The photo shown is a random store on Ahuza street in Ra'anana with a table display of a variety of Chanukiot (the 8-candle Menorahs that we light on Chanuka). This is only one of many stores that has this kind of display. Retailers all over Israel are selling Chanukiot, bakeries are selling sufganyot (jelly filled donuts, usually) and caterers are offering latke specials. So you could say that Chanuka is in the air, though it is not the only thing circulating.
To mark the holiday, the Israeli government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided on a two step plan to combat the spread of Covid-19. On the one hand, there will be an evening curfew for a period of two weeks. Just about everything will be closed, apparently, and people will be prohibited from travelling between cities, at night. Remaining details are still to be announced if the "Corona Cabinet" can agree. To complement this evening curfew plan, the government has decided to fully reopen all malls, across the country, during the daytime. A few shopping malls in "red zones" will be the exception and will remain closed. Now I may not be an expert but I am scratching my head trying to figure out how this plan makes any sense at all. Infection numbers have been rising in Israel - and we seem to be in the range of 700 to 1000 new cases per day. Some government ministers have stated in interviews that they expect that the numbers will rise significantly by January 1 - and we will then have a full closure (the "3rd closure") for several weeks in January. Really, I'm not making this stuff up. That is the plan. (Added new update - sounds like the Israeli courts have indicated that this plan would not fly so the "night curfew" is now unlikely to come into effect).
Speaking of the Israeli government, you may have heard that it is on the verge of dissolution - maybe. The Knesset has passed the first reading of a bill that would dissolve the current government and set an election date. By law, if an agreement is not reached to stop the dissolution and pass a budget, the Knesset will automatically dissolve on December 23, 2020. This would lead to Israel's 4th election in a span of 2 years. The dissolution bill would normally require two more readings before it is passed - but there could be an automatic dissolution as an alternative. Or there could still be a last minute compromise.
Netanyahu's Likud party entered into a coalition agreement with Benny Gantz's Blue and White party following the March 2020 election. One of the terms of the agreement was that the coalition would pass budgets for 2020 and 2021 in the Knesset. But the coalition agreement also included a term that stated if the government fell for any reason - other than a disagreement over the budget - Gantz would become the "interim Prime Minister" until after the election. If the government were to fall because of a disagreement over the budget, then Netanyahu would continue to be the Prime Minister until the next government is formed.
Netanyahu was not happy with this coalition from the start, since it was not willing to grant him the retroactive immunity bill that he has been seeking to extricate himself from all of his legal troubles. So he has been biding his time, waiting for his poll numbers to rise, and looking for an opportunity to call another election when conditions are more favourable in the hope that he can piece together a right-wing coalition that will give him the immunity that he has long sought. He has refused to pass budgets either for 2020 or for 2021, since passing a budget would leave him vulnerable to losing his position, even on an interim basis.
Covid-19 has continued to hamper Netanyahu's plans. His criminal trial has been delayed by a month and is scheduled to continue in early February 2021. So he is really hoping that an election can be called before then, that he can delay the trial due to the election and that he can win the election and pass an immunity bill.
Can he do all of this? Well, Netanyahu now has a plan. The Israeli government has been buying massive quantities of vaccine, from Pfizer and Moderna as well as any other company that might have vaccinations to sell. Okay, maybe not the Russian vaccine though there have apparently been some tests of that one in Israel. Nyet, thanks. In any event, according to some reports, Israel will have more than 4 million vaccines available by late December or early January, from Pfizer and Moderna, enough to vaccinate almost half of the population.
I read yesterday that Canada was getting ready to roll out 350,000 vaccines for a population of more than 30 million. That number sounded very low. Contrast that to Israel's plan to vaccinate a huge percentage of the population by mid to late winter. Maybe the numbers were way off.
If the vaccine has been rolled out before the next Israeli election and it seems to be working - and the economy starts to improve - it is quite imaginable that Netanyahu will get the win he wants and get his "get out of jail free" card. Of course the opposition is trying to schedule the election as quickly as possible, while the numbers show some possibility that Netanyahu may not win. But it looks like it will be hard to bet against Netanyahu, especially if the vaccine works and the economy begins to pick up again.
One of the big accomplishments for the current Israel government has been the establishment of peace deals with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. The UAE has indicated that it is very interested in a "warm peace" with wide-ranging cooperation in technological, medical, agricultural, pharmaceutical and military areas as well as tourism. Israeli and UAE airlines are now able to overfly Saudi Arabia and get to Dubai in about 3 hours. To foster this tourism, the UAE has been designated as a "green" destination, which means that 14 day isolation is not required for returning tourists. Kosher food is available in Dubai for those who want it and Israelis are being encouraged to visit and are being welcomed warmly. I haven't heard of anyone visiting Bahrain or Sudan but thousands of Israelis, even in the midst of this pandemic, are visiting Dubai. Some Israeli ultra-religious groups have held weddings in Dubai - bringing the whole entourage there to ensure a restriction-free wedding. Others are going to the UAE just to be able to go somewhere and get out of Israel for a bit.
For those of us looking to fly to Canada, that still involves a 14 day quarantine - in both directions - which seems a bit impractical. Maybe I'll manage to get an early vaccine and that will help things. Or maybe we'll go with the herd and visit the UAE. Not too likely at this point.
Over the past few month, we have watched some excellent TV series. Most recently, we watched the Israeli-produced series "Valley of Tears" ("Sha'at Ne'ilah" in Hebrew) - about the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The series aired over 8 weeks beginning in mid-October. It is a 10 part series but double episodes were shown at the beginning and the end. The final episode was last night. It was very intense. Excellent acting and very powerful. The series follows two particular units, an intelligence unit and a tank unit and delves into the personal stories of many of the combatants, on the Israeli side. It is a shocking reminder of the horrors of the Yom Kippur war and, really the horrors of any war. At times, it is graphic and difficult to watch and it is quite stressful.
After each episode, the Israel TV station had a panel discussion with surviving soldiers who had fought in the battle and discussed their experiences, their comments on the series, and the impact on their lives. These discussions were as moving and emotionally draining as the show itself.
Although there were some unrealistic parts, in some of the early episodes in particular, the series has received favourable reviews. Veterans have commented that the last two episodes were incredibly realistic and have generally been grateful that the series has raised the consciousness of so many people about the Yom Kippur War. Valley of Tears is now showing on HBO Max, though I am not sure how Canadians can watch it. Sderot.tv is probably an option.
A few months earlier, we watched the Israeli series Tehran about an Israeli agent, sent to disable the Iranian central electrical system to assist Israel with a strike on the Iranian nuclear reactors. This was also fascinating. Although much of it seemed much less realistic and believable than other TV series, it did seem reasonably balanced and had many parts that seemed very plausible. Tehran is showing on Apple TV in North America.
We also watched "The Queen's Gambit" recently, which is probably less related to this blog - though all three of us thought it was amazing (there were only 3 in the house at the time...). I think it is on Netflix everywhere. With its range of themes including gender equality (in the chess world and otherwise), addiction, competition and the power of chess, it is quite an impressive production.
Next up of course will be latkes for Chanuka though I expect that we will just make the classic traditional type. It's only once a year - a few latkes can't be that bad, can they?
We were right near Rabin Square. The nearby park area was filled with people even in the midst of the pandemic. Apparently, restaurants are serving "take-out packages" that include a blanket, a basket and everything you need to take the meal and go sit in the park and eat it. Apparently you return the blanket and basket etc., when you are done. People are constantly coming up with ways to try and do "normal" things in these pandemic times.
You might be familiar with a blessing called "she'hechyanu" - which is recited on festive holydays, joyous life cycle events - and other occasions. It essentially thanks God for "giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach this moment." This coffee cup changed the blessing a bit to give thanks for "giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach coffee time." It is a very applicable blessing for many of my good friends, family members and completely unrelated readers who love a good cup of coffee.
Here's hoping that the bright lights of the holiday season - whether the candles we will soon light on Chanukah - or the Christmas lights for those celebrating later this month - will bring us all some real brightness, warmth and joy - and hopefully usher in a much better 2021!
Best of health to everyone.