THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 2020 --
Devout Catholic woman that she was, my Italian-American mother nevertheless had an unbreakable rule: There must always be a chair for Elijah at the Easter table.
My mother wasn't big on the religious symbolism of Elijah, but she'd be damned if some stray didn't have a place to be on a holiday. She was big on family was who you said it was. And if you needed a place to be, you were her family and she'd pull out Elijah's chair for you.
I thought about my mom this week as we faced this season of Passover and Easter when there can not be strays--or even family--at our holiday tables.
And I thought about our little travel family. I have noticed over the years running JoeSentMe.com that Easter and Passover have been when members gathered with their families and talked and planned holiday travel. Where would they go during the summer or for the end-of-the-year holiday? This would all be hashed out over matzoh or leg of lamb and decided by the time it was time for the apple cake or hot cross buns.
Then you'd contact me with tales, good or bad, trying to cash your frequent travel credits for flights and hotels to wherever you had decided to go as a family.
When the news was good--and your Easter/Passover planning yielded a family trip to Italy or India--we would swap celebratory E-mails. When the news was bad--the airline had locked down flights to Buenos Aires or the Bali resort was blocking out suites--we'd swap E-mails about strategies and workarounds.
My mom looked forward to someone filling Elijah's chair at her Easter table. I cherished getting your E-mails about the family trips you were planning. And I was thrilled if I could help with a restaurant tip or mileage tweak.
This year, of course, there will be neither. I am glad my mom, who died too young decades ago, never lived to see a holiday where she couldn't cook for the masses and welcome strangers into the family. I am sad that there will be no E-mails from JoeSentMe members this year with tales of travel cooked up over the Passover and Easter holidays.
But I have an idea: Next year in Jerusalem.
Or Maui. Or Mazatlan or Mumbai. Or Wales or Wuhan. Next year somewhere. Anywhere.
I don't need
to travel. I have a lot of beauty in my life: a nice house on the banks of the Hudson River and enough ground and flowers to sate my aesthetic desires. I don't need to travel on business, either. I can always say no to a client if I wanted. And if I never went to an airport again or passed through a security checkpoint again or climbed on an airplane again, I'd be just fine.
Still, I travel because I want to learn. I want to meet people different from me and see how they live and work and play. I want to eat what they eat, walk where they walk, shop where they shop and look at the sky and the sea and the flowers in their world. I've been to Maui and Mumbai and the thought of never again seeing the Pacific Ocean or the Arabian Sea frightens me. I've never been to Jerusalem or Wuhan and I cannot imagine never seeing those places.
We have reached a strange moment in our lives in the time of Coronavirus. The entire American nation put fewer than 100,000 people on airplanes on Tuesday, the very same day that Wuhan reopened to the world. As I said last week
, yesterday's gone and there's no tomorrow. There's only today and it's hard to plan anything when you can't see a day into the future.
But I'll say it again anyway: Next year in Jerusalem. Or anywhere you want to be again or want to see for the very first time.
That's what I want you to tell your family at the next Seder you choose to celebrate or on Easter Sunday. Even if you're only seeing them on Zoom or Skype or via E-mail or a phone call.
Next year in Jerusalem. Somehow. Some way.
This year during Easter and Passover, there can be no talk about where to go this summer or at the end of the year because we cannot know when we can fly again. In a world where a visit to the supermarket or a pharmacy is an act of defiance, the thought of cashing those miles and points for a great vacation any time soon seems positively reckless.
I will miss hearing from you in the days ahead about the holidays you would have otherwise planned. Instead, we will talk about music and food and films and why Mister Meatball has four lasagna recipes. For the moment, the world may be our oyster--and we can discuss more cowbell
--but we can't travel in it. Not yet anyway.
But next year? Next year in Jerusalem.