Showing posts with label chanuka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chanuka. Show all posts

Monday, December 21, 2020

Post-Chanuka, Vaccinations Starting, 2020 On the Way Out

 

It has been a crazy year - not only in Israel, of course, but around the world.  But perhaps there is a sign of light at the end of the tunnel.  On Saturday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu took one for the team - and presented himself to be the first person vaccinated in Israel with the Pfizer vaccine.  The vaccination was shown live on prime TV at 8 p.m.  

After a lengthy broadcast of all of the preparations for the big event, various medical personnel and security personnel were shown preparing the area for the big event.  The podium was polished and the microphone was carefully cleaned.  At 8 p.m. exactly, the Prime Minister showed up, gave a short speech (as did Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein) and then Netanyahu sat down for his vaccination.  Interestingly, his personal doctor administered the vaccine rather than the nurse who mixed it (which is apparently a breach of the hospital's rules).  In fact, three different medical personnel were seen on live tv handling the vaccine - two of whom weren't wearing gloves - before passing it to the gloveless doctor - seen in the photo.  Not sure if they will also broadcast  Netanyahu's return to the hospital in 21 days for his second dose but perhaps they will pay a bit more attention to hospital protocol for the second dose.

Admittedly, this is all a digression.  The good news, as reported by the  Israeli government and in various news outlets, is that Israel has begun vaccinating its citizens actively as of yesterday.  Medical stations, equipped with appropriate freezers, have been set up across the country and estimates are that Israel will be able to administer 60,000 vaccinations per day.  Israel has apparently purchased 8 million doses from Pfizer and several million more from Moderna.  At this rate, close to 2 million Israelis may be able to receive their first dose by the end of January.  If things continue at this pace and there are no snafus, it is quite conceivable that Israel will have vaccinated the majority of its residents by mid 2021.  I suppose it remains to be seen whether the vaccine actually works and whether that will effectively end the problem, at least in this country.

In the meantime, some commentators have characterized the atmosphere in Israel, in some sectors as "end of course" or "end of semester."  The idea is that often at the end of a school year (or some other type of course, perhaps an army training course) once all the hard work has been done - people become very lackadaisical about doing anything more (like, in this case, wearing masks, refraining from having parties etc.,).  But this is quite dangerous.  The vaccine is only being rolled out now and it will take months until it is administered fully.

At the same time, the current infection rate in Israel is very high with more than 2,000 new infections being reported daily.  The government has been debating various responses to the growing spread including shutting down the airport completely, shutting down all commerce other than "essential services" and sealing "red zones."  Yesterday, two flights arrived in Israel from Great Britain.   The passengers were all sent to government-arranged quarantine hotel accommodations.  At least 25 passengers refused and were sent back to Great Britain.  The concern apparently related to the latest mutation of Covid-19 which has been spreading in Great Britain.

Several weeks ago, Israel had designated the UAE a "green" country and decided to allow travel without quarantine back and forth between Israel and UAE.  Cynics among us might say that  this was partially intended to bolster the  nascent peace deal between the  UAE and Israel.  In any event, this resulted in thousands of Israelis flocking to Dubai - to attend parties, weddings and other gatherings all without wearing masks or taking other precautions.  Some groups of Israelis flew whole wedding parties to Dubai where they could hold "normal" weddings without any restrictions.  Others, like Israeli singer Eyal Golan, flew to Dubai just for some fun and partying.  Golan actually came back and was diagnosed as having Covid-19, though he is apparently doing fine now.  Still others, according to media reports, have been travelling to UAE for another well known purpose - sex tourism.  I suppose Covid-19 might be the least of the problems for some of these travellers.

In any event, Israel has now determined that there are no "green countries" and that all travellers will now be required to quarantine on return to Israel, even those coming from the UAE, despite any political ramifications, real or imagined.  It will apparently take effect three days from now - so I suppose there is still time for a quick whirlwind UAE simcha or some other type of equally rapturous event.  I think we will stay home, thanks.

In other news, and maybe I sound like a broken record here, if you have read my past columns, the current Israeli government is on the brink of collapse.   A vote on a non-confidence motion is expected either tonight or tomorrow.  If the government falls, there is talk of a March 23, 2021 election date, though that remains to be finalized.  Under Israeli law,  the 2020 budget  must  be passed by December 23, 2020, a date that was already moved back with previous legislation.  Since there is still no budget in place, either for 2020 or 2021, the government is set to collapse even without a non-confidence motion.  

There has been significant negotiation between Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White party to reach a compromise, delay the date once again and keep this government alive with some urgent political CPR.   Over the weekend, there were reports that a deal was reached to resolve the crisis.  However, the concessions made by Gantz to Netanyahu to avoid an election were apparently too much to stomach for some of Gantz's Blue and White party members and it does not look like Gantz will be  able to get the full support of his party to keep the coalition together.

On the other side of the aisle, a long serving, high ranking Likud member, Gideon Saar, recently announced that he was leaving the Likud party and setting up his own party called "New Hope."  Does this sound familiar?  It is a very recurrent theme in Israeli politics.  In any case, Saar has been able to take a bunch  of Likud members with him and is running at 15-20  potential seats in the Knesset according to some polls.  Saar describes himself as a right wing politician, fully committed to most, if not all of Netanyahu's policies, other than, perhaps, those  dealing with the rule of law, on which Saar states that he is committed fully to the fight against corruption and the rule of law.  Saar has stated that he is not prepared to join a government led by Netanyahu following the next election.  I think I remember Gantz saying very similar things....

In any event, polls suggest that Netanyahu may now have a difficult time forming a government after the next election, but I wouldn't rule him out.  The Covid-19 vaccine is being rolled out, the economy may start to improve - and Netanyahu will figure out what kind of campaign is likely to work best against his latest foe.  Netanyahu  is a seasoned politician who  knows how to tackle difficult challenges.  His nickname is "the magician" so we will see if he can pull yet  another election win out of his hatful of tricks.

Netanyahu has refused to agree to pass state budgets for 2020 or 2021 because the coalition deal that he signed with Gantz stated that if the government were to fall for any reason, Gantz would become interim Prime Minister.  The one exception was if the government were to fall because of a budget disagreement, in which case Netanyahu would continue to be the Prime Minister until the next government was formed.  So once Netanyahu decided that this government wasn't working to his satisfaction the only choice he had for bringing down the government was one related to the budget - so that he will remain on as the interim Prime Minister throughout the next election campaign. 

Netanyahu's criminal proceedings are scheduled to continue now  in early February, having been delayed several times.  He is facing charges of breach of trust, corruption and bribery.  If convicted, he could face a lengthy prison term.   Given the past  pattern, it is likely that  Netanyahu will seek  a further adjournment, perhaps until after the pending election, though it is not clear that it will be granted  by the court this time.  He is still hoping for the "big win" in the election that would get him a coalition government with a retroactive immunity bill to end all of his legal troubles.  That does not look like a probable outcome at this juncture, even if Netanyahu wins the election and is able to piece together another government.

Chanuka has come and gone.  In Israel, the big culinary emphasis around  Chanuka time is donuts rather than latkes.  

Bakeries try to come up with all sorts of eye-catching designs.  Many of the donuts are jelly filled but I saw a really wide variety of options  - pistachio-crème, chocolate mousse, lemon, strawberry and even tehina (sesame paste) filled calorie bombs.  Fortunately, I don't really have a weakness for donuts.   We picked up a few for the first night of Chanuka but they looked better than they tasted.  

On the other hand - I do have a weakness for homemade potato latkes, especially the way both of my grandmothers and my mom used to make them.  Just good old fashioned ingredients, potato, onion, eggs,  salt, pepper and maybe a bit of baking powder and flour (too hard to find matzah meal in Israel when it is not Passover time).  I tried to learn a bit from all three teachers.  I also made some homemade applesauce to accompany the  latkes with our Friday night dinner.  And one night we ate a dairy meal and had a few with sour cream.  The latkes probably did more damage than the donuts - but it has not turned  out to be a lasting problem, thankfully.  

It was nice to be here for the full Chanuka holiday this year, even though there were few of the normal festivities due to the pandemic. But the weather has been fairly moderate, low 20s C (high 60sF) with some rain here  and there.  One of the nice things about being in Israel, for someone who is Jewish, is the almost complete absence of Christmas this  time of year.  I don't say that in a way that is intended to offend anyone - but December is always the time that I felt the least Canadian and most like an outsider.  

From early November (if not sooner), in Canada, the radio stations play non-stop Christmas music, malls and stores are filled with it everywhere - and everything revolves around Christmas until it ends.  Many other Canadian immigrant and minority groups have just  accepted all of this as the trappings of being "Canadian" and assimilated into the Christmas culture.   Many Jewish Canadians, however, have not and have remained among the few groups of Canadians who do not celebrate Christmas.  Sure, many Jewish Canadians go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve or go to a movie - or even a "Matzah Ball" - or other social event.  Others have left the country by Christmas for a vacation in Florida or some other warm destination, maybe even Israel.  And most who have remained enjoy the day off.   But for the most part, many Jewish Canadians are simply reminded at this  one time of year - of what differentiates them from other Canadians.

Here in Israel, there are certainly people  who celebrate  Christmas.  You can see Christmas lights and  trees in Jaffa, Haifa, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other places - and there are Christian Israelis who celebrate the holiday fully.  But since it is a majoritarian Jewish country, everything is open on Christmas, there are no decorations in the malls and there is no Christmas music on the radio or in the schools.

I have nothing against people celebrating the holiday - whether here, in Canada or anywhere else.  Quite the opposite - I wish everyone all the best in celebrating all of the holidays that they might observe, whether that is Christmas, Diwali, Eid Al Fitr or other holidays.  In fact, I have been honoured to attend a few Christmas dinners with some of my best friends in Canada as well as celebrations of other holidays.

But here in Israel, it is a very special time of year  -  where we can celebrate Chanuka - a holiday that is uniquely ours - and enjoy one of those benefits of being in a majority Jewish culture.  

Chanuka, as you might know, is a "minor" holiday on the Jewish calendar.  Businesses are open and there are no real restrictions on day to day activity.  It is not nearly as important a holiday  as our fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot nor is it as significant as Pesach (Passover).  At the same time, it is widely observed, which in Israel means lighting the Chanukiah and eating a bunch of donuts - and maybe some latkes.  

In any event, Chanuka has ended and I think it is fair to say that the main thing people in Israel are now thinking about is when they will be able to get vaccinated - and when things will return to normal.  Whether inspired by Chanuka, Christmas or Diwali, all of which have a  significant theme of light, I think are all hoping to see some bright light at the end of this long period of darkness.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2021!

  

 

  



 


  

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Chanuka Approaching 2020: Virus Not Leaving Yet: Update from Israel

 

Chanuka is quickly approaching - only two days until the first candle - so I thought it was time to write an update about a few things going on here in Israel - and maybe some other comments, connected or not.

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.

Travel

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.

TV

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.

Cooking

My ongoing  quest to make the perfect Humus continues.  I think I have been doing a pretty good job.  Recipe available on request.  For a while we were buying humus from a local humus shop.  While it was quite good and reasonably priced - I felt it had too much cumin in it for my taste.  So I decided to see if I could get my own homemade humus to compete for the hearts and taste buds of our family members.  Last  Friday's humus was probably our best batch yet, made with extra large chick peas, soaked over night - and then peeled individually after boiling.  Sure it was labour intensive  but very creamy and smooth.  

To  go with the humus, I have also been making Zhoug, a  Yemenite-Israeli hot sauce that combines hot peppers with fresh cilantro leaves and a  range of spices in small quantities - ground coriander, cumin, cardamon, cloves, black pepper and  maybe  even  a touch of  cinnamon.   This has also been a big hit - even among the hard to please Yemenite critics who have sampled it.

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?


On  the purely random side, I thought I would  add in this picture that I took in Tel-Aviv last week.  This bird was so close and so interested in posing that I had to oblige.

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.

For my last  note,  I couldn't  resist including  this picture of a coffee cup that I saw in a small store.  As you may be able to see, there is a Hebrew blessing written on the mug.

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.