Gerry Goldstein: Giving Elijah a pass on self-quarantine

An icon of Elijah from Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai

Governor Raimondo, in her recent and charming press briefing for children, set young minds at ease about the coronavirus when she declared the Easter Bunny an “essential worker” and further pledged, “I would never quarantine the Easter Bunny.”

So that takes care of a burning question involving one of the traditional visitors people want to see at various holidays during the year.

This, however, leaves unresolved the question of what the governor intends to do about the prophet Elijah.

He’s of particular interest to us of the Jewish persuasion, and since he lived in the ninth century B.C., he holds considerable seniority over the Easter Bunny.

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But as the governor rightly points out, bunnies cannot catch the coronavirus, so we are left with a conundrum about Elijah’s traditional and invisible “arrival” at Passover in 2020.

If you are unfamiliar with his role, here it is: During our Passover seders, the ritual meals at which we celebrate Moses leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, we set aside a cup of wine for Elijah. It’s sort of our version of leaving milk and cookies for Santa. And much like Santa in the Christian world, Elijah is said to visit every Jewish home at Passover. He brings us no tangible gifts, but something perhaps more appreciated these days: the promise of better times ahead.

Traditionally, a child is asked during the seder to open the door for Elijah, because children represent our hopes for the future.

Since the coronavirus demands either curtailed or virtual seders this year, social media wags are considering protective Elijah protocol.

Should we declare him, like the bunny, an “essential worker” free from travel restrictions? If he has to self-quarantine for 14 days each time he crosses a border, there’s no way he’s making it through Passover.

Should he wear a mask when he comes in?  Should we make him wash his hands?  Must he stay six feet from the Seder table? 

We could ask the governor about this, but one suspects the answers lie with a higher Authority.  

I did run across some practical advice on the matter, provided in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, vice president of the American Jewish University in L.A.

He puts a positive spin on the suddenly complicated seder situation. 

His suggestion is that in addition to opening our doors for Elijah this year, “we open our hearts as well — to the health care workers tending the sick and suffering; to the volunteers and aides tending our loved ones who are old… or who require additional attention. Let us open our hearts to one another as we struggle against separation and loneliness, as we fight off disappointment and despair.”


And, says the rabbi, we should affirm that “no one is ever truly alone at a seder. Our people around the world, all of our ancestors who forged a path of endurance and light, all of our sages, poets, pioneers and visionaries will be with us. Along with the family and friends who can’t sit around our table… they will be in our hearts, our souls and our song.

“Let them in. Embrace them with all you’ve got. Know that redemption is coming. There will be better days.”

All I can say to that is, Elijah – come on in!

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