'I Hope My Father Is Waiting for Me. I Just Want to Get There in Time'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A woman rushing to Rhode Island to be with her ill father, and another trying to figure out what to do after the coronavirus crisis ends

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Diana Pyatov-Willy.
Diana Pyatov-Willy.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Diana Pyatov-Willy, 44, lives in Haifa; flying to New York

Hello. What brings you to the airport during this period?

I’m going to visit my father in Rhode Island. He had a stroke and he probably doesn’t have long to live, so I’m planning to help my mother and to say goodbye.

So sad. What happened?

He’s 80 and he has Alzheimer’s. During the past year he started falling. My parents celebrated Passover with my sister in New Jersey and spent the night there. In the morning he fell and was left with half his body paralyzed. They called a local hospital and were told that more than 90 percent of their patients were suffering from the coronavirus. So my elderly parents drove to a hospital in Rhode Island, a trip of four-and-a-half hours.

Was there a problem with the virus there?

My sister and my mother were only allowed in for a minute, so he stayed there alone for a few days. I imagine he was lonely and confused, it makes me sad to think about it. But now he’s home.

Is he conscious?

His situation changes. On one side he can open an eye and also move his hand, and he understands when he’s spoken to, but he can’t talk. Sometimes he doesn’t open his eyes for a long time. I want to hold his hand, I remember doing that in childhood, caressing his hand. He is a truly good person; he was always there for us.

When did you last see him?

I went with my children for his 80th birthday, last December, and that was fun. Despite the illness, he remembers everyone. There were moments in the party when he forgot what it was about, and he also kept repeating the same questions about the children over and over. But we all had a good time.

Tell us a little about him.

He had a clear, no-nonsense take on life. He was a practical person, there was no need to ask if life was good, that was clear. He was a mechanical engineer, but he was also creative. He read a lot of poetry and also wrote some when he was young. But his greatest pride was that he left communist Moscow and moved his family to the United States. Starting when he was young, he encountered anti-Semitic incidents and dreamed about leaving. I think he is very proud of the good life he made for us.

How old were you when you moved to the United States?

Eleven. Until then we hid our Jewishness and celebrated the holidays in secret. From the moment we got approval, we had 10 days to leave the country, but I couldn’t even tell my best friend. I told her we were moving to a new apartment and that I would call her at 4 P.M., after we got there. Of course I couldn’t call, and that hurt. But there were also great experiences during the move. We passed through Austria and Italy, where we spent three months. It was wonderful. All the kids played in a junkyard there – I remember it like a dream. We’d never seen anything like that.

And in the U.S., without all the secrets, did you feel better?

In the first year we went to a private Jewish school, which was paid for, so we felt very protected. But afterward we switched to a public school, and we moved from San Francisco to North Carolina, where people weren’t used to foreigners. They called me “Commie.” In Russia I was simply a Jew in hiding, and there I was suddenly a Russian Jew. Only when I got to Israel did I finally feel like a person in her own right, because the majority are Jews and I didn’t have a different identity. It’s a wonderful feeling to this day.

When did you move here?

In 2008, when I was already 33. My parents felt compelled to be supportive, but it was very hard for them. My father had a heart attack the day after I left. It was only after I had children that I felt how hard it is to be far from one’s family.

Why Haifa?

There were three absorption centers: Jerusalem, Ra’anana and Haifa. Jerusalem seemed to me oppressive and too religious, I didn’t know Ra’anana, and Haifa has the sea and it’s a big city. I’m pleased with the choice. We take walks in the Mount Carmel forest, and we go to the beach a lot.

What do you wish for yourself on this trip?

I hope my father waits for me – I asked him to wait for me when I spoke to him on WhatsApp. I just want to get there in time.

Dina Gordion.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Dina Gordion, 34, lives in Ashdod; arriving from New York

Hello. Where are you returning from?

From Canada – Toronto. I visited a friend, I traveled a little and I came back. I stayed for two-and-a-half months, which was more than I’d intended, because it was hard to find a flight back.

How was your trip?

Everything was all right at first, and then the lockdown started, like here: two meters between people, no meetings, lining up outside the supermarket. But you can still run, which is fun.

Do you run in Israel, too?

I haven’t run like that for many years, but I always did sports. Before this I’d go to a gym. I was into sports as a girl at school; I took part in athletics competitions. After that I gave it up for a while and then I took up tennis: I was in first place in Ashdod in the 12-13 age group. But the main reason I made the trip now was to clear my head.

From what?

I was – I still am – at a crisis stage. I didn’t work last year, and I am thinking about what to do with my life. I know I like horses and children, so I’m waiting to see where that will take me. I thought I might live in Belgium. Right now the situation there is one of the worst in the world, maybe the worst, they have almost 300 people dying a day.

Why Belgium?

I grew up there until I was 10 and feel at home there. My mother tongue is Flemish, I know the culture, I have family there. There is also the very strong bond I had with my mother, who was Belgian. She died 17 years ago, when I was 15. Being there is a way of remembering her.

So what now?

My brain is very confused about everything that is happening, many things have changed direction in my mind. This whole coronavirus thing makes me feel that the right decision would be to stay in Israel. My father is here, my nephews. I remember that when I first arrived here, at age 10, the Israeli mentality really hit me. It took me a year or two to acclimatize, I didn’t speak the language. But I’m glad I came. Now I feel more than ever that there is no place like Israel – the warmth and the love you find here. In Belgium, and also in Canada and other places, people are cold, everyone stays in their corner. It’s a different mentality.

Will you stay in Ashdod?

Maybe. I’m used to being there. I feel less of a connection to Tel Aviv, I like more open spaces. We’ll see what will happen. I’m a person who adjusts; I went through a lot in life – my mother’s illness, a serious operation I underwent myself because of a genetic situation. Things are tough for everyone now, but I feel I have a better perspective.

What are your conclusions?

You need to enjoy things in life, not surrender to them. People are learning now how to appreciate things more, to appreciate their jobs, the money they have. So from all that, I understand that I need to be with my father more and maybe give up Belgium.

For your dad?

For me, to be with him. My father is my life, the most important thing in my life. We talk every day, and about everything. He has been with me every step of the way, and if it’s possible to be closer to him and to the family – that is preferable to everything else at the moment.

Do you tell your father everything?

Yes. It’s an incredible bond. There was always a good one, but it has become much stronger since my mother died. He is father and mother and also a good friend. He will move heaven and earth for me. Once I was on a trip to Belgium and I wasn’t feeling well; it was something small. I called him up – and a few hours later he simply knocked on the door with a smile. And there is also my brother, who is a year older than me and is married with three children. I’m starting to worry about that, too. I’m already 34 but still single. And I want kids. My dream is twins. Family is the most important.

What are you quarantine plans?

I’ll be in a Jerusalem hotel for 14 days. I tried to get sent somewhere else, but they couldn’t change anything, and I understand that. I’ll miss my dad and my terrific dog when I’m there. I imagine I’ll mostly exercise – I have a training app, pushups, running, there’s no lack of things to do. And I’ll also think a lot, now there’s time for it.

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