From Within

By Maia

I’ve probably spent more time in my apartment in the last two weeks than I will spend in the next few months. Two weeks ago, I boarded a flight to Israel with a folder full of immigration documents and an agreement that I would spend my first two weeks in quarantine without leaving my apartment. Luckily, I’ve been able to spend my time with my two roommates and followed a daily schedule that made my quarantine go by a lot faster. 

Each day, one of my roommates and I would wake up, unroll our yoga mats, and workout to a carefully curated selection of YouTube workout videos. This was honestly one of the most rewarding things I did during quarantine because, although we were locked inside, it made it feel that for a few minutes we exited are apartment and got in some movement. We would usually finish our workouts tired and sweaty and very grateful to be greeted with a box full of food waiting for us at our door. Lunch often consisted of chicken and popular Israeli side dishes such as Israeli salad, baba ghanoush, and hummus. At 2:00 pm, I would join a zoom class of other kids on my program and learn Hebrew with a local teacher. I learned a random but useful assortment of words that will hopefully help me order food at restaurants and explore Jerusalem without getting too lost. The following online class was taught by the parents of my friends in quarantine, who volunteered from their homes in the United States to teach about subjects they are experts on. Some of my favorites were “What is Freedom of Religion” taught by a law professor who pushed us to examine the ethics behind what religious practices can be supported by the U.S. government and “How to Make Peace—Or not— in the Middle East: Lessons from a Former State Department Negotiator.” For a relaxing end of the day, I’d join the zoom yoga or art class with my roommates. 

   

During the weekend, I had a break from my daily zoom activities and spent time reflecting and taking in the city. In Jerusalem, secular Jews are a minority, and from Friday through Saturday evening, the city goes to sleep. Despite being in a city it’s quiet. Occasionally, I’ll see a couple walk by but the people that regularly shop at the market across the street are gone and so are the cars that drive by. From my bedroom window, I can see the people in the apartment complex behind mine coming together to pray, some from their balconies and others spread across the lawn. Although it’s quiet, there’s a sense of unity and peace that radiates and that I could feel even from quarantine. To me, living in Jerusalem for a year is a commitment to a way of life in which I hope to value spirituality and religion in my daily life rather than only on Shabbat. The Israeli flags on Jerusalem-stone houses across the street from my apartment remind me of the historical and religious importance of where I am. At the same time, this overt nationalism reminds me of what a privilege it is to feel at home in a city that people different religious and ethnic backgrounds hold so closely. 

Yesterday my fourteen-day quarantine ended and I’m surprised that I’ll miss the time I had to reflect and spend time with my quarantine roommates. I’m finally meeting the people I regularly saw on zoom calls and walking down the street that I spent so much time looking at. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to learn from introspection in the way I did in quarantine and also begin to learn from people who experience Jerusalem differently than I do so I can further understand what makes Jerusalem a sacred but deeply contentious place.