Inside Israel’s COVID Hotel for Teens – The Forward

There were two known hotspots in the COVID-19 hotel near the Israeli coast where I and other teenagers who contracted the dreaded virus during the reform movement’s summer trips bided our time until that the test is negative.

One was behind a building that no one could see. The other was any vacant room in the Hadassim Youth Village near Netanya. These rooms lacked air conditioning or mattress covers. But when you put a group of bored teenagers in a small space, neither these minor discomforts nor stuffiness or sore throats will stop them from making out. I never walked into a vacant room without knocking.

The ‘hotel’ rules were ‘not to sneak out’, but almost every night I was there we all snuck out of our respective rooms to meet up with our friends. We weren’t really afraid of being caught because it’s hard to punish someone who doesn’t have privileges that can be revoked.

It was about a third into my month-long summer trip to the holy land when I saw the second line appear on my mandatory daily quick test. By then, about 15 of the 79 kids in my group — all juniors rising from Habonim Dror summer camps across North America — had already dragged their virus-infected selves to the so-called COVID hotel. . My positive came in the parking lot of a music festival in Tel Aviv, where I then had to wait about three hours for the COVID-19 taxi driver.

Stressed out about how much I would miss over the coming week, I arrived to find friends from my group sitting around playing cards. They were much happier to see me than I was to see them.

Hadassim, which was established to house refugee children after World War II and is now a boarding school for troubled youth, had been pre-booked by the National Federation of Temple Youth, the Reform movement’s umbrella organization that oversees summer trips to Israel this year. about 600 children enrolled. It looked a bit like a juvenile detention center from the outside and a psychiatric ward from the inside.

The author, right, with Yotam, left. Courtesy of Elijah Marche

The second I walked in, I was greeted by a young man named Yotam, who was walking barefoot on the cold, sticky floors; I don’t think I’ve ever seen Yotam in socks, let alone shoes, during my stay.

“Welcome to the COVID hotel, the most mediocre place in the world!” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. Yotam was the hotel’s big brother. He made us feel like we’ve known him for years by playfully laughing at us and showing genuine interest in our lives.

When I arrived, Yotam sat me down in the meeting room – a bomb shelter that had been filled with board games and sofas – to go over the rules of the place, which included “no boys in girls’ rooms with a closed door and vice versa.” Halfway there, an older woman named Robin entered the room.

Robin, a longtime educator with the Union for Reform Judaism, had been parachuted in from New Jersey to oversee the COVID hotel. She introduced herself offering me leftover Shabbat chicken, which she took out of the fridge before I accepted.

Robin was the hotel bubbe. She taught us how to do our laundry, gave us throat lozenges and of course worried that we all had enough food.

My seven days at Hadassim followed a similar pattern, loose and insubstantial. After showering and getting dressed, we would try to find a deck of playing cards or a random topic to chat or chat about. Often it was rumors about the encounters that had happened the night before.

The COVID hotel meeting room. Courtesy of Elijah Marche

One of the best things about the hotel was our food situation. The only time we ate as a group was on Shabbat, when we all helped set the table and said the blessings together as we sat. It felt like we were family, even though we were family for the most boring reasons.

Weekday breakfast consisted of unlimited cereal and fruit. For lunch and dinner, we would order food for delivery on an Uber Eats-like app. Which meant that every 10 minutes between noon and 8:30 p.m., someone’s meal would arrive.

We all quickly found our favorites. There was a girl who only ordered chocolate ice cream for every meal, earning her the nickname “Chocolate Ice Cream Girl”.

The whole experience felt like a nursing home; we just sat around eating and playing cards. Characters like Chocolate Ice Cream Girl were the highlight of the hotel. She spent most of her time alone on a dining bench in her bathtub.

The Shabbat setup at the COVID hotel. Courtesy of Elijah Marche

We often felt sorry for ourselves and looked at pictures from the tour we missed, posted on social media by our friends who didn’t have COVID-19. It wasn’t until I stopped watching their journey that I could appreciate what I had been offered in addition to my positive test: the rare privilege of having absolutely nothing to do.

Even though it is apparently a vacation, these Israel tours have intense and tight schedules. At COVID Hotel I had the exciting opportunity of having no exciting opportunity.

At Hotel COVID, I never felt the stress of having to try to find something fun to do, which was liberating. It was a vacation away from the stress of vacation.

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