From the Marrakesh to the Sahara: A Desert Journey, Spanish Travelers, and Tracing Jewish History in the Ancient Hills 🐪
A road trip from Marrakesh to the Sahara: Camels, COVID, new friends—and History
Hey, y’all. How you doing? You holding up okay? I ask because it’s perfectly fine not to be. After a break in November while on the road, I’m back, and I’m hanging in there. – Bobby
It’s no secret that most of my circle and following are progressives, or at least anti-Trumpism. These past weeks have been brutal, anxious, and blurry for anyone caring about democracy, decency, social justice, and you know—some basic things like adults behaving like adults and doing their damn jobs.
The pandemic is insane in America. I am incredulous still that one month after election day, as cases and hospitalizations and deaths soar here to a degree unseen elsewhere in the world, the so-called leaders in power (at least until January) can not be bothered to utter a word of it, let alone lift a crooked finger to offer a plan, economic support, or even a kind word.
Ghouls. We went from kakistocracy to flat-out rule-by-ghoul. I feel like I’m stuck in a science-fiction novel daily, where mask-wearing is normalized in public but you never see evidence of mass death and destruction.
Factor into these weeks that I converted and I’m in a sort of post-partum depression, and this election cycle and mass disease and decay of democracy and norms has been really destabilizing.
See, the mikvah, the waters where I converted, is a womb of sorts. It’s warm, wet, enveloping, personal, and solitary. Entering it is a rebirth as a Jew or, as part of a regular practice, marking a different stage in life. I left the waters legally Jewish and then left Los Angeles, back to physical and social isolation in the desert, the only Jew in my home, only seeing my community through pixels and microsecond delays.
When my Rabbi, my teachers, and peers are all at most two inches high, how big am I supposed to feel right now in this momentous time? When everyone I usually deeply connect with I am now unable to make eye contact with, how do we really feel each other?
When our appointed leaders gaslight us, say the pandemic somehow isn’t bad (nationally) and it’s horrific (state leaders) and yet still, it gets worse, how am I to feel? Sure, I reconcile that some of that information is false. The White House is run by a toddler, and “run” is a kind word. Yet here in California we are told just again today to expect further levels of constraint and lockdown with curfews, yet no economic relief is discussed. In fact, federal unemployment assistance ended, the state faces a half billion dollar fraud ring and budget shortfalls across its municipalities, and there is no serious mention of paying everyone to stay home and to then fund a robust, long overdue contact tracing program.
Meanwhile, I am damn lucky I got to go to LA at all and do my mikvah in person. The other option was the ocean, and at a certain point that may be on hold for future candidates, too.
So my conversion during all this was a gift. Another one I received was my first tallit, a traditional prayer shawl, from my parents. You can only wear this once you are formally Jewish. When you visit a synagogue as a goy, you may be asked to don a kippah but would definitely be denied a tallitt.
And yet, still, I have nowhere to wear it, and I tried it on unceremoniously, at home, 100 miles from the nearest Jewish community I know. And we don’t know when we will gather again. Next Passover, starting March 27, 2021? Marking a damn year since our first holy day during lockdown, when none of us could imagine that the rest of the cycle—including Shavuout, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah—would be restricted or outright virtual?
Next passover marks a year, too, since I was set to originally convert, my first mikvah date rescheduled. And still I am lucky. Lucky to be well, to not have lost friends or family in this debacle, to even have taken a safe, distanced road trip to New Orleans, Austin, and nine states in total. That’s beautiful. I got out from behind the screen, climbed behind the wheel, hugged my dog partner the whole way, and people I know and love were no longer two-dimensional, two-inch avatars, but real life, flesh-and-blood….
…and hurting. Economically hurting, emotionally isolated, and often unrecognizable behind masks.
This coming Passover seems too early, wishful thinking that four short months from now it would be safe to gather, even outdoors. By many accounts we won’t yet have a widespread vaccine deployment until late spring and into summer. I am saddened and shocked that this is where we are and yet, wholly unsurprised that this is who we are as a country. We don’t take care of each other and most of us lack the means to take care of ourselves.
Rugged American individualism is a myth; it kills, and always has. We were isolated and suffering before all this, and now it is maddening clear to the entire world how astray we have gone as a political project.
Hanukkah starts a week from tonight. I’ll light my menorah, I’ll sing, and I’ll show my wonderful roommate how it’s done. He’ll ask questions, I’ll try to answer as best I can, and we’ll talk of lighting the lights and showing that I am Jewish—not hiding—during the darkest nights of the year and indeed, the darkest years of this young country.