Pesach has come and gone though the world-wide Covid-19 craziness has not left us yet. I hope everyone is staying healthy. This time, it is a blog about nothing in particular - just a few random updates on different things going on. Some people seem to like reading these types of blogs the most. As usual, I welcome any responses and comments.
Passover has come and gone. Here in Israel it is only 7 days so it goes by a bit more quickly than in North America (or anywhere else outside of Israel). We only have one Seder. Since we only had five people at our Seder (our immediate family), we shouldn't have needed as many Pesach dishes. But somehow it didn't seem to be that much less work than usual. Changing over all the dishes, preparing some special Passover foods and making sure you have everything you need - is still a lot of effort whether you are having 30 people for dinner or just 5. We might even have enough frozen brisket left over to last us through Rosh Hashana.
We had our annual family debate over whether to switch to eating kitniyot (legumes, rice etc.,) during Pesach. Although we could not come up with too many great reasons for continuing our Ashkenazi practice - other than tradition (and the possibility of hosting non-kitniyot eating guests) - we slogged through another year without eating humus, rice, corn or other kitniyot. Since most restaurants were closed this year on hol hamoed (the intermediate days of Passover) because of the virus, there weren't many external temptations (like the pizza places that usually open up during Pesach using corn flour crust). We had our family at home and cooked all of our meals in the house so it wasn't really too problematic. The holiday even went by quickly, it seemed.
We considered following the Moroccan custom of making mufleta after the end of Pesach (essentially a fried dough served with honey or jam). It would have been a "mini- Mimuna" (A Moroccan post-Passover party) since it would have been only the five of us. But in the end, since none of us were Moroccan, we didn't really feel a compelling urge to spend the time making the mufleta. Instead we spent the evening turning the kitchen back to its normal state and then made some pasta.
Israel, like most other countries, is still in a state of lock-down. A range of stores are open including supermarkets, local convenience stores, hardware stores and take out restaurants. But malls are still closed, many other businesses are closed and many Israelis are feeling the challenge of economic hardship.
Israel has done a reasonable job at keeping the spread rate relatively low and, more importantly, the mortality rate down. According to the latest statistics, Israel had a total of 12,855 active cases as of yesterday, including 97 new confirmed cases. 148 people have died, including 6 yesterday. For the country, the overall mortality rate, tracked as "deaths per million residents" is at 17. By way of comparison, that number is 105 in the U.S., 413 in Spain, 202 in the UK and 32 in Canada. So Israelis are cautiously optimistic that the country will emerge from this crisis with a relatively low number of casualties.
The challenging discussion now is how to open the economy back up so that people can get back to work. The Israeli government is proposing a plan to gradually open up sectors of the economy starting on Sunday and then to track progress after about two weeks. Depending on the effect and the spread rate, the government will then decide if it can re-open more sectors. This seems like a reasonable approach although there are obviously many Israelis who are suffering a great deal as a result of the economic disaster that the virus created.
Israel is not alone or unique in this regard. According to some reports, the U.S. has not hit its peak yet and sits had more than 650,000 cases with more than 34,000 deaths. Fortunately, the mortality numbers are much lower so far in the U.S. than some people had predicted. Many people are feeling the pain of economic hardship that an economic lock-down brings. The challenge for the U.S., like Israel and everywhere else, will be to find a way to reopen the economy without causing a massive spike in the infection and death rate.
Zoom and Religious Services
One of the big "winners" in the current situation has been Zoom. People are setting up Zoom meetings for everything - family meetings, club get-togethers, game playing, exercise classes and religious gatherings. I have been scheduling quite a number of business meetings over Zoom and I am certainly thankful that this technology enables me to continue to run my business from a great distance.
For Passover, we considered the option of joining a big Zoom Seder with friends but decided instead to run a more intimate family Seder. We jumped in to say hi to our extended family Seder in North America (at about 3:30 a.m. our time) but that was on the second night - which wasn't really still a holiday for us.
Some synagogues have been wrestling with the challenges of Shabbat and holy days. Since Covid-19 has meant the suspension of physical attendance at services, many people have pushed for a replacement. Some synagogues, including some Orthodox synagogues have decided that a daily minyan (a prayer service with at least 10 people) (or even a shiva) can be held through Zoom. I have attended some online services during the week.
Holding services by Zoom on Shabbat and chaggim is more of a challenge, halachically. Although there are Conservative synagogues around the world that have been broadcasting their services for many years now, these have involved a passive camera, set up on a timer, before shabbat to enable people who are home-bound to watch a broadcast of a service. Presumably, the people who are watching could set up their computer on a timer as well if they choose to do so.
A Zoom service is a bit different. Since there is no actual service taking place with a minyan that could be broadcast, the service itself is by definition much more of an active on-line event. The organization of Conservative Rabbis in Israel determined that this would not be appropriate halachically and recommended prohibiting these services on Shabbat and other religious holy days.
This has led to quite an active debate at our kehillah in Israel. Some members feel that the halacha is outdated and that the emergency nature of the current situation demands a change to accommodate the spiritual needs of members. Others are concerned at chipping away at the notion that the kehillah is still a halacha-based shul and that Zoom services on holy days are outside of that framework. Certainly that is the decision of the Masorti leadership in Israel.
I am a bit torn here. Although we (as a family) do tend to drive to our synagogue (knowing that we are not really supposed to), we try to keep a number of aspects of Shabbat. We don't use the TV or computers. It would be a pretty big change for us to start participating in an active Zoom service on a Shabbat morning and I don't think that is right for us personally at this time. I recognize that many people have other needs and other opinions and this is certainly one of those issues that has the potential to cause a major rift in some synagogues.
I suppose that if synagogues remain closed for an extended period of time, there may be more and more pressure to come up with creative solutions and a larger number of rabbis may start revisiting some aspects of halacha. But hopefully, things will turn around sooner than anticipated and we will not have to deal what type of pressure.
I should note that we have been invited to our first Zoom wedding on Sunday (b'sha'a tova to our dear friends). We have also, unfortunately, had to deal with a few Zoom shivas over the past few weeks. Neither of these scenarios would have been imaginable previously. Needless to say, the world will continue to change in many ways as the Covid-19 crisis unfolds.
That's about it for now. Hopefully many people are taking advantage of the time at home to do some different things. We have been cooking some new and interesting dishes, playing some of our board games and trying to do some on-line fitness activities. We have also been catching up on Fauda and enjoying the concerts that are being broadcast on Israeli TV every evening. I am definitely looking forward to the One World concert being organized by Lady Gaga on Saturday night.
Most importantly I am hoping that as spring arrives, we will see things improve across the world. Let's hope for a cure, a vaccine and the best of health for everyone.
I didn't deal with Israel's political situation in this blog - still a mess - and no solution in sight. But more to come on that next week.
Shabbat Shalom from Ra'anana.
Friday, April 17, 2020
Monday, April 13, 2020
|Yemenite Passover Matzah|
Days went by and the agreement was still not signed. Netanyahu began telling Gantz that he had to have more concessions in order to finalize the deal. He wanted an agreement to annex parts of the disputed territories while Trump was still the President. Netanyahu demanded a veto over any judicial appointments, even as he had agreed to have Blue and White appoint the Minister of Justice. He wanted key decisions made by the Minister of Justice and by the Minister of Internal Security to be made with his approval. In other words, once Gantz had prematurely split apart his party and indicated his willingness to enter a coalition with Netanyahu, Netanyahu realized that Gantz had been defeated and began to insist on further concessions. Netanyahu now saw that Gantz had very little political ability to resist and saw that he could continue to try and reach his ultimate goal of getting an immunity deal to avoid his ongoing criminal trial (the start of which had already been delayed by Netanyahu's hand-appointed justice minister).
The clock continued to tick and sure enough the initial 30 day period for forming a government came to an end without any agreement. Gantz requested a two week extension but President Rivlin declined (earlier today) since he saw no chance that Gantz could actually form a government. But he did not pass the mandate over to Netanyahu. Instead he exercised an Israeli law to allow any Member of Knesset to form a government over the next two weeks. If no government is formed, Israel will have a fourth election - presumably in September.
A fourth election would be Netanyahu's preference. In the current negotiations. he eviscerated Gantz. Gantz was left looking weak and useless. He made a whole series of concessions to Netanyahu and wound up getting nothing out of it. It seems unlikely that he will run again if there is a fourth election. He would have no support from two-thirds of his party and even the other one third might not support him. Netanyahu probably believes that there will be no suitable centrist alternative and he may be able to get the additional three or four seats that he needs to form a narrow right wing government or even more. Netanyahu will also argue that Israel has done a reasonable job containing the Covid-19 crisis, especially in comparison to many other countries, and that he is largely responsible.
I should note that Netanyahu also managed to convince Labour leader Amir Peretz to join the coalition talks. Peretz, before the election, had shaved his moustache and said "read my lips, I I will not join Netanyahu." But somehow, inexplicably, he decided to take the remnants of the once proud left wing Labour party and join Netanyahu in exchange for a cabinet post and some other minor concessions (unsigned of course). This is surely the death knell for the Labour party and a significant blow to any left wing opposition to Netanyahu.
So all that is left on the centre and the the centre left to oppose Netanyahu - are the remaining half of the Blue and White Party (consisting of Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid and Telem led by Moshe "Bogie" Yaalon), the Meretz party (which has been reduced to a handful of seats) and the Joint Arab List (many of whom are staunchly anti-Zionist). The opposition will have a short window to find a new leader (or agree to run under Lapid or Yaalon) and convince the public to stick with them. Since a big chunk of people were prepared to support the idea of a coalition government under Netanyahu, this will be a difficult task. And Netanyahu knows it. He also knows that this is his best chance of getting an "immunity bill" to end his criminal proceedings.
This may still end with further concessions by Gantz and some sort of deal over the next two weeks. But a fourth election is also becoming a very realistic option.
Israel, like most other countries, continues to struggle to contain the spread of Covid-19. Currently, Israel has about 1,300 cases, which puts it 25th in the world when looking at cases per million population. In terms of deaths per million population, Israel's number is at 13. Canada is at 19, the United States 67 and Italy 367. The Israeli government has also announced that there are several thousand available ventilators. Even if many of the people who are currently affected become more seriously ill, Israel's hope is that it will have an adequate availability of ventilators to avoid the situation that was taking place in Italy and Spain.
Israel is still under a wide ranging lock-down. Supermarkets are open and other essential services. But the number of services deemed "essential" was recently reduced. For the Passover holiday, the Israeli government mandated a complete ban on leaving your home for a distance of more than 100 metres other than for urgent medical attention or a handful of other reasons.
The government has also instituted more severe lock-downs in certain areas of the country. Some of the highest infection rates are being reported in ultra-religious neighbourhoods in B'nei Brak and Jerusalem. The Health Ministry tried to institute a closure of these areas but some of their proposals were blocked by the current Health Minister Litzman, who is himself a member of the Haredi (ultra-religious) community. The closure of B'nei Brak went ahead initially but it has apparently been eased up somewhat. News reports have indicated that a high percentage of the Covid-19 patients who are classified as in serious and critical condition are members of the ultra-religious community.
The Israeli government instituted a program to give each family 500 shekels per child aged 18 or younger to ensure that people could buy food for Passover. The money was delayed and did not arrive in time for the start of the holiday and it is unclear when it will arrive. Even if they had received this 500 shekels (about $130 USD), many people in Israel (like most other countries) are suffering from a lack of work, lack of income and some very difficult economic challenges. The government is trying to develop a plan to reopen sectors of the economy gradually if it can do so while continuing to minimize the Coronavirus spread.
I think this was one of the smallest Passover Seders we have ever had. Although we knew several people hosting Zoom Seders, we opted to hold a Seder with just our nuclear family. We asked each person to prepare an activity, lead a discussion or prepare a section of the Haggadah. We arranged to have some really nice wine ready and we probably had enough food prepared for a Seder of 20 or more.
It worked out really well. Since we had five willing participants for reading, singing and discussions, we had a very active evening. The wine also helped. We wound up finishing at about 3:30 a.m., which was late for us, even compared to our usual Seder with 25 or 30 people. I guess we had a "captive audience" and no one had to be anywhere. No one was driving home afterwards and no one had anything to do that was pressing the next day. We had lots of really nice singing, some really fun activities and some pretty decent food. It was a really special evening - lots of naches for us as parents.
Because of the time distance, it didn't really work out well for us to join the huge family Zoom Seder - which started at 2:30 a.m. Israel time - though we dropped in to say hi at some point after we had finished our Seder.
I should mention that Israel, unlike the U.S. and some parts of Canada, has had no shortage of toilet paper. But instead we wound up with an egg shortage. Yup, right before Passover, an egg shortage. As you know, you need many eggs to make just about anything for Passover since can't use yeast or other leavening agents. We were able to get 30 from a friend (whose brother has a Moshav) and we were also able to buy a few of the last remaining organic eggs at the corner store. We still have a few left so it has not been a disaster for us by any stretch. But hordes of Israelis were running around everywhere before the start of the holiday, clamoring desperately for some eggs for the holiday.
|Imported Eggs Arriving in Israel|
Here in Israel, the holiday officially ends on Wednesday night. Tuesday night marks the start of the second "Yom Tov" - which runs until sundown on Wednesday. There will likely be another complete closure of the country though it has not yet been announced. No one will be hosting any large scale "maymuna" celebrations (the customary Moroccan party marking the end of Pesach - celebrated by Israelis everywhere - even non-Moroccan Israelis) though I was thinking about making some Mufleta (the Moroccan bread/pastry served at a Maymuna).
Then it will be time to put away all of the Passover dishes, switch the kitchen back to Hametz and hope that well before next year things will have gone back to "normal."
B'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim - Wishing everyone the best of health and Mo'adim L'Simcha.