The Grapes of Isolation

I planned on hosting a kiddush in shul the Shabbat of reading Parshat Lech Lecha. Approaching my 1,000th article on Israel, Jews and Judaism, it seemed that the weekly portion about God giving the land of Canaan to Jews for an ever-lasting inheritance would be an appropriate time to mark the milestone. Further, as I was planning on returning from a three week holiday in Israel just the week before, I could wrap up all of the messages very nicely.

Life does not always move according to plan.

In early summer, when I booked the flights for my family to see my son studying in Israel over the Jewish Holidays in September, it seemed that the trip would happen without issue. The May missile barrage against Israeli towns launched by Palestinian Arabs in Gaza had stopped, and Israel was leading the world in vaccinations against COVID-19. But the pandemic cases and deaths in Israel began to spike as the summer went on, so the country instituted a number of policies which made the trip a remote possibility. Would we spend two weeks in quarantine in our hotel room for a three week trip? Yes, we would see our son for a week, but the entrapment seemed excessive for the duration of our visit.

We cancelled the flights and made plans to stay at home for Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

The kiddush was still on, although we pivoted it to Parshat Noah as there was a bat mitzvah already on the calendar for the desired Shabbat. The question of when was addressed, but the how-what was now the focus.

Israeli-themed food was obvious, but what selections? Jews in Israel come from around the world and each have brought their own delicacies. Shwarma, kruv, Israeli salad, kebabs and Moroccan carrots were early choices, to be accompanied by chulent, fish balls, tabouleh and a wide assortment of salads.

The how was equally important. Since the start of the pandemic, the synagogue had been hosting small kiddushes outside in an open tent. With the weather getting colder in October, it was unclear if we could have a larger than normal event in the current configuration.

We opted to take our chances.

The day arrived and indeed the weather was a bit cold and the wind surpassed breezy, but people seemed to enjoy the tasty food. It was nice seeing people from different shuls of varying denominations from across the political spectrum, celebrate the milestone together.

Towards the end of the kiddush, a friend from a different community arrived to my great surprise and delight. While far to the left of me politically, we both try our best to promote Israel in the United States. I had not seen him since before the pandemic.

After our hellos, he asked “where’s the chulent?” and we headed off towards the table near the scotch and drinks. As he made a plate for himself, I looked to the drinks table to pour something to accompany his dish. My eyes were drawn to a bee flying around inside a virtually empty large bottle of grape juice.

The bee went up and down repeatedly, never getting quite so high to emerge from the narrowed opening, nor so low as to get trapped in the remaining juice on the bottom. It shuttled a bit forward and backward, up and down. I had seen other bees checking out the exposed salmon, but how did this one fly into a bottle? I imagined that it must have landed near the opening and then tasted the droplets of grape juice while it walked around drinking to its delight. Before long, it was inside the container upside down and opted to take flight, finding itself effectively locked inside.

As I stared at the phenomenon, a gust of wind took the stacks of paper plates and napkins airborne and scattered them around the parking lot, breaking my gaze. After gathering them up, my friend and I went back to staring at the bee, comfortably ensconced in the jar.

Just then, it dropped to the bottom and splashed into the juice. As its wings got covered in the purple liquid, my friend exclaimed “aha!” as I pointed at the spectacle. We were not sure if this was a moment of triumph for the bee, reaching the core of its desires, or marking its end, forever trapped.

We exchanged glances and questioning smiles. As we turned back to the show, we saw that the bee had taken flight again.

I nodded a grin as I tapped my friend’s shoulder, and told him that I will be booking my flight to Israel before the end of the weekend.

Related First One Through articles:

Abraham’s Hospitality: Lessons for Jews and Arabs

Shabbat Hagadol at the Third Hurva Synagogue, 2010

A Seder in Jerusalem with Liberal Friends

First One Through videos:

God is a Zionist (music by Joan Osborne)

Ethiopian Jews Come Home (music by Phillip Phillips)

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