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.