Corona calculations for the Seder

by Brian on April 12, 2020

in A Parent in Israel,Cancer,In the News

Our family desperately wanted to spend Pesach together. But like many Jews around the world, COVID-19 was making that difficult.

The student village in Sdeort where Merav & Gabe live

When the new regulations regarding sheltering-in-place were taking hold in Israel, we had four people living at home: my wife Jody and me, 22-year-old music student Aviv who is now studying online, and our oldest son, 28-year-old Amir, who had moved back home to save money while building a startup. Our daughter Merav and her husband Gabe have their own apartment in Sderot.

As long as the four of us stayed in our lockdown, not leaving the house except to shop or walk the dog, we should have been fine. We didn’t know if Merav and Gabe would be able to make it home for Seder – trying to plan anything even a day in advance these days is an exercise in dashed expectations – but we figured we could read the Haggadah together on Zoom. 

The problem was that Amir has a girlfriend, Tal, and she has her own apartment – not far from ours in Jerusalem but definitely more than a 100-meter walk.

The real issue was not the distance but rather our understanding that mixing households is about the worst thing to do if you want to keep this virus at bay. Every additional person you meet means potential exposure to everyone they’ve been in contact with. 

In Tal’s case, that meant her family (in another city, so all the people from that town who her parents and siblings might have been exposed to) and Tal’s roommate (and all the people she’s been exposed to).

This was not just a theoretical exercise in how best to flatten the curve. In my case, there’s real danger: I’m in several of the most at-risk categories, which includes those who are over a certain age, have a pre-existing medical condition or are immunocompromised. 

My cancer is no longer in remission and past treatments have left my white blood count so depressed that if I came down with COVID-19 – at least at this early point when we still know little about how to treat the disease – I might not make it. 

Indeed, in the U.K., follicular lymphoma patients like me have been getting text messages from the National Health Service telling them to plan for a self-isolation period of up to 12 weeks. While that might not be what Israel’s Ministry of Health ultimately recommends, I’ve been taking it seriously. I haven’t been out of the house for weeks and I’m ready to keep that going for as long as necessary.

So, when it came to being together for Seder, no one wanted to be responsible for getting me sick. 

Clearly, given the risks, we couldn’t invite Tal to stay at our house, and Amir couldn’t go back and forth between their two apartments, especially since we couldn’t restrict where Tal’s roommate might go, even if that was just to buy groceries.

That put Amir in a dreadful dilemma. He had to choose between his girlfriend and his father, both of whom he loves.

The safest thing for him to have done would be to stay at home and not see Tal – at least until Seder. I love my son but I’m also quite fond of Tal and I didn’t want to stand in the way of their budding relationship.

The next option would have been for Amir to move in with Tal but not to come home. I would have missed him terribly, but I would understand.

Could there be a third, more out-of-the-box option? 

“What if Tal and I strictly self-quarantined ourselves for the two weeks prior to Pesach?” Amir proposed. “We’d do our shopping in advance and not leave the apartment.”

The idea made a certain epidemiological sense: if they showed no signs of infection in that fortnight, which seems to be the average incubation period for COVID-19, they should be OK to come home for Seder.

But where could they self-quarantine? They couldn’t go to Tal’s because her roommate presented an uncontrollable vector. They could try to rent one of the many vacant holiday apartments in Jerusalem, but that would be expensive.

What about Sderot? Merav and Gabe live in a student village attached to Sapir College. With many students now at home with their parents, there were plenty of empty apartments. Could they do their self-quarantine there? 

The irony was not lost on any of us: in order to keep me safe from coronavirus, two of my children and their partners would be living under another threat, that of missiles from Gaza.

To sweeten the pot, Merav and Gabe also volunteered to go into their own two-week self-quarantine.

Merav found a friend willing to rent out her place to Amir and Tal for a low rate. 

Before Amir left, he said solemnly, “You know that if there’s a complete lockdown in place by then and the police have checkpoints at the entrances to cities, we might not be allowed to come home for Seder at all.”

“I know,” I replied. “But it’s the only compromise that makes any sense in this crazy time.”

The deadline for this column was several days before Pesach, so I can’t report how the story ends, whether the kids were able to make it for Seder or whether we were alone together on Zoom. 

But I will never forget the incredible self-sacrifice my children made to keep me safe and to give our family the best chance to be together for the holiday.

I first wrote about our Pesach calculations for The Jerusalem Post.

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