Showing posts with label Lag B'Omer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lag B'Omer. Show all posts

Monday, May 4, 2020

Some Improvements in Israel and Some Ongoing Arguments

Israeli Supreme Court
Well here we are in May, 2020 and our Prime Minister is claiming victory over Covid-19.  Okay, not exactly, but at a news conference earlier this evening, he pointed out, repeatedly, how much better Israel has fared than many other countries with similar sized populations.  All because, he argued, Israel took very aggressive steps much earlier than these other countries.  He mentioned Italy, Spain, the United States and others.

Using various charts and  graphs, Netanyahu showed that Israel has seen a tremendous reduction in its infection rate, a reduction in the number of daily fatalities and a reduction in the number of seriously and critically ill patients.

It is true that the steps taken, largely at the behest of professionals working in the Ministry of Health, have helped Israel to fare reasonably well in comparison.  But it is unclear that this means that Israel can now open everything up and pretend that the virus has gone.  If there is a resurgence, everything will have to be shut down again quite quickly.  According to Netanyahu, it will take about two weeks to make that assessment.

In the meantime, the Israeli government has loosened many restrictions.  Malls and outdoor markets will be open on Thursday May 7, 2020.  Visits to see family members, including grandparents are now permitted - though "no hugging" is recommended.  Gatherings of up to 20 people are now permitted.  (Up until now, this was only permitted if it was an outdoor prayer service).  Weddings on Lag B'Omer may be permitted with up to 50 people - though it wasn't clear if the limit will be 20 or 50.  All students are expected to return to schools by the end of May.

People will still be expected to wear masks when they are out  and gloves are recommended though not mandatory.  We took a walk today around Ra'anana.  While there were some people without masks, we concluded that most people were complying.  In some shops, proprietors were following all of the restrictions diligently.  In others, things were a bit looser.  Okay, much looser....But the infection rate in Ra'anana has been reasonably low so it is fair to assume that many people here are following the rules.

Some other cities in Israel have been much harder hit, most notably, Jerusalem, B'nei Brak and some other areas. However, it does appear that things are improving somewhat in most of the country.  It remains to be seen whether this will be a blip or whether it will mark some genuine progress.  The Israeli government has indicated that if all goes well, it intends to permit  gatherings of 50 or more people  - for weddings, funerals etc., by June 17th.  Not sure yet what this will mean for restaurants - though it may be good news for those with outdoor patios.

Today also marked the second day of arguments before the Israeli Supreme Court over whether or not to permit the coalition deal with the Blue and White party to proceed.  Various groups  have brought petitions to the Court arguing against the deal.  I am not going to review all of the legal arguments but I will highlight a few of them.

Under Israeli law, a "Prime Minister" can serve even while under indictment for serious offences.  However, other MKs cannot continue in their posts and ordinary "Ministers" are required to step down if charged with certain serious offenses.  The new coalition agreement contemplates that Netanyahu would serve as the Prime Minister for the first 18 months and would then step down to a lesser position.  However, under current Israeli law, that would require him to resign altogether until the serious charges that he faces were resolved.  The solution that Netanyahu concocted is that he wouldn't still be called the "Prime Minister" but Gantz would be the "Alternate Prime Minister" who would effectively run everything after the rotation date.  But because Netanyahu would still be called the "Prime Minister" he would not be forced to resign.  Israel would effectively have two Prime Ministers which seems to go against Israel's quasi-constitutional Basic Law.  (Israel does not have an actual constitution). 

The Court chewed on this one for a while today.  Ultimately, some members of the Court suggested that they may delay deciding until it actually becomes an issue 18 months from now.  But Netanyahu's lawyers urged the Court to make a decision now.

The coalition deal would also require a freeze on all new appointments in government including a number of key positions which have been dormant for some time.  Netanyahu's lawyers argued that it was all because of Covid-19.  Some of the Supreme Court judges asked how the two were in any way related...For example, the President of the Court asked why Covid-19  would prevent the government from appointing a new Chief of Police.

I have to confess that, as a lawyer, I enjoyed watching a chunk of the arguments.  It was fascinating to compare legal discourse in Canada to that in Israel.  It was a very heated argument at times - and certainly the type of language that was used was much more colourful (and at times informal) than one might hear at the Canadian Supreme Court, most of the time.  My Hebrew is good enough to catch most of it though I probably missed some nuances, some references to previously decided cases and some other phrases common only in Hebrew legal usage.

From what I could gather, there is a strong reluctance on the part of the judges to interfere in the election process.  They do not want to be seen as overriding a democratically elected government formed though a back and forth negotiation process.  At the same time, they are wary of upholding laws that would violate the Israeli Basic Law and chip away at Israel's democracy and commitment to the rule of law.  Towards the end of the hearing, the justices signaled that they needed to hear further arguments about two key issues and gave the Likud lawyers 24 hours to amend the proposed law or put forward better arguments.  It would be really difficult, however, to predict what decision will follow that additional argument.

Changing the topic, the weather here is heating up and the big holiday of Lag B'Omer - national bonfire day (effectively) is approaching.  Beaches are not yet open but just about everything else will be soon - and reopen beaches cannot be too far off.   Many people are now out and about and there is a feeling of some optimism across the country.

For  many, however, a huge part of the Israeli economy is tourism.  So many businesses across the country rely on the tourism industry.  Hotels, restaurants, merchants, tour guides and so many others.  It is really unclear when Israel will be able to reopen its borders to tourists, when the airports will reopen and when things will really turn back to some semblance of normal.

But I suppose that is the same just about everywhere else.  We will all just have to hope that things improve dramatically everywhere, the sooner the better.  Wishing everyone the best of health.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lag B'Omer 2013 - Bonfires Everywhere!

Lag B'Omer Tali School Ra'anana April 26 2013
Saturday night marked the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer - the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer in Israel, the counting of which culminates in the holiday of Shavuot which begins on the 50th day. 

Traditionally, observant Jews have marked Lag B'Omer by celebrating and gathering for large bonfires.  The holiday commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century disciple of Rabbi Akiva.  It also marks the revolt by Bar Kokhba and his followers against the Roman empire.

In Israel, Lag B'Omer is one of the favourite holidays of the year for kids.  Teenagers and younger kids (and many older "kids" as well) across the country gather wood in the weeks leading up to Lag B'Omer in preparation for the huge bonfires that they create on the evening of Lag B'Omer. 

For many 14-18 year olds, this is one of the prime social events of the year.  In Ra'anana, there were bonfires being held across the city.  Groups of teenagers, sometimes as many as hundreds of kids, get together, with six or seven charcoal barbecues, enough wood to keep a fire burning all night - and plenty of excitement (and maybe some other refreshments) and hold bonfires across the country.  No adult supevision required.  No adults anywhere in the vicinity - except maybe the odd Ra'anana security official checking up to see that everything is in order (whatever that means).  The kids run the bonfire, run the barbecues, buy and cook the meat, and even clean up afterwards.  Some arrange DJs, some just bring their own music.

For the younger kids, the bonfires are more closely supervised.  The photo above was taken at the Tali school in Ra'anana, which was holding its bonfire for 6 to 12 year olds (grades 1-6) and their  parents.  There was a DJ with dancing and prizes, karaoke, some group singing led by the school music teacher and food for everyone, organized by class.  The bonfire was huge but it was carefully controlled and kids maintained a proper distance.

Here is a view of the set up for the bonfire - before it was lit.  You can see the school in the background.  This was an opportunity for Tali families to socialize across the class and grade divisions.  

Lag B'Omer is quite a fun and exciting holiday in Israel.  The spirit of the holiday spreads across the country as does the smoke from all of those massive fires.  Even the newspapers got into it.  Yedioth Achronot ran a political cartoon which featured a picture of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sarah sitting at a bonfire by themselves.  Someone asks "where is everyone?."  Someone else answers "they are all at Yair Lapid's bonfire" and there is another picture of Finance Minister Yair Lapid with a huge number of people  - dancing, singing and looking happy at a bonfire.  Quite a telling political cartoon.

Although Lag B'Omer is not a "chag" (a Jewish holiday on which work is forbidden), Israeli kids still get two days off school.  One day to prepare for the bonfires - and one day to recover from being up all night...I suppose the second day is also a day to allow all the smoke to clear.

It is a really quite a unique celebration - and one that is probably hard to imagine in most other countries.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lag B'Omer in Israel: National "Bonfire Day"

For Israeli kids, Lag B'Omer is one of the most exciting holidays of the year. It takes place on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. This year, that was the 10th of May, 2012. The holiday marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a great Mishnah-era rabbi. There are many religious aspects to the celebration of the holiday, primarily observed by the Orthodox and ultra-Orthdox communities. For example, many Orthodox families only cut their son's hair for the first time when he turns 3 years of age - at the first Lag B'Omer after the third birthday.

For most other Israelis, the holiday is bonfire day. People across Israel celebrate the holiday after sundown the previous evening by getting together and lighting huge bonfires. If you were to fly over Israel at 9 or 10 p.m., or even 12:00 a.m. on Lag B'Omer, it would probably look like the country had been attacked. Huge fires everywhere and billows of smoke.

Israelis gather around these bonfires and roast marshmallows, sing songs and enjoy barbecued food while making the bonfire as big as possible. From just after Pesach (Passover), you can see young kids walking along streets and sidewalks pulling wagon loads of wood that they have found to store and prepare for the big day.

The remarkable thing, in typically Israeli style, is the emphasis on independence and relatively minimal supevision for teens as young as 13. Often, groups of kids, 13-18, gather together for bonfires and barbecues without any adults or adult supervision. It seems incredible that some of these fires don't get completely out of hand but children in Israel are often given a great deal of independence and responsibility from an early age.

Many of the older kids stay out all night and Lag B'Omer is a school holiday. For parents, particularly parents of teenagers, it can be stressful worrying about the safety of some of these bonfires. Is your child going to be the foolish one who tries to show everyone that he or she can jump through the bonfire, unscathed? (Don't think I'm making that up...) But for the kids, Lag B'Omer really is a highlight of the year. Most are well behaved and there are relatively few incidents reported each year. Israeli culture has taken a holiday that was religious in origin and turned it, largely, into a secular fire festival, accessible to and celebrated by Israelis across the spectrum from the religious and ultra-religious to the avowedly secular and atheist.