Seven months ago, I spent 10 days in Morocco, where I experienced the pleasures (and bumps) of riding a camel in the Sahara Desert, listening to Kiddush at a Fez synagogue and dicing vegetables at a Marrakesh cooking school. Several months prior, I was embarking on the inaugural flight of TAP Air Portugal from Lisbon to Tel Aviv. And half a year before that, I was traveling through Portugal, learning about the remnants — and emergence — of a centuries-old Jewish community devastated by the Inquisition.
How quickly things have changed, thanks to the global-pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named, upending all of my future travel plans. Since early March, I have mostly been confined to northern New Jersey, where I have been working from my dining room table, and only crossed the George Washington Bridge once for an errand in Manhattan. I have seen my parents one time, a few local friends, and one of my coworkers in our Parsippany office — all from a distance, of course.
While I recognize my good fortune to be both healthy and employed — as are all members of my immediate family, thankfully — I still can’t help but kvetch that I have no idea when I will board a plane again (or even a bus or train). My explorations are limited to neighborhood walks and local nature hikes, the latter while wearing a mask and having a bottle of Purell close by in the car.
To explain my frustration, I have to provide some context. I first discovered the adventure of travel as a shy, sheltered college junior spending the semester at Tel Aviv University 30 years ago. Having never left the East Coast, let alone the U.S., the experience for me was nothing short of life-altering. Not only did I develop the skills to become (relatively!) independent, I made friends from around the world; traveled to nearby Egypt, Turkey and Greece; and discovered the exhilaration of random, unscripted moments and encounters with a wide cross-section of people.
My travels mostly came to a halt after marrying and having children, but the yearning for adventure never disappeared. When I turned 40, I treated myself to a week’s stay in Israel on a budget, scoring an economical summer fare by changing planes in Spain, staying at a small Jerusalem hotel and finding an inexpensive one-day bus trip to the Dead Sea. As my kids grew older, I started returning to Israel again and again, for the bar mitzvahs of both my sons and on another solo jaunt to Jerusalem after a particularly stressful year.
Still, I hardly expected to continue traveling abroad, until I heard about and applied to join a press trip for Jewish journalists to Morocco in the fall of 2017, to the southern Caribbean island of Curacao six months later, and to Portugal a few months after that to learn about the country’s Jewish heritage. Yes, it was technically “work” and my peers and I were on the go 24-7, but it was incredible just to pass through the landscapes, visit sites ranging from medieval castles to kasbahs, enjoy Moroccan tagines and bacalhau (Portuguese cod fish), and make friends from Europe and beyond.
In March, the aforementioned pandemic put a hold on all of my future travel plans, including a return visit to Portugal, where I was hoping to do more research on emerging and past Jewish communities. I had also hoped to spend time with my friends from my initial trip there, a Portuguese couple who had converted to Judaism, as well as the lively journalists who accompanied me on the Lisbon-to-Israel tour.
But my home state confinement has not yielded a complete lack of exploration. From noticing budding trees while taking neighborhood walks to going on hikes and scouting for birds with my son, I am slowly emerging from my cocoon. I have discovered that local landscapes can be just as beautiful and photogenic as the mountains, deserts, and seas of my trips abroad, and that I can drive just a few miles from my home to take gorgeous photos, for example, of the Palisades cliffs that frame the Hudson River. With more time spent at home, my family even had the chance to notice a mother bird guarding her nest while waiting for her own chicklings to hatch.
So while I may have to wait until 2021 — or even later — before I can see my friends Pedro T., Ana Sarah, Ana Sofia, Ana Margarida, Margarida, Pedro B., Bruno, Andre, Ruben and Dolores on the Iberian Peninsula (not to mention my other travel companions!), I am confident that it will feel as if little time has passed at all. Our ways of navigating the world may have changed, but it remains open for discovery.
Lori Silberman Brauner is deputy managing editor at New Jersey Jewish News. Reach her at email@example.com.