Ideas and Impressions: ‘We missed Purim in Jerusalem’

By Jason Moscovitz

At the beginning, COVID-19 meant deciding whether to travel or not. For me and my partner there appeared to be only one answer, not to travel, although to the end we were heavily leaning the other way.

Almost every year since 2008, I have ended winter early by going to Israel in March to enjoy full-blown spring and even some summer-like days wearing shorts and T-shirts in Jerusalem.

This year, we were going to arrive on Purim. I was going to wear a big fur winter hat that makes my young grandchildren laugh because I tell them it’s not a hat it’s my hair. Instead of having that pleasure, I stayed in Ottawa to wear winter boots and think about what I missed.

Ironically, even when the reports of COVID-19 started to intensify, we didn’t think we would have to be concerned about safe Israel, so far from the epicentre in China. Not only that, we were flying directly from Canada. There was no risk transferring at a European airport. For weeks, we didn’t see a problem.

But, as the departure date approached, there was one constant we had to deal with. Every day the status of the virus was worse than the day before. Every day there were more countries hit, more people sick, and more dying. The real shocker was news that Israel had its own growing number of people suffering from COVID-19 and that there were many more there at risk.

I can be stubborn, and even facing formidable reasons to stay home, my mind still raced back and forth. There were some moments we were 100 per cent sure we would go and some we were 100 per cent sure we wouldn’t. Back and forth our minds went like a seesaw. Something had to happen to either get us to go or not go.

Less than a week before departure, my 97-year-old father phoned from Montreal. Never one to mince words, Eli said we couldn’t go. He told me it was too risky. I got upset and said, “I’m not going on holiday. I’m going to see my grandchildren.”

“You can see them another time,” he replied.

True, but I didn’t want to hear that.

The father-son conversation was getting a little heated and I told him I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. As sharp as ever a few months away from his 98th birthday, he told me he didn’t understand why we wanted to walk into a hornets’ nest. Now that stung.

I got off the phone and tried to use a logical approach to the risks and possibilities. I instantly realized the dilemma. There was no way in the world of knowing what lay ahead. The unknown was the hornet’s nest.

That very afternoon I reasoned the next three weeks would be critical. Either COVID-19 would be reasonably under control or in three weeks the world would be upside down with a raging pandemic. I don’t know why I thought three weeks. Perhaps, subconsciously, I knew we were going away for three weeks.

That night I was watching CNN and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said what I had been thinking all afternoon. “The next three weeks,” he said, “were critical.” That really got my attention. I needed another day to think.

The lure of family and grandchildren is as strong as iron and when your loved ones live far away, need I say more? But we didn’t go. By a long shot, it was the right decision.

The day after cancelling, I got unexpected news. My daughter Emmanuelle was in self-quarantine at home in Jerusalem. She had travelled to Paris on business the week before and was ordered by the government not to go outside for 10 days.

I can only imagine how disappointing it would have been to be there with my daughter confined to her residence.

Who knows how easily, or how hard, it might have been to travel home at the end of March? “Who knows anything about anything?” has been the truly scary part of COVID-19 from the beginning.

We missed Purim in Jerusalem. We missed Shalev who was Superman. We missed Aurianne who was Queen Esther.

And Jerusalem missed my big fur winter hat.

Click here to read "From the Editor" by Michael Regenstreif for commentary on how COVID-19 is affecting the Jewish community in Ottawa.