Maybe It Wasn’t Meant to Be

Unlike some of my previous articles that begin with yours truly sitting in Power Coffeeworks, in this one, four and then five of us were having a well-deserved dinner at Cafit, one of the restaurants down by the so-called ‘lake’ in Ma’ale Adumim. We were all recovering from a stressed-out day, the kind you want to avoid, if at all possible. I had spent part of my day in a losing battle with the rav kav (transit card) app on my phone. Instead of getting to my dental appointment and running a few errands in Jerusalem, I found myself stranded at the light rail stop with no money on my card and no way to add any with no choice but to sneak back on the bus back to Ma’ale Adumim without paying. The inspector, who was riding the bus both ways could have given me a whopping fine for my impudence, but he took pity on my greying locks and let me alone.

The Levines had come down from their mountain for an unplanned one-day trip to our fair city. Someone whom Richard had known quite well, a woman who had led a difficult life through no fault of her own, had just succumbed to stage-4 cancer and was buried in our local cemetery that morning (which itself was a saga I’m not going to dwell on).

Iris, however, was the obvious winner of the worst-day award, which is why she arrived when the rest of us were half done with our meals. She had come from a long day visiting her husband in the rehab facility in Ra’anana and gone back to their apartment, which is being worked on to make it accessible for Irwin and his wheelchair. Lo and behold, water from somewhere was flooding her apartment. She had to wait for someone to arrive to figure out what to do and deal with the mess and only then join us for an evening repast. If that’s not stress, I don’t know what is.

We finished our meal, and it was time to order dessert. The Levines, showing some unusual restraint, ordered a small serving of apple pie and ice cream to share. I instructed Barbara to pick whatever she wanted, and I would take a bite or two of it. Being the adventurous woman I love so dearly, she ordered something called ‘Decadence,’ which turned out to be a ten-inch long serving of whipped cream with some chocolate and vanilla ice cream and a brownie stuck in the middle. (No, even with some needed assistance, we couldn’t, we didn’t even attempt to finish it.)

Iris returned to her apartment to survey the damage, and The Levines came back with us to our place (where they would spend the night before making the return journey to their mountain top.) Once we were home, I took a minute to look at my phone and noticed that there were all these posts waiting for me in WhatsApp, a Pandora’s box for the unwary, with all hell threatening to break loose. To explain what that’s about, I need to go back a month or more.

To get the word out to the people signed up, Cindy Kline created a WhatsApp group, appropriately entitled Trip to Egypt, on which she would post relevant information as it became available. She and R. Dr. Joshua Berman had hosted a Zoom meeting a week before with additional information about the trip, at which time our scholar-in-residence had the opportunity to share his enthusiasm with us – at the exact moment when my own interest in participating had reached its low-point.

As R. Dr. Berman explained, he had spent the last number of years reading Ancient Egyptian texts, looking for connections to the Exodus. He had the opportunity to join his teacher, James Hoffmeier, who led a group of Christian Bible scholars in 2020, touring archaeologic sites throughout the Land of the Pharaohs. Berman’s experience on the trip was so rewarding and so positive that he started thinking about bringing a Jewish group to do a similar tour. With the help of the good folks at Shai Bar-Ilan, it was finally going to happen. When someone who seems to know what he is talking about is so excited about a project, it’s hard not to get ‘infected’ by his enthusiasm.

The rest of the Zoom meeting was taken up with Cindy going over some basic information about the trip, some of which we could have read in half the time – assuming we took the trouble to do so. Then, on the Sunday when all the trauma described above was taking place, we got a message from Cindy about a second Zoom meeting to deal with additional questions that were being raised. We had no such questions, and we were heading out to dinner, so we would skip the meeting. And then when we returned from our repast, there were the aforementioned posts on WhatsApp, which were on a new group, called Let’s discuss Egypt, to which Barbara and I had been added without our knowledge. Perhaps the organizers should have named it Let’s kvetch about Egypt, because there seemed to be a never-ending stream of complaints and what-if’s. I started to get nervous; someone mentioned R. Dr. Berman and COVID. OMG, did he get COVID?  No, but what happens if he does? What happens if I get COVID standing in the line for the PCR test? You can only imagine where this is going.

A bunch of Johnny-come-lately’s, that’s what they are. I had been stressing about the spread of Omicron and the uncertainty surrounding the trip, but I wasn’t going to wait until the last minute to have an anxiety attack. If you read my last article, you know I was doing this a month ago. I was at the head of the line. No lally-gagging for me! The advantage of early anxiety recognition (E.A.R.) is that you have plenty of time to confront what’s bothering you – as in, does such-and-such make any sense? Maybe I should calm down if it doesn’t.

When you wait until the last minute to stress out, however, you’ll be surrounded by a flock of like-minded worrywarts, otherwise known as an Endemic Kvetching Group (or E.K.G.), all eager to share their concerns with anyone who will listen. Having done some informal research on this matter, I have come to the conclusion that when an E.K.G. meets in person – say ten people – their list of concerns and complaints is doubled. BUT, when they meet on-line (Facebook, WhatsApp), the rate of increase is often exponential; ten kvetches can rapidly become 100. (We’re not going to discuss the rate of increase when it comes to Fake News. That’s like counting the stars in the Milky Way.)

When a group of people start kvetching, it is inevitable that someone will propose doing something, in this case, sending a letter to Shai Bar-Ilan, essentially complaining that the trip is still going on. What should said letter say? May we see drafts of it? Put our names on. DON’T put our names on. There was a clear division of the house between the Stop the Tiyulim faction and the We’re Going to Egypt if It’s the Last Thing We Do contingent, with me and who-knows-who-else on the sidelines – either way is OK with me, but let’s hope there’s no major catastrophe to cancel the trip.

It’s not as if there was no merit to the assorted complaints but looking at them in the cold light of day, none of them seemed to be deal breakers. The incidence of COVID in Egypt is less than in Israel because their authoritarian government has an easier time enforcing mask mandates; our group would be in its own self-contained bubble throughout the trip; and we’ll be in good hands, Cindy Kline, Shai Bar-Ilan, and the Coptic Christian tour group they’re partnering with in Egypt. Could we go another time, perhaps when it’s safer? Tell me when that will be, and we can discuss it. The Pyramids will still be around, but will we? And even if we still are, will we be fit to travel? I’m not counting on it, so let’s do it and get it over with. You know what’s really scary, though? We have an offer to plunk down $140 (each) to get in a hot air balloon and travel over Luxor – at 4AM on one of the days of the trip. (Maybe if they paid me $140, I might consider it. Actually, no. I’m willing to travel with my mask, but let’s not get carried too far. There’s enough hot air, as it is.)

Fortunately for all concerned, after a day or two, our group of non-enthusiasts ran out of steam and complaints, and their WhatsApp group became silent. Time for all of us to – literally – get packing. To make ourselves even more invulnerable against COVID, Barbara and I got our fourth shot on Wed. By Thurs. morning, my nasal passages were a bit stuffed. Could be a reaction to the vaccine, or maybe it’s just a run-of-the-mill winter cold. I didn’t have much time to ponder the matter; our apartment was filling up faster than my nasal passages. Iris would be staying with us until the dust settles in her apartment; Natania was coming alone for Shabbat, Gil being in The States on a business trip; two other young people were also occupying our bedrooms. Plus the usual crew would show up for kiddush Shabbat morning. Time to call out the kitchen crew and start cooking up a storm.

Throughout Shabbat, Barbara and I were both doing some coughing and sneezing, but what else would you expect in the middle of January when the cold and damp are seeping through the walls of our abode? When Shabbat was over and our daughter and guests were gone, we began picking up the pieces and starting our last loads of laundry. Normally, I would be mostly packed several days before a trip, but with all the hullabaloo, that proved impossible. We would have to consult our packing lists and start filling suitcases on Sunday once we got back from our PCR tests.

That was the ONE thing we still had to, and it wasn’t as if we were procrastinating. The definitive you-don’t have-COVID test had to be done within seventy-two hours of a flight abroad. In our situation, the connecting flight from Cairo to Aswan was scheduled for 6PM Monday. We had no choice but to schedule our tests for Sunday, the day before we were to depart. AND we had to find a testing station that would give us back results in eight hours – not two or three days – or they wouldn’t let us on the flight out of Ben-Gurion.

With a little help from Cindy, Barbara located a testing service with several locations in Jerusalem that fit the bill. We paid in advance for the tests and were told to show up anytime during ‘office hours.’ And so, despite the rain and the cold, we made our way to the far reaches of Givat Shaul to get there as close to 11AM as we could manage. We located the branch in a seemingly under-utilized office building. There was no one there except for the one gentleman staffing the office. Despite their website, this branch only offered thirty-six-hour turn-around time. The fellow working there was appropriately apologetic. He checked his information and assured us that the branch in Har Hotzvim could help us out. Furthermore, the #67 bus that stopped down the street would bring us where we needed to be – a completely different part of Jerusalem.

We got off the bus, and now what? We had a street address, but where was it? We wound up asking directions and circling the block. We found the street; there were buildings 9, 7, 5, 3, and 1. Except we needed #2, and there seemed to be no even numbers on the other side of the street. Wait a minute; there’s a sign! We walked into and through a parking lot, following a series of small signs pointing the way down a flight of stairs. Sure enough, there was a small tent that served as a waiting room and another shack where they normally store first-aid equipment. That’s where they were administering the tests. A random collection of people were there, before and after us. Were they all planning to get on a plane and go somewhere in the next day or two? I’ll never find out.

Our turn came. We were tested, and then we retraced our steps back to a bus stop, making our way home in time for lunch and a short nap. Now it was time to finish packing. The one thing I had done several days before was get my photographic gear ready: dusting off the lenses, recharging the battery, and reminding myself that I had barely done any work since we returned from Tanzania two years before. That’s how long it has been. Memories aside, Barbara and I needed to figure out what clothing to bring – a thankless task, since no matter what we packed, we would be both too hot and too cold once we reached the Land of the Pharaohs. Just remember to bring along several boxes of tissues; we were still sniffling and coughing. Being out in the rain had not helped us shake whatever was ailing us.

After dinner, I started getting antsy. Have they sent the results yet?  I must have asked at least once every half hour – as if Barbara wouldn’t be checking her messages, and as if she wouldn’t have let me know once she got the results. If the testing company had been as good as its word, we should have been notified by about 9PM, but they weren’t, and we weren’t. What if we don’t find out in time; then what? Talk about ‘what-if’s.’ Serves me right.

Supposing the tests come back positive; then what? The plane to Cairo would take off without us. We would have to remain in bidud (quarantine). A bunch of other people with whom we had been in contact would need to get tested and might also wind up in bidud, and the people they were in contact with…. The point being that you can do a whole lot of worrying if you’re wide awake in the middle of the night, which is what I was, tossing and turning and fretting.

I had this sense that something was amiss, a premonition that, after all the planning and preparation we had done, we wouldn’t be leaving for the airport that morning, that it was all for naught. On the other hand, if our tests came back, and they were negative, I could put aside all my cares and woes as if it were just a bad dream, which is what it would have been. We would soon be sitting at the airport, having a leisurely breakfast, ready for whatever would await us in Egypt (just no hot air balloon rides).

Barbara’s alarm went off at some ungodly hour. To get to the airport when Cindy wanted us there, we would have needed to be on the 8:38 train from Jerusalem, meaning we would have to be on a bus out of Ma’ale Adumim a little after 7AM to take into account rush hour traffic. I got out of bed and awaited the verdict. Yes, the test results had arrived sometime in the middle of the night, and, yes, we both tested positive. That’s what it said, both you guys have COVID. Go directly to jail, do not pass GO…

I KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!!!!! Well, I didn’t ‘know’; I was simply preparing myself for the worst, and, unfortunately, it came true. We had no time to feel sorry for ourselves; there were things we needed to do right away – at least as soon as possible. I took out the garbage; put in an on-line order for the produce we would now need; sent an email to everyone we had been close enough to breathe on during the last few days, explaining what had happened. Barbara called Cindy at the airport and sent emails to Shai Bar-Ilan and the insurance company covering our trip. While you’re at it, see if you can un-cancel our newspapers; we’re going to need them after all.

Umm, maybe we should tell Iris, considering she’s been staying with us the last few days. And so, Iris used one of the home testing kits we had lying around and….. Now there were three of us in bidud, meaning that she couldn’t visit Irwin, who was all by his lonesome in Ra’anana.

It is now a week later. The three of us are free to resume our normal activities. A number of people we know have similarly contracted COVID, and probably lots more are walking around town infected but unsuspecting. After all, Barbara and I would not have gone for a PCR test if it hadn’t been required for our trip. We just have a cold.

But I have to wonder. We are no longer considered to have COVID, but the three of us still have colds. Could it be that we had COVID and a cold? Is such a thing possible? And was it a coincidence that we got colds the day after our fourth shots? At any rate, we are expecting our insurance to reimburse us for the cost of our aborted adventure. Let’s look on the bright side. We should have some money to spend on something else, even if it doesn’t involve mummies. And when that happens, there will be some articles and maybe some photographs about our fun in the sun. But for that, you’ll need to be patient. Meanwhile, the sun is out today, and I’m almost out of coffee. I know it’s only Tuesday, but….. Power Coffeeworks, here I come!

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