This year, for the second consecutive time, Purim will be quite different. Even though there is cause for optimism in Israel as the number of vaccinated Israelis has been increasing and the spread of the virus has been decreasing, there is still too much concern about the rampant virus to return to normalcy. Perhaps by next Purim.
So the first question is how people can hear the Megillah. According to Jewish law, we are supposed to hear it live, in person, read from an actual parchment scroll rather than a book. Many synagogues are organizing outdoor readings, throughout the evening on Thursday night and Friday morning - so that people can come in smaller groups and hear it.
Others are of the opinion that hearing the scroll read by Zoom is halachically acceptable, as long as it is read from a parchment scroll. I normally read chapter 8 - and sometimes 8-10 - in Synagogue. This year, I guess we are going with the more lenient approach, so I will be reading on Zoom from an actual scroll as part of our shul's reading. If you want the link for it - please let me know and I'll be happy to send it. I think we will start at about 6:30 p.m. Israel time (11:30 a.m. EST) on Thursday Feb 24, 2021.
My other project is to try and make hamentaschen (Haman's ears in Hebrew; Haman pockets in Yiddish) - which are triangular pastries filled with different fillings. I would say that poppy seed, prune and chocolate are the most common fillings, though there are many others. I never really liked the poppy seed filling even though I love poppy seed bagels. I'm thinking about apricot, strawberry, dates and chocolate as four options. Lemon is another idea since it would add some nice colour. I guess I could add Kiwi as well and then I could have some green ones. Sure it is easy enough just to go out and buy some - since every bakery in Israel is selling them now - but I would rather have some fun with this. (We also prefer making our own latkes on Chanukah and our own blintzes on Shavuot). We'll see how they come out.
We have had some very strange news stories in Israel over the past couple of weeks.
Snow falls in Israel more regularly in the north, up in the Golan Heights, at Mount Hermon where there is even a ski site. Much of the snow for the site is artificial but it does tend to snow at least a few times there most winters.
Needless to say, my North American family and friends are not nearly as excited when it snows. For me, this may be my first winter ever of not seeing any snow. I kind of miss it. Winter in Israel has consisted of a handful of rainy, windy days, spread over the past few months. The sunny days in between are wonderful and are sometimes beach-worthy, though the water is too cold for a swim. We can use the barbecue year round. But if the rainy days were snowy days instead - I think that would be more fun.
The Israeli government is still in a state of flux, awaiting the next elections on March 23, 2021. The government does not know how to handle the airport. It is trying to keep out the "mutations." For a while, this meant ensuring that everyone had to go to a state-selected isolation hotel on arrival. But it leaked out that people were able to pay a fine voluntarily, of about 5,000 Sheqels ($2,000 Cdn) and then they could isolate at home, even though the government was no longer enforcing the home quarantines. So the government decided to stop flights to Israel...with, of course, some exceptions. At first it was 2,000 passengers a day, that could arrive pursuant to a lottery system, based in part on urgent humanitarian considerations. Now that number is supposedly being reduced to 200 per day, at least until March 6, 2021.
Just in time for the Purim holiday, the Israeli government has reopened shopping malls, most schools and many other places that were closed up until now. The government has also been rolling out a "Green Passport." People who have received both doses of the vaccine and waited a further ten days are able to get an official Green Passport through a government sponsored phone app or website. This passport is tied to people's personal "National Identity" number so people can prove that they have been vaccinated. The government would now like to open up restaurants, travel, gyms, pools, hotels, etc., only to those who have been vaccinated or can prove that they had Covid-19 and recovered. (Instead of a Vaccination Certificate, you can get a Recovered Covid-19 Patient Certificate).
You probably know where this is going but some enterprising, tech-savvy Israeli entrepreneurs decided that for a mere 1,000 shq (about $400 Cdn), they could offer the public forged vaccination certificates. News of these businesses quickly spread - to the point where a few of these enterprising criminals were on tv news this week (disguised of course) speaking about their wonderful business idea. So the government has ramped up the penalties for those making or using fraudulent vaccination certificates and has also ramped up enforcement efforts. For the record, our certificates are real. Whether or not they are actually effective, and how long they will last - well these are different questions.
Some other countries are reviewing Israel's use of these certificates. In Canada and the U.S., as well as many other countries, there are privacy considerations, issues concerning medical disclosure, and larger numbers of people who refuse to be coerced into getting the vaccine. In Israel, there is talk of rolling out legislation to make the vaccine mandatory in certain workplace sectors, including, for example, healthcare, restaurants, hotels and other public-engaging enterprises.
There are certainly those in Israel who oppose the vaccine rollout and refuse to be vaccinated. Numbers are especially high among the Ultra-Orthodox, in some Arab towns and among other sectors. But as the vaccine is rolled out and its efficacy becomes more and more demonstrable, it will be less defensible for vaccine refusers to put themselves and others at risk.
I've kept the Israeli politics to a minimum this time as we still have a month to go before the Israeli elections. I will try to put together a pre-election primer a week or so before the election date and then some post-election reports.
Wishing everyone a Happy Purim and, of course, the enjoyable thought that we are only a month away from the start of Spring. As the Hebrew song goes - "Great joy, Great joy, Spring has arrived and Passover (Pesach) is coming." For all of those who change over their kitchens and host Passover Seders, joy may not be the only emotion that comes up when we anticipate the arrival of the holiday.
Perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself but Passover is only about 5 weeks away. For now, still time to enjoy Purim and the remainder of winter.
Best of health to everyone.