more cases of coronavirus than any state in America.

Since the diagnosis in New Rochelle, the entire community has effectively been quarantined, which has completely disrupted life in the community. New York State ordered the New Rochelle community to shut down its synagogue whose services the coronavirus patient had attended the prior week. Bar mitzvahs and weddings (such as one that my sister was scheduled to attend), two of the more meaningful major life benchmarks and times of happiness in a person’s life, have been cancelled. The community is in deep fear and uncertainty, not even having its own home of worship be safe. It is frightening that at a moment when prayer and hope for healing are really needed, the synagogue is closed and the community is shattered – gathering together in common bonding is exactly what is forbidden.

I too was overcome with feelings of fright and utter sadness, but soon after I realized how lucky I am to be in Jerusalem, able to continue doing what those in New Rochelle cannot do – share community, pray together and celebrate Jewish study together. This feeling of sadness turned into a deep appreciation of my own situation; however my concern for the New Rochelle community, my own community, and the rest of the world is still very much a part of me and is constantly weighing down on me.