Coronavirus unites Jerusalem at the "Hotel Corona" : Rough Translation One hundred and eighty recovering COVID-19 patients. One Jerusalem hotel. Secular, religious, Arabs, Jews, old, young. Their phones are out, they're recording. And the rest of Israel is... tuning in.
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Hotel Corona


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Hey. You're listening to ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. I'm Gregory Warner. Last month, our Jerusalem correspondent, Daniel Estrin, was doing what so many of us were doing on lockdown.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Kind of sitting on the couch with nothing to do - and my partner and I are in our apartment, and we're not going out, like, a hundred meters from our home. And we're watching Instagram together.

WARNER: Scrolling past too many sourdough starters and mask selfies, scrolling and scrolling.

ESTRIN: Like, every once in a while, I'll be like - whoa, check this out.

WARNER: Then he finds this video.


ESTRIN: You see about a dozen people in a carpeted hotel lobby doing this funny Macarena move together. It's Zumba.

WARNER: And this is not Zumba by Zoom. It's just in person - no masks, breathing all over each other Zumba. The reason they can do this without any social distancing is because they are at a hotel for people who already have the coronavirus.

ESTRIN: In the video, it's mainly young Israelis. You see a guy wearing what looks like a T-shirt he got in the army, and there's a girl in a hijab. And that is what caught my eye because Israeli society is pretty segregated. Arabs and Jews tend to live in separate cities and go to separate schools. I mean, yes, you will see them both in the market. But seeing them together in an exercise class by choice, having fun - well, this is going to be interesting.


ESTRIN: And there are so many other videos like this coming out of Hotel Corona with people doing things that I can't do with other people, like sunbathe. They can give each other high-fives and hugs and dance and party together.


ESTRIN: Rooftop yoga.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Karaoke.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: It's like watching reality TV.

WARNER: Except that Daniel usually hates reality TV.

ESTRIN: But Hotel Corona is like this alternate reality, like the reality TV show I actually do want to watch right now.


WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. I'm Gregory Warner. It really is the perfect reality TV show setup - 200 people from all walks of life - Israelis, Palestinians, religious, secular - all recovering from COVID-19, some of them fresh from the hospital, now forced to live together in a hotel until they're no longer contagious. And they call this place Hotel Corona.

It's not just Daniel watching this. Lots of Israelis are tuning in, except they're not trying to watch the dramas. The odd thing here is the lack of drama. And people are wondering, is this for real? Are they getting along as well as they seem? Today, the story inside Hotel Corona and why this show won't get a second season when ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.


WARNER: Hey. We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

NOAM SHUSTER-ELIASSI: So I'm Noam, and I am corona patient number 3,555, which is a very symbolic number here in the Middle East because when you have three fives, it's good luck.

WARNER: Noam Shuster Eliassi is an Israeli comedian. Before the coronavirus, she'd just gotten her big break - a booking for her one-woman show in Washington, D.C., and gigs all over the place. And then her shows were canceled. She flew back to Israel and passed out at home. It felt like her lungs were on fire. After a short stint in the hospital, she was dropped off by ambulance at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, a nine-story hotel with tennis courts and a spa, now leased to the government to house recovering COVID-19 patients.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: When I got to the hotel, the doors open. And that's it. Immediately, the doors shut, and there is no going out for me anymore until I get released, until I have two negatives.

WARNER: Two negative tests - then she's allowed to leave.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: You feel like you're, like, an alien.


SHUSTER-ELIASSI: And then I walked in. And I was like, hey; is anyone here?

WARNER: Up two flights, she finds the reception desk encased in plexiglass.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: I just saw this very nice religious guy with a yarmulke asking how I was and letting me know that they're here for us.

BARUCH SHPITZER: So my name is Baruch Shpitzer. I'm the reception manager at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel.

WARNER: Of the hotel's nearly 400 employees, Baruch is one of only about four dozen who agreed to keep working here when the patients arrived.

SHPITZER: For me, it was simple. I knew from the beginning that I'm going to stay. There is a say in the hotel industry that it's also like a virus. If it catches you, it's very hard to go out.

WARNER: Besides, he worried if he wasn't here, the army might send soldiers to do it.

SHPITZER: It would have been like like a military camp. To run the hotel as a hotel and not give the guests a feeling that they are in jail, you have to have hoteliers.

WARNER: Yeah. What is different about it? What's the hospitality part that you bring to it?

SHPITZER: We welcome the guests. We speak to them to get them out out from the shock that they're in when they're coming into the hotel. And then there is a small interview when they're coming in. What's your name? How old are you? From where are you? Where are you coming from?

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: He asked me in the check-in do I keep Shabbat, how religious I am.

SHPITZER: Of course, I know according to names if they are Jews or non-Jews. The reason for these questions is that Baruch has to play matchmaker. He assigns people roommates for their time in the hotel.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: Oh, I wish he had a man for me. I think he could choose well for me (laughter). The room assignments were really, really good.

WARNER: Assigning rooms in a place like Israel, it's not easy.

SHPITZER: For example, one person was ultra-Orthodox, and we've matched him with an Orthodox.

WARNER: Those two could not stop fighting over the TV - as in, one wanted to watch it; the other said it was forbidden to turn it on. So Baruch separated them and made a note to ask about that in the entrance interview. And then another day, another complaint.

SHPITZER: Someone came to me - listen; I don't want to be staying with this guy. I told him, listen. Why? You're an Arab, and he's an Arab. You are 20 years old, and he is 20 years old. So what's wrong? No. But I'm coming from the North, and he's coming from the South.


WARNER: Baruch says his job is to make every patient - every guest - as comfortable as possible in a time of uncertainty. And he says that means being with your own kind - people who pray like you pray, people who think like you think.

SHPITZER: We are trying to do the best match we can, and I can say it's 98% success.

WARNER: Really?

SHPITZER: Yeah. In my experience, it's easier for them if it's as similar as possible.

AYSHA ABU SHHAB: My name is Aysha Abu Shhab. I'm 19 years old, and I'm from Rahat city in the Negev.

WARNER: Aysha is Muslim and Bedouin, and Baruch didn't need to assign her roommate. She arrived at the hotel with her 21-year-old brother. They're both janitors at a hospital. That's where they got the virus.

ABU SHHAB: It was strange a little bit. Like, we're eating in our room. We didn't go outside. We didn't check up with the people.

WARNER: She says it just felt weird not to be interacting with the other guests.

ABU SHHAB: I love to know people - like listening to them, sharing with them stories.

WARNER: And so when she hears Baruch announcing dinner over the PA system...

SHPITZER: (Non-English language spoken).

WARNER: Aysha goes down, gets her individually wrapped supper tray and looks around for a place to sit.

ABU SHHAB: The religion Jewish was together.

WARNER: She sees the religious Jews are sitting with other religious Jews. The secular are with secular.

ABU SHHAB: And the Arab was together.

WARNER: Everybody's sticking with their own kind.


WARNER: Aysha grew up in a Bedouin city in the desert speaking a Bedouin dialect of Arabic. She knows about sticking with your own kind. But when she was 7 years old, her mom brought home an American couple to stay with them. They were academics studying Bedouin polygamy - Aysha's dad has two wives. Aysha's mom saw these guests as an opportunity.

ABU SHHAB: So they starting to learn us English, and we starting to learn them Arabic.

WARNER: The couple was writing about you?

ABU SHHAB: Yeah. And they was living with us for two years.

WARNER: Her mom would tell her, be curious about people. Ask questions. It'll help you. And so now, holding her tray of food in Hotel Corona, Aysha scans the room for the friendliest face. And she makes eye contact with an older religious Jewish couple, Amram and Gina.

ABU SHHAB: So they were nice. They was laughing all the time, so I chose them.

WARNER: It was so easy to talk to them. How did you get the virus? - one would say. Well, how did you? By the end of the meal, they are singing and laughing together.


AYSHA, AMRAM AND GINA: (Singing in non-English language).

WARNER: Aysha felt this moment was so special she recorded it on her phone, which began happening a lot at Hotel Corona. People would have a nice chat over lunch and immediately pull out their phone to just capture this moment. And these were the kind of videos that our correspondent, Daniel Estrin, started watching.

ESTRIN: The first hotel guest I started following on Instagram was Noam, the comedian. I remember she did this comedy show in the hotel lobby.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).


ESTRIN: There's no stage. There's no mic. And she's kind of shouting so everyone can hear her.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: My body was weak. My mental state was weak. It was like, Noam, you're not going to be very good and very funny right now. And it's fine. I'm not going to lie. It's not the funniest stuff. It's like my number is 3,555. I have three times khamsa, khamsa, khamsa - you know, five, five, five.


SHUSTER-ELIASSI: So I'm going to bring you my good luck with my number. Hopefully, you'll get out of here. And they're like, no, we don't want to get out of here. What are you talking about? We want to stay. And I'm like - so who here is really sick and who here caught it on purpose licking a bench outside in order to get in the hotel for free? You losers. Seriously, that's the feeling you don't know who's sick and who's trying to get a free ride in the hotel, I swear.

WARNER: So you know people wonder if it's too soon for corona jokes? In this hotel, it was not to soon.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: And then I said that maybe we can start a Tinder that is just for corona patients. And the first date can be going to visit Grandma and Grandpa - no fear.


SHUSTER-ELIASSI: Of course, I did, also, part of the show in Arabic.


SHUSTER-ELIASSI: (Speaking Arabic).

It's also an attraction for the Jews. They're like, oh, my God. You're doing comedy in Arabic. What's happening? What's your story? What's going on?

WARNER: Noam's backstory, - it is the kind of made-for-TV biography that you might want in a reality TV version of this hotel. She is a straight-talking, cynical political comedian who grew up learning Arabic as a kid, which is weird in Israel. Most Jewish Israelis who speak Arabic learned it in the army as military intelligence. But she learned it growing up in a hippie village in Israel that was intentionally built to have 50% Jews and 50% Palestinians.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: Neve Shalom, Wahat al-Salam - in English, it's the Oasis of Peace. I was set to become the poster girl of the, like, give peace a chance movement, you know? My best friends are Palestinian. You know, we're singing songs for peace - football for peace, trees for peace, pancakes for peace.


ESTRIN: Her parents always told her she was the model of what Israel should look like, but Israel was becoming more and more polarized. The inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians and government policies against Palestinians were becoming more stark. Still, she made peacemaking her job. She started working for the U.N. organizing dialogue groups, reaching out to Israeli Jews who are the most skeptical of peace, like ultra right-wing religious groups. But both sides seemed to be moving away from the ideals of compromise she was raised to believe in.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: I found myself often very alone with a narrative that doesn't really resonate or doesn't apply to a lot of people.

ESTRIN: And then before she was supposed to give a speech at a peace conference about her work, the U.N. canceled the program. She lost her job.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: And at that conference, instead of going up and being the analytical U.N. peacebuilding Noam, I started telling jokes (laughter). And it was probably the best thing that I did.


ESTRIN: Noam was so much more successful making fun of the divides than trying to bridge them. She got gigs all over the U.S. and a fellowship at Harvard to write her one-woman show "Coexistence My Ass," which she says is about coexistence and about her ass.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: And I don't need to be careful anymore. I can make fun of the Jews, and the - my next joke would be making fun of Palestinians. I am now not making an order out of the confusion. I am making a mess out of the confusion.

ESTRIN: Making jokes in the Middle East, you never know who you're going to offend. And of all the audiences Noam faced as a peace activist or as a comedian, the crowd in the lobby of Hotel Corona seemed like the most diverse.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: It was just a bunch of old, young, religious, secular, Arab, Jewish - everything - just sitting in the lobby laughing, sometimes not laughing - screaming, coughing (laughter) - coughing, definitely coughing.

ESTRIN: She starts making jokes about this one supermarket cashier who ends up infecting her entire village. And it turns out the cashier is in the audience.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: And the girl was like, yeah, that's me. I did it. She was in the show. (Laughter). So I was like, you're the cashier in the supermarket? You made all your village have corona? And everybody was laughing.


WARNER: A lot of this footage was filmed by Aysha, the hospital janitor who came to the hotel with her brother. She'd never been to a live comedy show before and never even been in a room where Arabs and Jews shared a joke before.

ABU SHHAB: And laughing on something, like, common.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Noam, Noam, Noam.

WARNER: The next morning, Aysha comes down to breakfast. And when she looks around to decide which group she's going to sit down with today, she realizes that something seems to be different.

ABU SHHAB: Like, all the people - Jewish, Arab - they starting to sitting together, talking together, eating together, sharing a lot of stuff.

WARNER: If before everyone was sitting in their own group, now they're all mixed. And it's not just Aysha breaking the ice. People are approaching her.

ABU SHHAB: And I ask them about them religion, like about the Jewish people. Like, why, when the women get married, she started to cover her hair and why the guys wearing that kippah. And they explain me a lot.

WARNER: Had you ever asked those questions before?

ABU SHHAB: To a Jewish, no. Like, most of things, like, it's hard to talk about.

WARNER: And the Jews asked her some of the most sensitive questions that a Palestinian citizen of Israel can face. Like, do you consider yourself Israeli or Palestinian? But the question here felt friendly, genuinely curious.

ABU SHHAB: They didn't judge me. Like, I am Arabian. I am Muslim. I am that, no. I'm human that you can talk to me like there is no difference between us.


SHUSTER-ELIASSI: And I was like, wait. Where is racism? Where is all the problems? Where is all the prejudice? Everybody is getting along here in this hotel. What's happening here?

ESTRIN: Noam's even more surprised when their Instagram stories from inside the hotel start being picked up by Israeli TV.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: The media saw that we love sharing. So every day was like, this reporter is speaking to this person, and another reporter is speaking to me. So when we were filming other people, we were like - hey, guys. Make some noise for Channel number blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah (ph).

ESTRIN: At one point, Noam posts a picture on Facebook of her arm around a woman in a sweatshirt and a hijab. And she tags it a Jew and a Palestinian stuck in the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem. As with so much out of Hotel Corona, it goes viral.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: Thousands of shares, thousands of likes - all the popular pages in Israel posted it.

ESTRIN: The post was reposted by a big Israeli TV channel, and the comments came from an even wider audience from all over Israel. When a post like this goes mainstream in Israel, you can be sure it will attract some nasty comments.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: The usual comments would be like, oh, wait. Once you're out, she will send her boy to bomb you. Oh, now you are getting along, but later she will throw a stone at you. And I'm going through the comments, and I can't find one negative comment. The usual racism, the trolls, the hatred, the separation that I'm used to seeing outside just didn't exist.


WARNER: So sure, the people here could share a joke or even a photo. But how would these new friendships hold up under stress? Well, Aysha remembers this one day she was walking back to a room and this guy in front of her collapses.

ABU SHHAB: He's look like Vincent van Gogh.

WARNER: He's gaunt, pale and bearded. He's a young Orthodox Jew now having an asthma attack on the hallway carpet. And as Aysha rushes over to help, she also stops and wonders - am I allowed to touch him?

ABU SHHAB: Like, I'm a Muslim. Maybe I cannot talk to him, I cannot touch him.

WARNER: Maybe if I help him, he'll be offended. So she calls the medics, but they have to put on all this protective equipment just to enter the hotel. They need her to step in.

ABU SHHAB: And I ask the medical what I have to do.

WARNER: Don't let him fall asleep, they tell her.

ESTRIN: Do you think you saved his life?

ABU SHHAB: Actually, maybe. I don't know. But maybe he doesn't want anybody to know that.

ESTRIN: To know what - like, that he had an attack or that you helped him or...

ABU SHHAB: Both of them.

WARNER: At first, she didn't even tell anyone what she'd done. She didn't want to offend them. Then she worried maybe he'd have another attack, so she started telling people. And this older Jewish nurse told her she'd done something really great.

ABU SHHAB: She told me you can be a doctor, not a nurse, when she talked to me.

WARNER: Aysha confessed to her that she'd always dreamed of being a nurse, not just a hospital janitor.

ABU SHHAB: And we started this conversation like maybe we can help each other.

WARNER: Aysha had never had a mentor outside her family, let alone a Jewish mentor.


WARNER: After the break, as Israel tunes in to Hotel Corona...

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: So we feel like, also, we are the news (laughter).

WARNER: ...That media spotlight becomes the biggest test of all.


WARNER: Hey. We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

ESTRIN: And I'm Daniel Estrin. By early April, Hotel Corona had been open less than a month. And Baruch, from his desk behind the plexiglass, could see that the guests were getting along. But he was worried about Passover.

SHPITZER: Well, Passover is a holiday of family.

ESTRIN: He was worried that the guests would feel their isolation even more on this holiday that's all about family. They might get depressed.

SHPITZER: And we wanted to find a solution to that problem to give them the opportunity to have a proper seder.

ESTRIN: But seder is a lot to figure out. It's family style eating, not individually wrapped supper trays. How do you keep the food hot during readings and songs that can last well over an hour, and how do you set it all up in advance before the guests arrive to contaminate the space?

SHPITZER: 'Cause once one of them touch anything, it can't go back.

ESTRIN: Did anyone have any crazy ideas like sending waiters with hazmat suits?

SHPITZER: No because there were no one that were willing to do that.

ESTRIN: Eventually, the hotel management decided to just open up the banquet hall to all the guests, and they'd serve the food and just do the seder themselves. But there was another problem. The young guests were dying to film this for their families back home and for TV, but ultra-Orthodox Jews forbid electronics on religious holidays. The ultra-Orthodox in the hotel did not want their holy commemoration of the exodus from Egypt to be Instagram famous. Noam tried to reassure them.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: We're not going to take our phones out. We're not going to dress in a way that will insult them, you know?

ESTRIN: But some of the ultra-Orthodox guests made a request to Baruch and the hotel management.

SHPITZER: It wasn't demand. It was the polite request. We want to celebrate traditionally, and the young people wanted to celebrate differently. And if you don't mind, if it's possible - to divide it.

ESTRIN: Please divide the banquet hall.

SHPITZER: One for the ultra-Orthodox and one for the rest.

ESTRIN: In a video posted just before the seder started, someone shows the setup. There are the tables on the secular side...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: ...With all the bottles of soda and the little individual seder plates. And then there is an actual floor-to-ceiling wall which makes a complete separate room for the traditional seder for the religious people.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: To Noam, this wall wasn't a practicality. It was a symbol.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: It reminded me of the world that I'm used to before the corona. It reminded me of our default that we prefer separation rather than the compromise that comes with uniting.

WARNER: Noam remembers walking into the room on the secular side and seeing the wall.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: Oh, Noam. You were so cute to think that you found something unique here in this hotel. Let's see how this goes.

ESTRIN: So the sun is setting. The seder is about to begin. And I talked to one of the people on the religious side, Amram Maman. He's 66 years old. He's not ultra-Orthodox, but he's Orthodox.

AMRAM MAMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He says he remembers coming in with his wife Gina. She took one look at that partition wall, and she tells him, I can't do seder like this. I'm going to cry.

MAMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Amram says he also hated the idea of having a divided seder, but if he took down the wall, it could spark a fight. The ultra-Orthodox could walk out in protest, and then the young people might pull out their phones and film that. But Amram just couldn't do the seder this way.

MAMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He tells his wife, give me two minutes, and we're going to move this barrier.

MAMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: It's too big for him to push alone, so he calls over some younger guys. And they start to slide the wall when an ultra-Orthodox man jumps up. But he's not there to stop them.

MAMAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He tells them, I'm so happy you're moving this partition, and he helps them. And all together, they push that divider back into the corner. And then as one room - 180 people - they bless the wine. The seder begins.


ESTRIN: Aysha and other Muslim guests in the hotel are there, too, celebrating with them.

ABU SHHAB: They invite me to sit with them, to eat with them.

ESTRIN: And by the very last night of Passover, Aysha is sitting at the ultra-Orthodox table.

ABU SHHAB: And it was a great conversation. Like, we take a shots.

ESTRIN: Shots?



ESTRIN: Of wine?

ABU SHHAB: Lord, not me - them. But I enjoyed them - like, sitting with them, not to drink, of course.

WARNER: We do have a couple of video clips taken from the end of the seder. After the prayers, when people just couldn't help it, they discreetly pulled out their iPhones and filmed the Dayenu.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing in Hebrew).

SHPITZER: I've seen it on the film, and I was shocked. They had a beautiful seder.

WARNER: Baruch remembers watching this video being struck by how different this was from seders outside the hotel walls. The government was forbidding people from hosting any guests. Police set up checkpoints on Passover night to block movement. Baruch, like all Israelis, had to do seder at home.

SHPITZER: At home with my small family. My parents sat by themselves, and my mother-in-law sat alone. And they were celebrating together. They were, like, a small community but, like, a huge family.

WARNER: Can I ask a strange question? Do you ever feel jealous that they get to be together and touch each other or be next to each other and you have to keep your distance?

SHPITZER: Yeah. Yeah. When you see them together and, you know - they don't have the - all the rules and the barriers that you have now, that we have now. I believe that a lot of people in Israel - a little bit of envious (laughter) of that. People won't forget this Passover for a long time.


WARNER: While Baruch played these videos over and over for his friends, Noam played the experience over and over in her head, trying to make sense of it.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: I was sitting in my table and watching other people remove barriers, not me.

WARNER: All her life, she'd been told that it was her job to bring people together, a job she felt she'd failed at.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: You know how amazing it is? I wasn't the one to remove the barriers. Oh, my God. I wish things outside could be like this.

WARNER: And she wondered what it was in this hotel that allowed people to find such common ground without slogans, without the U.N., without any pancakes for peace.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: Is it the fact that Jews and Arabs get the same in the hotel - same food, same terms?

WARNER: Was it that people were being treated equally or that they'd all faced down the same disease?

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: That we are realizing how much the well-being of one is the well-being of the other? And how will I think about this experience when I go back to the real world?

WARNER: We called Aysha just as she was heading back to the real world. Her brother had just gotten his second negative test.

ABU SHHAB: Like, we will go home, sharing with the family.

WARNER: But she's not going back to her old life at her janitor job. This experience has taught her too much.

ABU SHHAB: A lot of stuff that I didn't know about myself.

WARNER: Like what?

ABU SHHAB: How smart I am.

WARNER: Her new friends convinced her to enroll in nursing school, and they can guide her. While her mom always encouraged her to be curious about people, it wasn't until she got stuck in this hotel that that translated into real friendship and even opportunity.

ESTRIN: Watching these videos from Hotel Corona, I've been wondering. What if a lot more Israelis went through this experience of being stuck together, you know, in a place where the normal rules of society are suspended? Like, would that change Israel? And actually, a lot more corona hotels have opened, but most of them are segregated, not mixed like this one.

ABU SHHAB: Wow. I didn't know that.

ESTRIN: Do you think it's a good idea to have these separate hotels?


ESTRIN: I called the Army commander in charge of the quarantine hotels, and he told me that there are so many ultra-Orthodox Jews who caught the virus, they made special hotels just for them. He says they wouldn't come to mixed hotels. It's easier to convince people to come if they know they'll be with their own kind.

WARNER: Hotel Corona no longer hosts recovering patients, and when we last talked to Baruch, he was saying goodbye to the last of those guests. When he first opened the doors and started assigning roommates, his fear then was that people from different backgrounds would clash, but they did not. In fact, they became friends.

SHPITZER: And I believe that if they'll have to spend time in a hotel - Jews and Arabs together - maybe they will - everything will be OK. Which - but that's the meaning of being Israelis.

WARNER: That's not the meaning of being Israelis. It's just how humans are. I once interviewed a reality TV show producer who confessed just how hard it is to get people to fight enough to keep it interesting. He said you have to cast characters and exploit the right moments, stoke the conflict because people, he says, as individuals are frustratingly good at getting along. That is what Baruch discovered. But he is also a hotelier and a practical one. He agrees with the army commander that segregated hotels, they're just easier to get people to come to and easier to manage.

SHPITZER: Yeah, of course it's easier, although we call them guests, and we will remain calling them guests. But we cannot forget that they are sick.

WARNER: He feels it's unseemly to take whatever magic happened here and try to impose that on the rest of the nation. This is a moment when people are feeling vulnerable and deeply uncertain.

SHPITZER: And we have to do the best we can to make them feel comfortable.

WARNER: Right. So you don't see this as an opportunity to recreate Israeli society.

SHPITZER: No 'cause we are not in the Love Boat or - life is not a movie.

WARNER: Good luck telling that to the cast of Hotel Corona.


WARNER: Today's show was produced by Tina Antolini. Our editor is Lu Olkowski. So many people listened to this piece and made it better. Thank you to Henriette Chacar, Hussein Shakra, Daniella Cheslow, Assad Joubran, Elizabeth Senja Spackman, Robert Krulwich, Karen Duffin, Sarah Gonzalez, Sana Krasikov, Jess Jiang, Autumn Barnes, Mira Burt-Wintonick and NPR Middle East editor Larry Kapilow. Thanks also to Brig. Gen. Yoram Lerdo and Atar Nussbaum. The ROUGH TRANSLATION executive team is Neal Carruth, Chris Turpin, Didi Schanche and Anya Grundmann. Our intern is Derek Arthur. Sarah Knight fact-checked this episode. Mastering by Isaac Rodrigues. John Ellis composed our theme music, and other scoring from Blue Dot Sessions. Noam Shuster has been documenting her whole journey even after Hotel Corona. We'll have links to that in our show notes.

And before we go, just one last moment from our interview with Noam.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: I'm really in a movie that I can't describe - one second.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

WARNER: When Noam was talking to us from inside the hotel, this announcement comes on over the PA.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).


ESTRIN: Tell Tina what he just said.

SHUSTER-ELIASSI: I wonder what happened. You see, I'm talking to you about this utopia, this great hotel. And while we're recording (laughter), someone tried to escape.

ESTRIN: Someone's escaped (laughter)?

WARNER: If you'd like more stories like this in your podcast feed, rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. It really helps people find the show. Or tell a friend or two about this podcast. And we always love to hear your rough translation moments, both corona-related and not. You can drop us your thoughts at We're on Twitter @Roughly. I'm Gregory Warner. Back in two weeks with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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