The Big Question: Will Israel’s New Government Last?

In last-minute haggling, a hodgepodge “coalition” was asserted to be formed a week and a half ago by Yair Lapid, the head of the second largest political party in Israel, that garnered 16 seats in the last election, the fourth held in the last two years. However, as I pen these words, the coalition that is in the process of being approved by the members of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), will not be headed up by him as the Prime Minister for at least another two years. Instead, Naftali Bennett, the head of the Yamina (meaning “right”, as in direction), which succeeded to gain 8 Knesset seats will become the Prime Minister for the first two years.

The dissonant voices, stretching across the highway of political opinion from far left to center right, had and will continue to have difficulty agreeing with one another … except with regard to their united efforts to remove Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Israel’s present and longest-serving Prime Minister. In order to achieve that coalition, almost all of the party leaders had to compromise and back-track on promises made to their various constituencies. Bennett zig-zagged back and forth between joining forces with Lapid or with Netanyahu, ultimately ending up with Lapid. Such a move, and the compromises he made by becoming affiliated in a Lapid-led government, could effectively destroy any confidence that the voting public might have placed in him. Now, with Bennett poised to take over the reins of government, one would have to question whether his move in joining Lapid was meant to primarily topple Netanyahu, a seemingly altruistic move for the benefit of the nation, or to exalt himself as the king pin. According to Bennett, everything will be done for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Time will tell.

The coalition is in the process of being approved by the Knesset. The new “government”, if we can call it that, needs at least 61 Knesset members, who are prepared to support it. Last-minute threats from certain disgruntled members of two parties within the “coalition” raised concerns of potential failure to be approved. But, it appears that notwithstanding those threats, all seems to be well in lala-land. That means that Netanyahu will become part of the books of Israel’s history. 

In order to establish the “coalition”, Lapid had to make various deals with the heads of different political parties, some of which are ultra-leftist in policy and in practice. At least one small Arab party, Ra’am, that will have 4 Knesset seats in the newly-formed coalition, has agreed to join the coalition and added its signature to an agreement. It is poised to become the first Arab party to be part of an Israeli government. Another potential deal, however remote it may seem today, could be with the UAL, which could abstain from voting, to allow the coalition to maintain its majority. Much has already been said over the concerns of bringing the Ra’am party into the government. Right-wing parties pulled out all the stops to try to convince some within Bennett’s party to “jump ship” and not vote for approval of the new government. The pressure applied was so intense that certain party members needed police protection from threats made against them.

As mentioned at the outset, even though Lapid received the mandate from the President of Israel to form a new government (after Netanyahu’s efforts to do so were unsuccessful within the time allotted him by law), the one actually being sworn in as Prime Minister is Bennett. This was a potential legal issue that could have ended up in Israel’s Supreme Court and delay the swearing in of a new government until a court decision is rendered.  This option, however, was not pursued. There is actually a precedent for such a political “bait and switch”, that took place in 1961, when David Ben-Gurion led a government formed by Levi Eshkol. So, for the time being, the “coalition” is in the process of forming was has become designated as the “government of change”.

From the looks of things, before the end of the day, the “coalition” and “government of change” will receive approval and a new government will be established. Most of the coalition members have never spent a day being part of a ruling government. In other words, all they knew was that they needed to oppose the moves of the Netanyahu government, which went contrary to their political ideologies. In short, most of the new kids on the block lack the experience in making decisions, as those responsible for those decisions, that will affect the nation as a whole. On the other side of the political aisle will be members of the Likud and some members of the right-wing, religious parties, who will now challenge government policies and decisions, which may be a totally new experience for some of them. Both sides will have to learn how to function in their new capacities.

Adding to the difficulties of “newness” is the make-up of the coalition. The only thing they really had in common was their united goal of removing P.M. Netanyahu. Leftists and rightists will need to put aside their ideological differences in order to work together. This will be a formidable task, if not an impossible one, considering how far apart some of them are ideologically. Hawks and doves will have to sit around the same table and agree regarding a broad range of matters pertaining to the military. Expansionist needs to sit with the leaders of parties seeking and/or agreeing to the establishment of a “Palestinian” state in the heartland of Israel. Gay and anti-gay leaders will face off at cabinet meetings. Anti-religious views will encroach on long-established policies, such as allowing commercial businesses and public transportation to operate on Shabbat, or civil marriages, including same-sex marriages, funding for religious institutions and the like. In short, the personal and political ideological differences and the lack of experience of leading, and of opposing, coupled with the long-entrenched habit of fighting and arguing with “the other side” will make for a very fragile, new government, with a short fuse that could be easily ignited and blow up in everyone’s faces. 

How did we manage to get into such a situation? With a little (actually, more than a little) help from the media. In his well-written article in Israel Hayom of May 31st, Noam Fathi notes that deception of the public on a national scale requires the magical assistance of those referred to as analysts and news reporters. The conscience of the nation has been seared.

If ever there was a need for Divine intervention, guidance and wisdom, particularly in a predominantly secular government, this is the time. We should always remember that when everything was dark, formless and void, God, through Whom all things are possible, said, “Let there be light!”

Have a great week.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Call It Whatever You Want, But It IS A “Religious War”.

World media have become accostomed to slanting news reports to fit their socio-political biases. Ethics is no longer a pre-requisite for reporting news. Instead, the goal is to persuade, to convince listeners and readers alike of news that is tailored and edited to fit a particular mindset and perspective. Slants on “facts” distort the truth of what happened and the media, my less-than-favorite entity, is to blame for how the wider, general and international public responds to events in this tiny stretch of desert sand. Despite playing the blame game, there are certain “facts” that cannot be denied. 

On Monday night, during Jerusalem Day celebrations, rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel’s capital and upon civilian population centers here. With that began the present round of hostilities towards Israel, which has seen over 1,500 rockets sent into mostly civilian communities in the country in five days. In addition to the missiles, internal Arab violence, originally labeled “disturbance of the peace”, is now causing chaos, destruction and injuries, as well as a backlash from some Israeli Jews. The resultant clashes border on a mini-civil war. The death toll in Israel resulting from Hamas militarism, while still low, is, nevertheless, increasing.

Unfortunately, on this side of the eternal order, we will always have to pay a price for our existence. So be it. But, that does not mean that we should stand aside and kowtow to the actions of an enemy that is sworn to eliminate Israel as a sovereign nation and to kill all Jews or subject them to Islamic rule. The Hamas terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip since 2007 has sought to generate a link between the al-Aqsa mosque (on the Temple Mount) and Gaza in the psyche of the Arab world, both in Israel, as well as in lands near and far. Monday’s rocket fire on locations in Israel, including Jerusalem, was geared towards generating the impression that Hamas was the true and only defender of the Temple Mount. It took advantage of Jerusalem Day (a national holiday commemorating the unification of Jerusalem and Israeli control over the Old City following the 6-Day War in June, 1967), to strengthen what Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, asserted was “the equation that connects the Gaza Strip to Jerusalem”. 

We have allowed Hamas and Islamic Jihad (=Holy War; I prefer to use the term “Religious War” because Israelis do not consider it a holy task to wage war against members of another religion to destroy them or subjugate them because of their beliefs) to dictate our responses to terrorism and terrorist attacks upon Israel. Our responses have usually been proportionate: they bomb us, we bomb them back. Such is the nature of civilized conflict. And, whenever Israel has responded in strength to attacks from Islamic terrorists, the world was quick to condemn us for a “disproportionate response” and urge de-escalation. However, unlike the War of Independence and the wars that followed every decade since then, this present attack upon Israeli sovereignty is different. The events of this week revealed how easy it is for violent and deadly consequences to follow when things spiral out of control.

It should be pointed out that the assault on Jerusalem, as well as on places ranging from Eilat in the south to cities in central Israel, incited, as well as ignited, violence in some of the young, Arab citizens, in locations “from Dan to Beersheva” (i.e., from north to south) where there is “du-kiyyum” (co-existence). Few locations have been spared from armed violence, physical assaults, conflagrations and destruction of property. All of these events are shots in the arm for Hamas, which has taken advantage of the weakness of the “Palestinian” Authority and stepped in as the proclaimed leaders of the “Palestinian” national movement. The very fact that such a purported movement continues to exist and is gaining traction amongst “Palestinian” Arabs, allows for Hamas to continue to define the rules of the game against Israel. This has to stop and it should have stopped when it first began.

The underlying strategy of Hamas has been that its engagements with Israel will be on the basis of attacks upon us from Gaza, with limited, or “proportionate response” from Israel. It is also based on the presumption, from prior similar military engagements, that Israel would want a limited number of “combat days” and agree to a negotiated cease-fire, followed by the usual cooling-off period, that is usually broken by isolated rocket attacks from Hamas.

Israel has now been provided with a golden opportunity to destroy not only the “Palestinian” mindset, but the Hamas infrastructure as well. As stated by Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, no sovereign nation in the world would allow missile attacks upon its citizenry without responding appropriately. Think for a moment if such attacks were made against Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington, or the capital city of where you live. How long do you think it would take for your government to declare war against the terrorists? How quickly do you think you would respond to calls from other nations to “go easy and don’t overdue it”? How ready would you be to give terrorists another shot at you after killing a member of your family? Or will there continue to be a double standard for responses to terrorist attacks, one for Israel and one for the rest of the world?

Israel “gave in” to Hamas threats and took a conciliatory approach that spread across a broad spectrum of Israeli officialdom, delaying a Supreme Court hearing on evicting certain families from a neighborhood in Jerusalem, changing the traditional route of the Jerusalem Day Parade, so as to avoid hurting “Palestinian” sensitivities and ending up cancelling the Parade entirely. The country also failed to respond to the threats of Hamas that it would launch missiles and incendiary balloons, as part of its claim to consolidate its protection over “Arab Jerusalem” if Israel failed to withdraw its military forces from the Damascus Gate (one of the gates in the Old City). In this part of the world, failure to respond to actions and even threats is considered as weakness and that perspective of weakness prompted Hamas to become more aggressive, as well as massive civil unrest in cities throughout the country. This, in turn, prompted responses by local residents in efforts to protect their families and homes. Israel needs to act and act decisively, as a democratic society that will punish those inside its walls who break the law. It must also act, as one writer put it: “As for Israel’s external enemies – Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Fatah, they must meet the full weight of Israel’s military might, and the sooner, the better. The belief that anything short of a crushing defeat will lead to their moderation is as delusional as Chamberlain’s appeasement of Nazi Germany.” The principle is simple: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed swiftly, therefore the hearts of the sons men among them are given fully to do evil.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

We need to have a broad perspective on the events of this week, which are far from being over. Jihadist slogans, such as “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya yahud, jaisyu Muhammad saufa ya’ud” (“Khaibar, Khaibar, Oh Jews, the army of Muhammad is returning”) and “With our blood and spirits we’ll redeem the al-Aqsa Mosque” are battle cries against Jews and have become rallying cries of rioters throughout Israel, particularly during the Muslim celebrations during the month of Ramadan. [Khaybar was a town in northern Arabia, whose Jews were massacred by Muslims in 628 C.E. Some of the surviving women were taken as wives by some of the Muslims, including Mohammed and less than 10 years later, the Muslim conquerors charged Jews a 50% tax on their crops. Whatever Jews remained in Khaybar after the death of Muhammed were expelled.] These rallying slogans are battle cries when attacking Jews.

But, more than this: When Jewish drivers are dragged from their vehicles by Muslims and beaten, it is a religious war. When a synagogue is burned and Torah scrolls are destroyed, when vehicles and businesses are destroyed after it is confirmed that they belong to Jews, it is a religious war. When Israel is said to occupy land that has been consecrated to Islam, it is a religious war. And so on. It has been a religious war from day one, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. As a result, in the Islamic mindset, Israel has no right to exist as a sovereign state and needs to be reduced to the status a non-Muslim protected minority, allowed to exist but only under Islamic rule. This has worsened from the time of the Oslo Disaster of 1993.

Islamic extremism rises when opposition to it is weak or diminished and it recedes into the background when strongly opposed. Israel has no choice but to demonstrate strength in the face of attack against its sovereignty, its people and its infrastructure. International efforts to stop the present war before Israel achieves the goal of dismantling Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, will only defer the next round of conflict and encourage the Islamists, backed by Iran and Turkey, to expand their demands for world hegemony. Which country will be next on their list?

Tonight begins Nakba Day, 15th May, 1948, a day commemorating what is referred to by “Palestinians” as the “catastrophe” – the day following the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of the State of Israel. Israel is on full alert against attacks from without, as well as from within. But, with all of our strength and military might, may we remember that we exist because of God’s promises and will continue to exist because He stands behind His Word to perform it.

“Behold, He Who keeps Israel will neither slumbers nor sleeps…The LORD will protect you from all evil.” (Psalm 121: 4, 7) 

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls and prosperity within your palaces. For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, ‘May peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122:6-9)

Keep your eyes on Him, Who is invisible, so that we can bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Marvin

Trampled to Death in the Midst of Celebration

“I will put things on the table here. I, Shimon Lavi, the northern district commander, for better or worse, bear overall responsibility,” he admitted. “We uncompromisingly prepared for all of the scenarios relating to safety. I can tell you that at the moment, we are at the stage of gathering evidence. There’s a complex effort here to gather evidence to properly get to the truth.” (Shimon Lavi, Northern District Police Commander of the Israel Police, 30 April, 2021)

Celebration. Narrow corridor. Severe overcrowding. One slips. Another trips. Many fall. Panic. Rush to escape. People trampled. Many suffocated. 45 died. Multitudes injured. National day of mourning proclaimed.

I started to pen this less than 48 hours after disaster struck in the north of Israel at a place called Meron. Then I stopped. Almost immediately after the event that resulted in the deaths of almost four dozen people, accusations flew back and forth as part of the “blame game”. It’s easy to point an accusing finger at someone, particularly when it seems as though that is the consensus of popular opinion and, particularly, when all the facts are not known. Rather than join the throng, I opted to wait until most of the funerals were over and there was more information available. 

A little background could prove helpful. The particular type of gathering that took place on Mt. Meron is referred to a “Yom Hillula”, an annual day of remembering the death of a great rabbinical sage, who taught Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and/or piety. Those who refer to themselves as pietists today are called “Hasidim”. Unlike an annual memorial of someone who passed away, which is usually a day of sadness, the “Yom Hillula” is a time of joyful celebration.

This annual celebration takes place on the day known as Lag BaOmer, or the 33rd day of the counting of the “omer” (a measure of barley) – the counting of 49 days from the beginning of the time of the grain harvest, following the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the day immediately following Passover, to the celebration on the 50th day known as the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot or Pentecost, according to Deuteronomy 16:9-12 and Leviticus 23:10-16). The Hebrew word “Lag” is from the numerical value of the two Hebrew letters “lamed” (=30) and “gimel” (=3). Throughout the year, multitudes of Jews visit the gravesite of the Rabbi, Shimon bar Yochai, (referred to as “the Rashbi”) a famous 1st-century Jewish sage, who was one of the students of the renowned Rabbi Akiva. Many believe Shimon bar Yochai to be the greatest teacher of Torah of his generation. And, Jewish tradition holds that he revealed the “secrets” of the Torah on the day of his death, in the Kabbalistic (mystic) work known as the Zohar. According to the Zohar, on the day of his death, as he taught his students, the Rashbi’s house was filled with fire and light and when the fire subsided at the end of the day, Rabbi Shimon died. On successive years, his students sought to recreate that experience of light and mystical revelation by kindling bonfires and studying the Zohar in the light of the flames, accompanied by singing and dancing. The occasion is celebrated in Israel with the lighting of bonfires throughout the land and a time for many to gather socially, particularly youth, a large portion of which are secular. 

For the more religiously orthodox, the annual remembrance of the Rashbi’s death could be a time for getting married, the first cutting of the hair of a child who reached the age of three, and celebrations of different kinds throughout the night. In particular, multitudes journey to his gravesite in Meron in the belief that if they pray at the gravesite of a righteous person (a “tzadik”), God is more likely to grant their requests. There would be recitations from the Psalms and with the sunrise, a multitude of prayers would be lifted up.

On this particular occasion, thousands upon thousands gathered at midnight, waiting for the lighting of the bonfire that was soon to take place. The bonfires are symbolic, in part, of the spiritual light that the Rashbi was said to bring to the world. After the bonfire-lighting ceremony, as people began to celebrate and dance, singing with expressions of faith in the coming of a Redeemer and looking forward to the beginning of the Messianic era, an announcement was made instructing people to immediately evacuate the area. It is not clear why that announcement was made. The tightly-packed multitudes began to head towards the exit away from the location of the lighting ceremony. More and more people jammed the narrow corridor, packed like sardines. Within minutes, around 01:00 a.m., some people stumbled and fell, others tripped over them and fell on them, trampling and crushing to death those on the bottom layer. Panic set in, which only made the situation worse, as the throng tried to find a way out. Family members were separated, friends were pushed apart by the thousands now cramming the narrow passageway. People were yelling and screaming. Young and old alike were pushed and stepped on. Some tried to break through metal barriers, others tried to jump over them. 

Ambulances were called and rushed to the scene. Emergency workers tried to evacuate the dead and wounded. When the press of the crowds was over, the scene revealed a horror of bodies tramped to death – the worst civilian disaster in Israel’s modern history. The bodies spanned ages of generations. As the news of the disaster began to be made known, families and friends frantically tried to make contact with those who were present at the gathering and, failing to reach the person they were calling, they began to contact hospitals, hoping against hope that their loved ones were not among the injured, or worse, that they were not numbered among the casualties. When the dust literally settled, 45 participants in the celebration were dead, the light of their lives was extinguished. Multiple scores of others were wounded. Funerals were planned hastily (in Jewish law, a body needs to be buried within three days, except for extraordinary circumstances) and began to take place, one after the other, almost in an endless stream, both before Shabbat began and resumed immediately after the Shabbat was over. Emotion-filled eulogies were heart-rendering, as families bid tearful farewell to loved ones, young and not-so-young, sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers and friends.

A national day of mourning was proclaimed and held on Monday, May 2nd. The day came, the day passed and almost all of the mourning was done by the families and friends of those who died and were injured. 

While the victims were primarily from the various branches of orthodoxy, everyone wanted to know what happened, what caused the disaster, who was responsible and whether it could have been prevented. 

When viewed in retrospect, many factors entered into the tragedy in Meron, both on the part of the participants, as well as on the part of those who were responsible for permitting and overseeing the event on behalf of officialdom. Politics played a part. Dysfunctional organization played a part. Lack of respect for health regulations, for the police and for other participants also contributed to the disaster. Allowing one sector of society to ignore restrictions in public gatherings and social distancing, while other sectors are strictly enforced, added greatly to the grievous failure what was intended to be a joyful celebration. But, the deaths and injuries were not the result of the coronavirus pandemic. They had to do with human, socio-political failings. The orthodox blamed the secular authorities, while the secular authorities placed the blame for the disaster squarely at the feet of the religious. 

At first, I wanted to come to a conclusion for myself where to point the finger of blame. But, after looking at the situation as a whole and from the perspective of our behavior towards our fellow citizens, I understood all too painfully that the fault lies with the entire country. Lack of proper preparation, insuring the infrastructure of the location and allowing for easy ingress and egress, respect for other participants, pushing and shoving – an all too-normal part of our society, an attitude of superiority and lack of tolerance for those who don’t “believe” like we do, among many other factors, all contributed to the fiasco. And, despite the loss of dozens of lives and the injuries to scores of participants, we have lost sight of the tragedy that befell this nation. In the finger-pointing, we have pushed aside compassion and failed to relate to the national loss and to the individual pain that will forever be part of our history. Every future celebration of Lag BaOmer will contain a reminder of a tragedy that could have been avoided. Those who died were trampled upon by “their” brethren. But, they are all “our” brethren, part of this tiny nation, even if we have major differences in belief and behavior that tend to divide us. To quote a well-known expression: “Derech eretz kadma l’Torah”, colloquially meaning behavior or character comes before Torah (instruction). Or, put into everyday Yiddish: “Be a mensch!” Somewhere along the line, the greatest of all Jewish character traits has fallen by the wayside and was trampled upon along with the participants at Meron on Lag BaOmer. It is a national loss that man, by himself, is powerless to restore. 

Still, this is a land of wonders and miracles, established by God for His glory. Nothing is impossible with Him (Jeremiah 32:17, 27). He is able to restore what has been lost (Job 42:10) with compassion (Deuteronomy 30:3; Isaiah 49:13) and deliver them by the LORD their God (Hosea 1:7).

Let us remember that we were put here for a purpose. We were not intended to be islands unto ourselves.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Happy 73rd Birthday, Israel!

From sorrow to joy, from Memorial Day to Independence Day. From weeping to celebration. From death to life. Only a week ago, Israel mourned the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The sirens sounded throughout the land. Most of the country stopped whatever they were doing and stood in silent reflection of the most heinous crime of the twentieth century or of all time. 

A week later, two days ago, the country again stopped in silent remembrance of those who gave their lives so that this country could be established and could continue to exist. It was Memorial Day, a day when Israel honors not only the members of the Israel Defense Forces (the IDF) who were killed, but also those who were killed through acts of terror, which continue to this day. It was a day of national sorrow, a day that for some is repeated with every sunrise and which doesn’t end with sundown. It is a day when others join in the pain and emotions of grief. It is a day when the media are filled with stories of lives cut short through war and terrorism, mixed with stories of heroism and self-sacrifice. At various times throughout the day, it seemed that even the heavens were grieving with us. There was “weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15). Only a stone would not shed tears over the stories shared over the main television stations here. And then, while the endless stream of tears of sorrow still flowed over the loss of our sons and daughters, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our friends and co-workers and the people who live next door, the country somehow shifted gears, as the pain of loss turned to expressions of joy and celebration – Israel began to celebrate its 73rd year of indepenence. It was as if some unseen switch was pressed in our national consciousness, enabling and even necessitating our exiting from the darkness and heaviness of the day to entering into the light and release from the thoughts and emotions of yesterday, to the hopes and anticipations of the dawning of a new day. 

A year ago, Memorial Day was a compounded sorrow. Families were not permitted to visit military cemeteries because of health restrictions, adding to the emotional stress and strain of the day. The same is true for the day that followed. Israel’s 72nd Independence Day was different from any that had occurred up until then. Independence day celebrations were clouded over with the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, resulting in national shutdowns and restrictions, preventing public gatherings and adding to the frustrations of confinement. But, even then, people celebrated on their balconies, singing songs, blessings neighbors and friends, calling, “zooming”, communicating in a variety of different ways that were accessible via the technology of the day. We socially-distanced, hugged via the internet, sent greetings and words of encouragement and did what we could to break the depressive spirit of the lockdowns and to enter into the collective joy of independence as a nation.

What a difference a year makes. While the pandemic is not defeated, it no longer controls every aspect of our national and private lives. Families were able to visit the gravesites of their loved ones, public gatherings are once again allowed. It was a time to celebrate and Israel wasted no time in making the effort to restore the joy of Independence Day. It was a brilliant, technological accomplishment. The annual torch-lighting ceremony included a dozen lighters of the flames, young and old, from teenager to centenarian, Jew and Arab, professional and volunteer, secular and religious. All gave their short, prepared speeches. All referred to themselves as children of mom and dad, mentioning them by name, some of who had passed on and some who were still living. All gave praise and honor to the part of the community where they serve and all end with “to the glory of the State of Israel” as the last statement before lighting the flame. The “official” speeches acknowleged those who serve to protect and defend the country against her enemies, those who serve selfishly to preserve life and to tend to the sick, those who volunteer and encourage others to “love their neighbor” and to remember that, despite our differences, we can and should seek to unify, rather than to divide. Lofty goals. And today, with the sun shining and temperatures befitting of mid-April, the country took to the parks, to the open areas, to the beaches, to the restaurants, to the public celebrations of the day. It appeared as though life was once again becoming liveable. 

But, not all who live here stand in remembrance of the six million who were killed in the Holocaust. Not all stand in silence in honor of Israel’s fallen on Memorial Day. Not all celebrate Israel’s independence. Posters and flags of “Palestine” were raised by certain groups in different places in Israel. There were efforts to disrupt national celebrations from the north to the south, “from Dan to Beersheva”. 

All of the events of the past week – Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, ended, as they do each year, with the recitation of the Psalm of Asaph, Psalm 83. The author prays that God would defeat our enemies and destroy their foundations. But, he also prays that they would be embarrassed over their deeds and recognize God’s sovereignty. As long as they seek to destroy us as a people, as long as they seek that the name of Israel would be no more (83:4), Israel’s enemies can be extinguished. But, the desire of the writer is that the day will come “that they will know that You along, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (83:18). 

The promise to Abraham of 4,000 years ago was, among other things, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). The enemies of Israel hate the God of Israel and try to prevent the blessing that God has promised. But, that is contrary to the multitude of God’s promises, including Isaiah 54:17 – “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail and you will refute every tongue  that acuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from Me”, declares the LORD.

Israel was and exists because of God’s calling and His faithfulness. Anything that we have been able to accomplish is because He has enabled us to do so. May we never take credit for what God has done. May we celebrate our independence as a sovereign nation, but remember that we are called by God for His purposes and for His glory. May our celebrations of independence never replace our total dependence on Him. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even their enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)

There is a time for all things under heaven. It’s celebration time. Happy Birthday, Israel.

And while celebrating, remember: bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Election Illusions – The Results of Indecision

What a mess! After four elections in two years, we still don’t have a stable government. And, what’s worse, we don’t know whether any of the major players will be able to put together a coalition government or whether we are headed towards round number five right after the summer months.

For many people reading this, the names of some Israeli politicians and/or the names of the political parties that they head up are of little significance. Most people simply want to know who is going to run the country. Will it continue to be Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, or will it be someone else? As mentioned in the last post a week and a half ago, a number of scenarios are possible, but trying to play “mix and match” requires major compromise, breaking of some campaign promises and swallowing pride. The pursuit of position and power could lead to alliances thought to be impossible, which would be disastrous for the nation as a whole. 

Case in point: Mansour Abbas is the head of the Ra’am Party, which broke away from the “Joint List” of Arab parties about five months prior to the last elections and his party succeeded in winning four seats in the next Knesset. Those four votes could actually determine whether a “rightist” or “leftist” coalition government will be established. He has a list of “demands” that need to be met in order for him to support one side or the other in the ongoing drama of who would become the Prime Minister. He met with a number of leaders, including those of the “change bloc”, the anti-Netanyahu factions from the left, right and centrist parties, whose common goal is to oust P.M. Netanyahu. In a recent interview, Abbas said, among other things: “Our red lines are our rights whether national or civilian rights … We don’t negotiate or compromise on these rights. We may not be able to achieve them all, but we will not abandon them.” He added: “Our options are open and we are negotiating with the right and the left … We stand at the same distance from the two camps, and we are the third camp.” Apparently, Ra’am will condition its recommendation on the candidate that commits to providing funding to eliminate crime in communities having a primarily Arab population, as well  as amending the controversial Nation-State Law, and increasing the number of Arab workers in the public sector.

It is beyond reason that both the right and the left camps are courting Abbas, a devout Muslim, whom Netanyahu had previously referred to as being “anti-Zionist”. Netanyahu’s present alliance of right-wing religious parties consider the Ra’am party as being anti-Zionist and supportive of “Palestinian” terrorism. Ra’am, for its part, refused to cooperate with one of the right-wing extremist parties. Even if Netanyahu gains the support of the Ra’am party, it still won’t be enough to give him the necessary 61 mandates to form a coalition government. He will need the added support of the Yamina party, headed by Naftali Bennett, which holds seven seats and still remains uncommitted.

Immediately prior to his meeting with P.M. Netanyahu today, Bennett said: “We have one goal: to form a good, stable government as quickly as possible [adding] no effort will be spared” in the pursuit of that goal. But, we should not be overly enthusiastic about the outcome of that meeting, as Bennett will also meet tomorrow (Saturday) with Yair Lapid, the leader of the center-left party, Yesh Atid.

But, back to Mansour Abbas and the Ra’am party. A revolution of sorts has taken place in Israeli politics. In a previous election of recent memory, Netanyahu urged Israelis to get out and vote, making the point that “the Arabs are flocking to the polls.” Indeed, when they did so, the Joint List of Arab parties achieved 15 seats in the Knesset. This time, as a result of a low voter turnout, the Joint List succeeded in obtaining only 7 seats, with the break-away party, Ra’am obtaining four. While the Joint List is not even a remote thought to help form a right-wing government, the seemingly insignificant Ra’am party is now poised to determine not only Netanyahu’s fate and that of the identity of the next Prime Minister, but also the nature of the next Israeli government and its identity and ideology for some time into the future. This “upheaval” in political partnering – from both the right (Netanyahu and traditional right-wing parties) and the extreme left (anti-Israel, Arab parties) reflects widespread changes in Israeli-Arab society and attitude over the years. These changes include, among other things, warming of relations with certain Arab countries, a going-nowhere realization concerning the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict (until the Biden administration stepped in) and experiential “partnering” in the health crisis caused by the Corona pandemic.

Adding to the “upheaval” in potential political alliances is the statement from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, head of the ultra-Orthodox-Lithuanian community and spiritual leader of most of members of the United Torah Judaism party. When asked concerning the possibility of the formation of a government that relies either on Arab parties or anti-religious leftist parties, his response was that cooperating with Arab parties who respect religion and values is better than establishing a coalition government with the secular left, who oppress religion.

Mansour Abbas’ language reveals his ultimate purposes. Use of terms like “our red lines” and “our options are open and we are negotiating with the right and the left” should be wake-up calls to our politicians that the goals of the Ra’am party are not national but partisan – just like most of the goals of other political parties, both in Israel and abroad. His party will go in the direction that best serves its restricted goals.

No matter how we view the situation, other political leaders of an “alleged” right-wing party, including Netanyahu and Bennett, that courts a non-Zionist party, whose primary goal is to advance the interests of Muslims is foolhardy, at best, and blatantly hypocritical, at worst.

It could be argued that an alliance with an Arab-Muslim party in an effort to establish a governing coalition in Israel is simply a short-term expediency, motivated by self-interest and political self-preservation. This may be true, but even the attempt to establish such a political coalition flies in the face of Israel’s calling, its establishment and its concerns, if there are concerns, for its future. While the leadership of the Ra’am party claims to have more in common with the Jewish, religious right than with socially-liberal leftist political parties, he also supports the two-state solution, which was declared dead during the Trump administration and now resurrected by the Biden administration. He opposed the normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as a protest against the absence of peace with the so-called “Palestinians”. Only two years ago, Netanyahu was outraged that his political rivals were even thinking of a possible alliance with the Joint List, which at that time included both Abbas and the Ra’am party, referring to them as “a danger to Israel.” Now, that “danger” is poised to become a member of a ruling coalition. The pursuit of position and political power is fogging up the focus regarding our future. 

Is a Muslim-backed coalition government the best alternative that this enlightened, but politically-fractured country can offer? Is that better than taking another go at it in a fifth election go-round? We can only imagine what demands will be forthcoming and how much compromise will be required to make such a cut-and-paste government functional. All the political parties need to make their recommendations for Prime Minister to Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, by this coming Monday. And only after that we’ll know who will be given the baton to run against time to try to establish a coalition government. Traditionally, the mandate is awarded to the a party leader whom the President believes has the best chance of forming a government. We’ll know in a few days whether we’ll be moving forward, backward or sideward. 

May God grant us wisdom to how to pray, like “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

ISRAEL ELECTION 2021 – Here we go again.

Today is Election Day, Israel’s 4th election in two years. The population is seriously divided, tired of all the politicking and unsure whether the outcome will be decisive enough to allow the winner to form a government, or whether this election is simply a forerunner of election number 5.

For many months, the situation on the street looked like it was the United States, with posters and loud-speakers and demonstrations calling for removal of the Prime Minister. The major different between the two countries is that the demonstrations in the U.S. were primarily by “right-wingers”, whereas the demonstrations here are, in the main, by “left-wingers”. The “never Trumpers” have their counterparts on this side of the Big Muddy by the crowd chanting “anyone except Bibi” (i.e., Benjamin Netanyahu).

For a long time, it seemed as though the Prime Minister and his Likud Party were losing ground against three main challengers, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid Party – center left), who ranks second in the polls, Naftali Bennett (Yamina Party – right) and Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope Party – right), who were, at one point, tied for third place. Last-minute polls, however, question whether Sa’ar will get enough votes to make it past the election threshold. If he does, it would be reasonable to presume that he would garner only a minimum number of Knesset seats, but nowhere near what he would need to be a serious contender for the Office of Prime Minister. Other main parties do not have a realistic expectation of success for leadership of the government, but their votes will be essential in determining whether Netanyahu will be able to cross the finish line ahead of his challengers. Latest election polls showed that Netanyahu and his right-wing allies, primarily religious parties, are close to achieving a minimum majority that could allow Netanyahu – who is already Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister – to form a new government and remain in power. Interestingly enough, the push over the threshold could come from a small Arab party that broke away from the Joint List, which does not warm the cockles of the hearts of the hard right.

Netanyahu is a skilled leader, who has acquired considerable political savvy after losing an election to Prime Minister to Ehud Barak some two decades ago. Demonstrators against Netanyahu refer to him as “Crime Minister” because of the criminal indictments that he is facing on charges of corruption and bribery. Throughout the entire legal process, which is far from being over, he constantly maintained that nothing will come of the charges, because they are based on nothing, other than politics. 

While many consider that the vote today is a pro-Bibi or anti-Bibi referendum, in reality, it is a vote regarding whether we will have a strong government with a division of powers – executive, legislative and judicial – or whether we will allow the legal/judicial establishment to continue to infringe upon the other branches of the government, as it has done during the last few years. For an excellent analysis of this subject, see Caroline Glick’s “Bennett, Sa’ar and Israel’s Legal Tyranny“.

Polling places will close here in less than two hours and it is difficult to predict the outcome. There are a multitude of small parties, only about half of which are expected to get the minimum number votes needed to get a seat in the Knesset. Even though some of those parties had a degree of positive support, the likelihood is that most will fail and that the votes cast in their favor would be a loss, most likely for the rightist bloc.

So, what can reasonably be expected at this time? A number of scenarios are possible. 

First, Netanyahu can put together a coalition, supported primarily by religious parties an ultra-rightist parties. Even Naftali Bennett could end up supporting Netanyahu, although the two of them have been like fire and water over the past several years. 

Second, if Netanyahu fails to accumulate at least 61 seats, from all of the parties that would join him, he could still technically win the election, but have to do a lot of politicking to gain the backing that he needs to form a coalition government.

Third, if Netanyahu doesn’t walk away with a clear-cut victory, anti-Netanyahu parties could try to try to put together a coalition, but they would be hard-pressed to do so. There are enough center-left and far-left parties that could band together, but at this point, there is no central authority or leadership that could unify them. 

Fourth, realistically, there is no fourth possibility, at least for the purposes of putting together a coalition government. It would require that pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu political leaders put aside their personal, political and ideological differences and work together for the benefit of the nation. To think of this as a real alternative outcome would require a great sense of humor. 

So, if Bibi doesn’t further extend his record as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, we can anticipate that we will be in for a fifth round of elections in the next few months. Well, we’ll get a better perspective on things tomorrow morning.

And the LORD said to [the prophet] Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people regarding all that they say to you, because they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them.” (1 Samuel 8:22) 

A time is coming, and it does not appear to be too far off, when partisan politics will no longer control the affairs of life in this nation. The leadership that the nation has rejected will one day rule over this land. There will be no more voting, but only giving thanks, praise and worship. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a society that is God ruled and God blessed? May He grant us a sanctified imagination to look forward to and yearn for that day.

Until that time, we have the politics of this world to deal with. Oy, what a contrast!

Whatever the outcome of today’s elections, we don’t have to go with the flow of this world. We can bless, be blessed and be a blessing. May it be so.

Marvin

Actions Speak LOUDER Than Words.

Politics, personalities, perspectives and policies. The first is reflected by the second. The second is shaped by the third and the fourth is the outworking of the third. 

With the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States, internal issues, including the health and economic crises and illegal immigrants were, understandably, high on the agenda. International concerns, including Iran, the Middle East conflicts and trade wars with China needed to be addressed, but, apparently, are not considered priority items. From an Israeli perspective, the issues are more specific and more critical: Will the Biden administration try to renegotiate the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran that endangered Israel and the entire Middle East? What will be the new administration’s position regarding the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem? Will the Biden administration attempt to resurrect the dead-and-buried, two-state solution to the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict? How will the administration relate to the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations and to its organizations, such as UNRWA and UNESCO? Will the new President continue the warm relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu that existed under the Trump administration?

The answers were not long in coming, as a cold shoulder stretched across 9,490 kilometers (5,897 miles), causing Israel to start to look for a diplomatic winter coat. Biden spent 8 years as Vice-President in the Obama administration learning, among other things, how to treat enemies like friends and friends like enemies. 

A well-known singer once sang, in part: “Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable…call me unpredictable”. Netanyahu can add to that, “Call me whatever you want, but  call me!” In another 6 days, it will be a month since the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States. And, unlike Donald Trump whose third phone call after taking office was to the Prime Minister of Israel, Biden still hasn’t picked up the phone to call Netanyahu. Granted, it took Netanyahu a bit of time after the U.S. elections to call Biden and to refer to him as “President-Elect”. But, he didn’t wait long to congratulate him after he was sworn in as President. Is not calling Netanyahu a form of “payback”. Is it an attempt to politicize Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun? Is it a case of “monkey see, monkey do”? 

Back on 10th February, Danny Danon, Chairman of the World Likud, the global arm of Netanyahu’s party, expressed what many wanted to say, but who didn’t have the platform from which to say it. He tweeted a message to Biden, listing ten countries to whose leaders he placed long-distance phone calls (without reversing the charges). Then he added: “Might it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of the #US? The PM’s number is: 972-2-6705555”. That number, by the way, will get to the Prime Minister’s office, but not to the him personally. Netanyahu, being ever the astute politician, tried to downplay Biden’s failure to call him, saying that he expected a call from him “soon”, adding: “He is making calls to world leaders according to the order he sees fit. He has not reached the Middle East yet. The Israel-US alliance is strong and so is our friendship of almost 40 years, though we may not agree on everything.” Unfortunately, there are a few concerns with Netanyahu’s statement. First, Biden has by-passed the Middle East, by calling India (much further East than Israel), South Korea (much further East than India) and Russia (due north of Israel), not to mention Australia, which is way down under on the other side of the world. Second, the Israel-US alliance “was strong” and its strength is now being tested. Third, the strong “friendship (between Biden and Bibi) of almost 40 years” has little to show for it, when viewed from a legislative perspective and when the question is asked: “What have you done for me lately?” As one former statement Middle East analyst stated, in reply to the tweet of Danny Danon: “A call will come. But a clear message is being sent…To quote Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The close relationship that Netanyahu built with Trump and his administration over four years, resulted in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and removing U.S. opposition to Israeli settlement activity in Judea and Samaria, among other things. Add to them the major role that Nikki Haley played in presenting a very pro-Israeli position in the U.N. as the representative of the U.S., who knew how to silence countries which were/are blatantly anti-Israel. In short, in one-tenth of the time of the alleged friendship between Biden and Netanyahu, there was a favorable reversal of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Israeli interests. Now, we are being thrown back to the politics, personalities, perspectives and policies of the Obama era. Some of the political appointments that Biden has already made prompted the Zionist Organization of America to set up a special “Joe Biden’s Hostile-to-Israel Appointments” section on its web page. If Biden is going to trust them for advice and guidance, should we be foolish enough to trust him? 

All this in less than a month of the new U.S. administration’s taking office. Undoubtedly, many are thrilled that Trump is no longer in office. But, looking at the situation from this side of the Pond and from a distance of a 12-hour plane trip, we could rightfully ask whether this is really a “new” administration, or simply a cleverly-disguised third term of Biden’s former boss. Time will tell.

In the meantime, Israel should finally understand that the players in the international political arena change with seasons and elections. We should never build our hopes on the frailties of political power that can be gone with the wind. Our reliance should be on One Who changes not, Who never disappoints, Who wants us to call upon Him because He longs to be gracious to us.

“Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.” (2 Chronicles 20:20)

O Israel, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. (Psalm 115:9)

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken and will He not make it good? (Number 23:19)

May the Lord protect you from all evil and guard your going out and your coming in.

Have a God-honoring week.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

The Holocaust and Anti-Semitism – Neither of them are truly behind us!

Can we take a break from the political changes occurring in the United States? What about a break from the pandemic, from being vaccinated and from issuance of “green passports”? Unfortunately, opting not to talk about them doesn’t negate their existence or the consequences of the decisions that are made and the effects they will have on us. They’ll all still be there to talk about again after considering other matters. 

Three days ago, January 27, 2021, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is one day during the year when the world is not asked, but urged, to remember the Holocaust – a special event in world history. While 16 European countries, as well as Israel, have laws against Holocaust denial, some countries that are considered bastions of democracy allow it as protected speech, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Dr. Robert Rozett, Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, in an article entitled: When Denying History is Incitement to Violence, wrote in 2006:  “In a perfect world, one who denies a clearly proven historical fact, like the perpetration of the Holocaust, should be considered a laughing stock. He should be no less an object of scorn than one who insists that the earth is flat or the sun revolves around the moon. The denier need not be fined or jailed for being ridiculous. Rather people should make him feel so mortified that he should want to hide in a deep, dark cave, and for a very long time be too ashamed to show his face in the light of day. But we don’t live in a perfect world, or anywhere near one….Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism, and antisemitism in our time still frequently incites to violence against individual Jews and against Jews in general.” 

One would be hard pressed to disagree with the clear consensus in most locations around the world that anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere. There was a time in not-too-distant memory, when expressions of anti-Semitism were widely condemned, when the world as a whole understood the horrors of the Holocaust, when photos of concentration camp ovens, corpses of those hung on make-shift gallows and emaciated survivors spoke a thousand words. It was a brief time when the expression “Never Again” was understood almost in its fullest sense. However, with the passage of time and the passing away of survivors whose final days were in different countries around the world, the task to never forget commands that we should always remember.

We must all accept the past, as we are all affected by it. This does not mean that we have to agree with what happened. Nor can we come to terms with it, as we cannot change it or undue it. All we can do is remember it, and in remembering, make efforts to resist repeating it. The slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust is etched in our memories.

A dear friend wrote to me earlier this week, saying that Holocaust Remembrance Day reminded him of my post a few years back when my wife and I were in Poland. We were hosted by a couple who love and pray for Israel and the Jewish people, whose tears joined with ours as we saw historical evidence of some of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people of Europe, which accomplished the murder of one third of the Jewish population that existed at the outset of WWII. During that visit, the first from any member of my family in 80 years, we also experienced different forms of anti-Semitism, through both verbal and non-verbal communications of others.

We cannot legislate against anti-Semitism. There will always be a “legal loophole” that will make one’s statements and behavior subject to interpretation of third parties, whose unspoken prejudices will determine whether expressed hatred and violence against Jews and Israel falls into the category of anti-Semitism.

Can people be taught the necessary lessons of the Holocaust? I’m not simply talking about academic instruction that treats the Holocaust as a universal model of the consequences of dealing with the evils of prejudice and blind hatred. It is not simply a visceral response that evokes sympathy for the victims, while at the same time ignores the attacks and threats against Jews today and the struggle of the nation of Israel to defend herself against a host of enemies, national, organizational and individual. It is not glossing over the events that led up the Holocaust and relating only to the civic and moral implications of man’s evil inclinations against his fellow man. Historical knowledge is essential to generating a proper understanding and relation to the Holocaust. If the world doesn’t learn from the often-ignored facts of history, because those facts are not understood, it is bound to repeat it. This is particularly true regarding the second and third generations born after the shock and disillusionment of WWII and the revelations of the horrors of the purposed, planned, concerted and focused devil-inspired efforts to eliminate a particular people, the Jewish people, from the earth. 

The Holocaust is not just an historical event that happened “then” to “them”. Each generation, irrespective of ethnic background, needs to confront it, to try to get a handle on how it happened and who the actors were, in order to act to prevent it from re-occurring. Remembering and understanding the darkest hour of recent human history are essentials for the times in which we live. It is not unreasonable to conclude, as did one comprehensive article dealing with the subject, at pages 39-40, that most of the post-WWII generations are “profoundly unaware of the geographical scope and scale of the Holocaust and typically [do] not appreciate that its execution required the complicity and collaboration of tens of thousands of individuals and localities, regions and nations all across Europe.”

After the passage of 80 years and widespread teaching about the Holocaust, on the whole such teaching has failed to curb the expressions of anti-Semitism that is experiencing worldwide revival and increased adherence today. We should not be surprised. Although the term “anti-Semitism” is relatively modern, in practice, its roots are in antiquity and it has developed and expanded during the last two millenia.

As noted by Raul Hillberg, in The Destruction of the European Jews, Volume 2, at page 7, appearing in The Holocaust, Origins, Implementation, Aftermath (Edited by Omer Bartov), at p. 25: “Since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: conversion, expulsion, and annihilation….The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect; You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.”

This Blog is not the place for a lengthy discussion of historical anti-Semitism. But, it is the place to call out the need to understand that the Holocaust didn’t simply jump up out of the pages of history. Seeds were planted in ancient times for the destruction of the Jewish people. It developed over time, over millenia, through reigns of kings and rulers, religious and secular. The singular event of the Holocaust has roots going back to the time of the Book of Genesis and its tentacles continue to reach out today, to poison the hearts and minds of today’s generation across mountains, valleys and oceans, from the high-ranking politician to the common person on the street. Some outwardly accuse the Jews for every evil under the sun, while others shift their emphasis to the nation of Israel. Anti-Semitism has learned how to use and manipulate the mainstream media as its adherents attempt to exonerate the perpetrators and to accuse the victims of causing their own demise.

Proper education about historical anti-Semitism will help to provide a greater, but not complete, understanding of the Holocaust. Having a proper understanding of the events leading up to the Holocaust will help us to identify anti-Semitism when we experience it in our own lives. It doesn’t matter if one lives in a community where there are only a few Jews, or even no Jews. Anti-Semitism is taught … and learned and is the result of blind hatred and an ignorance that seeks to exalt itself above the knowledge of God. We can all play a part to negate anti-Semitism. Lies are negated by truth. Darkness is eliminated by light. 

Indeed, we are all affected by the past and its consequences. How we relate to them will determine the course of our lives and our future.

“How odd of God to choose the Jews. But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God yet spurn the Jews.” (William Norman Ewer and Leo Rosten) For a clear and simple, but straightforward explanation regarding God’s eternal covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel, see here.

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the starts for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs from before Me”, declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31: 35-37)

Have a God-glorifying week.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

It’s a New Day Dawning. Is it really?

What’s more important: Who is leaving the Office of the President of the United States, or who is entering it? The answer really depends on who is being asked the question – Americans, Israelis, “Palestinians”, Iran, China, the European Union and a host of other nations, individuals and entities that were and/or will be affected by the turnover.

America voted for Joseph R. Biden to replace Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. At least that’s the way things turned out when all of the controversy was over or is believed to be over. A majority of Israelis were appreciative of Trump, favoring him to win over Biden. “Palestinians” (so-called) were/are hoping that the Biden administration will reassess and reverse the policies of the Trump administration vis-a-vis relations between them and the U.S. government. Iran was/is looking forward to dealing with the new king of the Hill . . . and so on. Some danced in the streets. Others felt that the inauguration ceremony signaled an American retreat to the Obama era, phase II.

Much could be said for each location and an extensive discussion could be undertaken with reasons for and against the outgoing and the incoming. But, the focus of this post is not to delve into multifaceted discussions on a multinational level, but to consider, even if briefly, potential ramifications and ripples of the changeover, as they affect or may affect Israel. 

Trump was popular in Israel. The simple reason is that he acted to strengthen the recognition of Israel as a sovereign, active player on the world’s stage and because of the decisions made affecting Israel’s security. He promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and did it, with other nations following suit. Almost two years ago, he proclaimed U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as belonging to the State of Israel. In the closing months of his presidency, Trump’s administration was instrumental in moving forward at least four agreements between Israel and some of the Arab countries in the region, with other, potential agreements that did not reach completion prior to his leaving office. Perhaps the most significant act was to withdraw the U.S. from the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, commonly referred to as the “Iran nuclear deal”. Of course, there were other things, such as putting economic pressure on Iran and continuing to supply Israel with state-of-the-art weaponry. From the point of view of support, the relationship between Israel and the United States can only be seen as having been positive and encouraging. Even the “Deal of the Century”, which failed in principle, ended up achieving no small degree of success, indirectly, resulting in the signing of the Abraham Accords. As stated in an Op-ed in Arutz Sheva earlier this week: “For most of the Israeli right, U.S. President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel legacy will outlive other elements of his controversial presidency, particularly his last days in office….” The writer, who presented differing views concerning the outgoing President, also quoted Yishai Fleisher, an American-born international spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron: “It took a man who was not the norm, not a career politician, not a regular ‘dude’—a dude that came from being a mogul, media guy and just a character—to break a lot of the calcified lies that we’ve lived with.” Whether one appreciates Trump or despises him, his Middle-East record speaks for itself.

While  the Trump administration benefitted Israel, Iran, its proxies in the Middle East, and especially the “Palestinians” were experiencing an ongoing nightmare.  After Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel less than a year after he took office, the “PA” cut off all contact with his administration. But, its action brought re-action by the U.S. Among other things, the Washington office of the PLO was closed. Financial assistance to the “PA” was halted. Two years ago, the American Consulate in East Jerusalem was closed. They looked forward to the hope-for changes that would be brought about by the Biden administration. It would be reasonable to believe that the “PA” is not expecting changes to take place overnight and that it recognizes that the priority for the Biden administration will be to deal with the national health crisis and other international concerns. Still, “PA” activists nevertheless are hoping that the Biden administration will bring about a renewed relationship with the “Palestinians” and reverse the above-mentioned setbacks that they suffered under Trump. 

Biden backs the two-state solution resolve the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict. The “PA” is banking on that and will undoubtedly make every effort to raise itself from the ash heap and re-involve the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – the organization that is anything other than united, except when it comes to condemning Israel for continuing to exist. As stated by the “PA” Foreign Minister only one month ago: “We are ready for cooperation and dealing with the new US administration, and we are expecting that it would re-draw its ties with the state of Palestine.” That, in a nutshell, says it all, at least for the “Palestinians”.

According to published reports, Biden has a long-standing, positive relationship with the Jewish community, although there have been severe policy differences going back almost 40 years over the settlements in Judea and Samaria and continuing with P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Biden is expected to act quickly to deal with the various crises presently afflicting the U.S. But, once he settles into his new role as leader of the free world, it will, indeed, be a new day dawning. If Biden’s administration pushes for restoration of the Iran nuclear deal, it could cause a rift in the relationship that the U.S. has with Israel and reestablish the political cloud that existed between the two countries during the Obama days, during which Biden served as Vice-President. The most outstanding critic of the Iran deal was Israeli P.M. Netanyahu, who called it an “historic mistake”. The priority of his administration was to impress upon the world the urgency to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Any action that gives Iran the impression that the U.S. is trying to restore friendly relations with it, for whatever reason, will be an encouragement to Iran that it can pursue its goal against Israel under the guise or “disguise” of a revised nuclear agreement. In this regard, Biden nominated as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, lead negotiator of the Iran deal under the Obama era. Jonathan S. Tobin, JNS Editor-in-Chief, stated this week: “By any objective standard, Sherman’s handiwork [referring to her 2015 negotiating efforts] was a disaster. A government that was a merciless tyranny at home, a threat to the stability of neighboring Arab states and pledged to Israel’s destruction had been enriched and empowered.” Any attempt to reengage with Tehran will require walking a political tightrope between wooing Iran back to the negotiating table without damaging U.S. relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, or exacerbating the political rift at home that Biden desires to heal. He has his work cut out for him.

Adding the possibility of a renewed political relationship between the U.S. and the “Palestinians” to the already existing concerns of the U.S. renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, will restore the cloud of uncertainty to Israel’s efforts to create a new, peaceful Middle East with countries opposed to Iran’s efforts at hegemony. The Biden administration will try to make its own, new friends, possibly at the expense of some of the old friends of the Trump administration. Problematic in this regard is the designation of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel appeared on Twitter as the “U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza”. The reason for the concern is that at the present time, diplomatic relations with the “PA” dwindled to almost non-existent and need to be renewed. In addition, for the U.S. to appoint an Ambassador to Gaza, diplomatic relations need to be established with Gaza, which is controlled by the terrorist organization, Hamas. Apparently, after considerable outrage to the new designation was expressed over social media, “the West Bank and Gaza” were removed from the title, without explanation, leaving only “U.S. Ambassador to Israel.” Is this an early indication of what is on the horizon? May it never be! But, time will tell whether the decisions of the Biden administration will be beneficial for Israel or not. 

What kind of leader will Joe Biden be? Will he laud it over the people, or will he say, “Follow me?”

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9) 

For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:12)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Operation “National Guinea Pig”? (You Should Excuse the Expression!)

“To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, lines 57-61)

We deal with a multitude of choices every day. For drivers: Can I make the light before it turns red? For shoppers: Should I buy this, because it’s on sale, even though I don’t need it right now? For the fashion minded: Will this match with that? For computer users: Should I open this attachment or not? For present life in Israel: To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is The Question! 

It started with a virus and rapidly spread to become a pandemic. People were getting sick. Some were dying. The race was on. The world needed to find a solution, a vaccine to protect against becoming infected with the virus. Pharmaceutical companies were challenged. Time was of the essence. Who would be the first to develop and to market a vaccine.

In November, 2020, Israel signed a deal with Pfizer, Inc., for 8 million doses of that company’s potential Covid-19 vaccine. According to Pfizer’s C.E.O., the same would be supplied after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (“the FDA”). The dose supply was supposed to be enough to inoculate almost half of the population of Israel with a two-dose application. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted the agreement as “a great day for Israel”, adding that the goal was to receive the vaccine within two months (January, 2021). Israel already had a deal with Moderna, Inc., to receive a future supply of its potential vaccine. 

Things moved swiftly from that point on. Pfizer received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA and the promised doses of vaccine began to arrive in December, 2020, a month earlier than planned. The media took over and pushed the need for the country to be vaccinated and the process began. Then the Prime Minister announced on Thursday of last week that as a result of its deal with Pfizer, all Israelis over the age of 16 would be able to be inoculated by the end of March and that “We are going to be the first country to beat the coronavirus.” He added that “Israel will be a model for the world for the vaccination of an entire country in a campaign called “Back to Life” and that the authorities here would share our “data” with Pfizer in an effort to help develop strategies to defeat the coronavirus.

It is important to understand what P.M. Netanyahu declared to the public, as it was the basis for Israel being able to get millions of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, that will exceed 10 million by mid-March, in addition to the half million doses of the vaccine produced by Moderna. As reported by Globes news service on 8 January, Israel would serve “as a giant testing trial lab for Covid-19 vaccinations” and that Israel would supply Pfizer with “data and details especially gathered for them, including the consequences of the inoculations, side effects, efficacy, amount of time it takes to develop antibodies. according to different types of population, age, gender, preexisting conditions etc.”. Put into colloquial language, “giant testing trial lab” is “guinea pig” (please excuse the expression!).

Obviously, not everyone was happy with the “deal” made with Pfizer, or the push to inoculate the entire country. Opposition began to develop in different circles, medical, immunological, epidemiological and legal. In order to quell the concerns, the Ministry of Health issued a statement, declaring that “The data is shared with the public on a daily basis and this is the same data to be conveyed to Pfizer” and that there was no concern of violating rights to privacy. One would have to be truly gullible to accept the claim that Israel committed itself to share data with Pfizer that was made public. If it was already in the public domain, why would it be necessary for Israel to make a deal concerning it? Pfizer could readily obtain whatever information it wanted by via the internet.

From a pharmaceutical-industry perspective, Israel plays a relatively minor role. Nevertheless, it is a preferred location for clinical trials of treatments and drugs for various reasons. Israel has digitized medical documentation on all of its citizens, which represent a very diverse population of some 9 million people. Its health system is small, but quite efficient, together with a strong research and development infrastructure. The data that has been accumulated, along with all of the statistical data that will become available following the inoculation of the masses, can be of major benefit for pharmaceutical companies. 

The big issue now is transparency and making available to the public the contents of the agreement with Pfizer. One such concern was expressed by Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, who expressed concern that Pfizer was promised “personal data rendered anonymized – that is citizens’ medical files from which names, addresses and ID numbers are removed.” In short, it is a person’s entire medical history. However, according to Shwartz Altshuler, the state of technology is such that “even data that has been rendered anonymous can be ‘de-anonymized’ [making it a] huge risk. But, the issues are more involved than simply being concerned about a violation of privacy.

Making Israel a “giant testing trial lab for Covid-19 vaccinations” is problematic also from a legal point of view. Without getting into the fine points of the law, medical experimentation in Israel on individuals is against the Public Health Regulations, unless there is compliance with very strict guidelines. Injection of an experimental drug into the body falls into the above category and is mentioned in the Regulations. A specific objection is that the experimental drug is still being tested in the U.S., and the testing period is supposed to end on 29 January, 2023. In other words, there is no final certification from the FDA, only an “Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)” of the Covid-19 vaccines for both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The reports relating to the “Emergency Use Authorization” of the vaccines from both of those two companies contain similar language, which includes, among other things: “The (name of the company) COVID-19 Vaccine is an unapproved vaccine that may prevent COVID-19. There is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.” Other objections, among many, relate to the unknown effects of the vaccination on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or how it affects reproductive capability of both men and women. For a copy of the study performed by Pfizer “To Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability, immunogenicity, and Efficacy of SARS-COV-2 RNA Vaccine Candidates Against Covid-19 in Healthy Individuals”, see here, particularly pages 40-44, dealing with the Study Population. With all that being said, why did the FDA grant “Emergency Use Authorization” to both companies? The FDA can issue an EUA when, in its opinion, in the case of a vaccine, “the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks.” That, apparently, was the determination of the FDA with regard to both of the vaccines presently being marketed during the present pandemic.

As of this writing, over 1.9 million people here have been vaccinated with the first dose, with many thousands having already received the second. It is almost a given: people are expected to be injected. The “Start-Up Nation”, “Innovation Nation” is on its way to quickly becoming the “Inoculation Nation”. 

At the present time, the decision of whether or not to be inoculated is a matter of one’s personal opinion. But, with the numbers of those testing positive to the coronavirus spiking to over 9,500 yesterday alone, it would not be beyond the realm of reasonable thought to conclude that not only will the present lockdown be extended, but the pressure on the population to be vaccinated will increase. Eventually, the government may attempt to compel vaccination, indirectly, as a means of making it possible for people to be allowed to travel or to enter into certain facilities. Enter the “green passport”. When one’s livelihood is on the line, there is a tendency to yield to the pressure, even if the person is originally against doing so. Most of Israel, however, will agree to be inoculated and will volunteer to be part of Operation “National Guinea Pig” (my designation). The data regarding how the population will be effected by the drug will be accumulated and passed on. How it will be used and what benefit it will bring to pass remain open questions.

This is voluntary medical experimentation on a national level of an entire population. And the country agreed to pay an exorbitant cash price for the privilege of having an experimental drug injected into our bodies. Of all places, here, in Israel! 

First a crisis. Then the media steps in creating no small degree of panic. Then the government steps in and tells everyone that they need to be inoculated for the public good and their own benefit. What is next?

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is The Question! A remedy that is good for one is not necessarily good for all. This post is not intended to persuade you to not to take the vaccine. Rather, it is to inform, so that you can make an intelligent and informed decision should you choose to be vaccinated, as many have already done and many more will do, trusting that the benefit of being inoculated outweighs the potential harm. God grants wisdom to know how we are to live and what we are to do. Each of us should pray and be assured in our own minds and hearts whether to agree to be inoculated or not.

Whatever decision you make, may you be healthy and may the virus, in any of its forms, be kept far from your doorstep.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah … saying, “Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name, ‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ “For thus says the LORD God of Israel … ‘Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel …’ “Thus says the LORD, ‘Yet again there will be heard in this place … in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem … the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”. (Jeremiah 33:1-4, 6-7, 10-11)

I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1:2).

And remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Out with the Old, in with the … uh, Old

Shalom all,

There is an expression: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” How true of so many things that were carried over from 2020 to 2021. The readers of this Blog in each nation can verify that little has changed over the past week and a half. Each country deals with its own challenges and some issues spill over and affect other countries as well. 

Israel began the new civil year in a lockdown situation, its third, which went into effect on the 27th of December. It was in an alleged response to the number of new infections that steadily climbed to over 8,000 a day, the highest figure in months. The lockdown was supposed to remain in effect for at least two weeks. But, after only a week into it, the government approved an even stricter lockdown that went into effect a few days later, at midnight this past Thursday, the 7th of January. It is expected to cost the economy as much as 4.0 billion shekels ($1.3 billion) a week. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel led the world in dealing with it and then eased off, resulting in a second wave and a second lockdown. Schools and certain businesses were allowed to reopen, even as a significant number of Israelis ignored or willfully violated rules and restrictions regarding travel and social distancing. The second wave grew stronger, resulting in a third lockdown and a reinforced third lockdown, which is the situation today. But, Israel has regained the status of world leader, this time in administering the number of vaccinations against Covid-19 per capita. 

In a speech this past Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s agreement with Pfizer, Inc., which supplied the first doses of vaccine, would allow for all Israelis over the age of 16 to be inoculated by the end of March, if not sooner, adding: “As part of the agreement, we agreed that Israel would serve as a model nation, a model for the world in the swift vaccination of an entire country.” Indeed, about 17.5% of Israel’s population of approximately 9 million, including 70% of citizens aged 60 or older, received the first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Arab citizens and others living in East Jerusalem, have been offered the vaccine, but, according to one major news outlet, many refused to take it. The second round of inoculations is said to begin tomorrow, Sunday.

Still, there is a growing concern over the effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as increased opposition from medical experts as to the need for a third national lockdown and a tightened lockdown. There is no doubt that vaccinating the entire population by the end of March would be a feather in the cap for the Prime Minister, particularly as the country will face another national election on the 23rd of March, its fourth in two years.

The whole business of the vaccinations was not dealt with properly. The government didn’t have clear guidelines regarding it. For a long time, the media said that everyone needs two shots, 2-3 weeks apart. Then, when the doses were dwindling, the health officials were considering giving only one injection, instead of two. This sparked immediate opposition from some medical professionals, who claimed that giving a single dose was like giving nothing. Even worse, giving a single dose would be like experimenting on people. The media did a great job in creating a mini-panic and on the whole, the population responded as expected. The shipment from Moderna, which was supposed to supplement the vaccine received from Pfizer, was reported to be late in arriving. But, lo and behold, the first shipment from Maderna (100,000 doses) arrived also on Thursday. There are clear differences between the Pfizer and Maderna vaccines, particularly with regarding to storage. So, again, a lack of clarity. There are also legal objections to the effort to vaccinate the entire country with what has been defined as an experimental drug, untested in the normal course of granting approval for dissemination, making the population “human guinea pigs” (you should excuse the expression)!

In the midst of all of this, Israel is considering issuance of a “green passport” for those who have been vaccinated and recovered. According to a report in The Times of Israel earlier this week: The Health Ministry on Monday unveiled details of its proposed “green passport” for Israelis who have been inoculated against the coronavirus or recovered from COVID-19, which would grant holders of the document access to large gatherings and cultural venues. Those who test negative for the virus could receive a temporary green passport for 72 hours, while a 6-month green passport would be issued to those who were vaccinated, starting a week after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, or who recovered from COVID-19. Its use is intended to encourage vaccination in an effort to achieve “herd immunity”, which requires the vaccination of 70 percent of the population. The Health Ministry is also planning to issue an additional document for those who were vaccinated, which would exempt them from having to be quarantined. Restrictions relating to occupancy and gatherings would continue. Other countries are considering the Israeli proposal and Israel will decide how to proceed after getting feedback from those countries. 

Notwithstanding all of Israel’s efforts to deal with the challenge of Covid-19, Itamar Grotto, the deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said: “We are winning the vaccine race while losing the battle against the mutation.” He was apparently referring to concerns whether the vaccine would be effective against the South African (501.V2)  variant of the virus, which is more infectious than the original Covid-19, following at least Israelis who tested positive to it, bringing the total of those who tested positive to the variants to 151.

So, the new civil year is very much a continuation of the year that just passed. The health crisis continues, as does the economic crisis and the seemingly never-ending socio-political crisis. To that is added the developing crisis of lack of rainfall. God grants rain in due season as a blessing for obedience, but withholds it when the nation turns its back on Him. (see Deut. 11:10-11)

This Blog usually deals with events as they relate to Israel, both at home as well as abroad. Sometimes, however, events in other countries have an impact on Israel, for good or for bad. Such is the situation regarding this week’s occurrences in the United States. 

The storming of the U.S. Capitol building impacted not only the U.S., but the world as a whole. The bastion of democracy was assaulted. The result was to leave a serious wound on the hide of American society that will take a long time to heal. And, even when it does heal, an ugly scar will remain. I don’t want to get into a political discussion of who was right and who was wrong. When all of the evidence is in, no one will walk away without blame – not rightist, not leftist, not centrist. President-elect, Joe Biden, responded to the situation with clear disgust, saying: “This is not who we are.” 

But, what if it really IS who we are? America has been divided for a long time. It is not alone in that regard. Other countries, including Israel, are in the same category. The divisions and specific interest groups, the hatred, discrimination and bigotries that have festered within America’s borders from east to west and from north to south brought it to a boiling point and then exploded. Yet, the U.S. is strong and has the ability to overcome this latest challenge to its socio-political infrastructure. 

As in most instances where a nation suffers a setback, local or national, it looks for a scapegoat. For countless generations, that scapegoat has been the Jew. Anti-semitism has increased worldwide over the past decade by leaps and bounds and it found almost unfettered expression in the United States. We should all remember that those who touch the Jew touch the “apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). This should not be misunderstood. God’s singling out the nation of Israel has to do with His honor and glory, as well as His faithfulness, and not because of anything that Israel has done or deserves (Deut. 7:7-8). Still, a promise was made to Abraham, a promise that emanates from the God of creation Himself and one that has been played out time and again during the last 4,000 years: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:2-3) It’s not too late for America to get its act together. It needs to get back to Biblical basics.

Archie Bunker was a fictional character from the popular television sitcom of the 1970s, All in the Family. He was a veteran of WWII, a family man and a blue-collar worker. He was also highly opinionated, to put it mildly, putting down everyone and everything with which he didn’t agree. A poster of him sums up the perspective of his character: “There’s a little me in all o’ youse…”. Maybe that really IS who we are. 

Democracy is a relatively fragile thing. It is not etched in stone, but built layer upon layer of struggle, in an effort to form “a perfect union” – a goal envisioned in the Constitution of the United States. Unlike the U.S., the State of Israel is much younger, although as a people we have existed for millenia. Our democratic ideals are also being severely challenged and our legal system is being tested in a way that no one thought would be possible only a few years ago. Could what happened in the U.S. happen here? May it never be! But, we are a divided nation, facing challenges from within as well as from without. We could also reach an internal boiling point.

The U.S. once referred to itself as “one nation under God”. Israel was called to be a nation “under God” in the truest sense, serving under the theocracy of the Almighty. But, despite being warned against it, Israel wanted and was granted a king, so that it could be like the other nations. The result: A kingdom was established. It became a divided kingdom, suffered captivity, was allowed to return to the Land and was punished with a long-term diaspora following unjustified hatred. Only God’s faithfulness restored us to the land and established us as a people. But, we are once again at each other’s throats, with unity being a distant hope. 

It is a new civil year. There is much good that can be done and accomplished if we learn how to work together, keeping our eyes on Him Who is invisible. Man will always disappoint, but God never will. He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond anything we can ask or think. He can restore, heal and unify a divided nation.

Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. (Psalm 146:3-5).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

2021 – How Will We Fill It?

The hands of the clock both stood on 12. It was midnight. One more second and it was a new year. January – a month named after the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces, one to look behind and one to look forward, or one to look to the past and one to look towards the future. 

For a few in the remote regions of “down under”, the turn of the clock and the entry of 2021  was a time of joyful celebration – gathering together, no social distancing, no masks, no restrictions inside the country. For most of the rest of the world, it was just another day passing, perhaps a little longer than the other days earlier in the week. But, with the morning light it was just another day, like the previous 300 days when our normal existence and routines ceased, as a result of events and decisions that were beyond our control. The skies were closed to incoming and outgoing travelers. Internal restrictions were imposed on travel, on entry to locations away from home, on businesses, on numbers who could gather together for different reasons, on tourism and on what many considered simply as leisure activities and more. Facial masks covered both smiles and frowns, fogged up glasses and made it more difficult to understand someone speaking. Compulsive hand-washing and panic over a possible lack of toilet paper took over most of what we consider the be the civilized world. 

The restrictions, of course, were imposed because a health issue that quickly deteriorated into a national, health crisis, which, in turn generated a national, economic crisis. Our vocabulary adapted to the words “lockdown”, “isolation” and “restriction” almost overnight. Schools were closed, businesses were either closed or were allowed to function on a limited basis. Only those places that were considered as “essential” were allowed to remain open. Entire families were required to stay home. Some were allowed to go to work, while multitudes were either placed on a status of “vacation without pay” or worse, had their employment terminated as a direct consequence of the economic crisis. Unemployment soared to approximately a quarter of the work force. Spouses needed to spend more time with each other, parents needed to spend more time with their children. An increase in family violence was reported “from Dan to Beersheva”. Time on the computer increased accordingly, along with uncontrolled viewing of pornography, increased reports of pedophilia, shaming and bullying. 

The government couldn’t make up its mind how to deal with the domestic issues and, instead, focused on international matters. Some countries in the Arab-speaking world entered into open arrangements with Israel, wrongfully designated as “peace agreements”. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel enacted stern measures and treated the virus as an enemy that needed to be quickly defeated. When it looked like victory was around the corner, it eased the restrictions and the situation quickly worsened, resulting in a second national lockdown, somewhat more modified and less restrictive than the first. The skies were opened, some businesses were allowed to re-open, children returned to classes “in” school, rather than “through” Zoom. But, many rebelled at the continuing restrictions and failed to abide by the instructions of the Department of Health. The numbers who tested positive to Covid-19 again began to rise and we are now already one week in our third national lockdown. 

“Big Pharma” competed with one another to produce a vaccine against Covid-19. Along the way, the safeguards of “testing, time and verifiable risks and consequences” that usually accompany the release of a new drug were, on the whole, ignored. The world needed a vaccine and it became available from different companies. Obviously, the end result differs from company to company and from vaccine to vaccine. If one is more effective, then the others are less effective. And if the vaccines were produced to deal with the known strain of Covid-19, the question arises whether they will deal with the mutations (plural) that have already affected some countries. That is a discussion for another time. During the past 10 months, extended family and friends had tested positive to Covid-19. Some became sick, some were hospitalized and died, some from the virus, others from different causes. 

And, in the midst of it all, the government coalition collapsed and, once again, we are facing national elections that will take place at the end of March. 

Israel has inoculated over 1 million people, just over 10% of the population. The “start-up nation” has become the “inoculation nation”. Yesterday, I was notified by the Health Department to make an appointment – on line, of course, to receive the injection. Today, I received a notice not to bother – the Health Department ran out of the vaccine. As soon as the vaccine arrived here, there was a rush to be inoculated. The question of the day quickly became: “Did you get the vaccination?” And, if not, “What are you waiting for?” People were reacting with herd mentality, hoping to develop an aspect of herd immunity. Commercial areas, once bustling with crowds, in recent days again had almost no foot traffic. Normally busy locations had only handfulls of people. There was a sense of concern and fear that we are experiencing the “new normal”. 

If we look back on 2020 and see only the things mentioned above, we are looking at the glass as being “half empty”. Of course, there were other things that occurred during the year that were more encouraging. It was a time of learning to do with less, to appreciate what we have and not to take things for granted. It was a time to be thankful to people whom we usually don’t think of in the course of our lives: health-care professionals; those who wear the uniform and who stand as the guardians of our safety, locally and nationally; teachers, who, despite the difficulties, learned how to instruct from a distance; parents who learned not only how to communicate with their children on an understandable level, but who also learned to listen to them; the postal workers, who kept the mail coming; the people who delivered the groceries that were ordered online, so that we didn’t have to stand in line with someone who didn’t keep his distance; to all those unknown people who reminded us to wear our masks, keep our hands clean and keep our distance; to our families, who continued to encourage us during difficult periods; for the new births, there were 176,000 births and, despite all of the difficulties of the times, approximately 11,000 Israelis living abroad returned home and another 20,000 brave souls made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel). If we stop for a moment and reflect upon the past year, there is much, much more for which we can be thankful. I’m thankful for a healthy and loving family, and for being able to write this, as well as for those who will read it.

The pandemic was and remains a time of testing for all of us. We all respond differently to the tests in life. Some fail, some are challenged and some succeed. The Biblical character, Job said (23:10-12): “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Despite his sufferings and losses, far beyond what most of us will experience on this side of eternity, his reliance remained upon the God of creation to bring him through. He had a perspective that God would not test him beyond what he was able to endure. 

Circumstances can be beyond our control, but not our attitudes. Each new day allows us to act with compassion, kindness, humility and patience, bearing with others who are different, or difficult, and to be forgiving. A right attitude can remove fear, doubt and anxiety and help us to have a proper focus on the essentials. However we might choose to designate the time in which we live, each day is a new opportunity to be thankful – for good health, for a roof over our heads, for clothes on our backs and for food in our stomachs. When we think about it realistically and practically, what more do we need? 

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” (Proverbs 4:25) Time to leave what is behind and press on to what is ahead. “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). May yours be blessed.

May 2021 bring with it abundant good health for each of you, for your families and loved ones. Treat it like an empty vessel and allow God to fill it with His love, joy and peace that passes all understanding.

Please also remember Israel in your prayers. “[The] eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.” (Deut. 11:12)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

A Joe Biden Presidency – What Can Israel Expect?

As of this writing, despite the ongoing/unresolved challenges in a handful of States, certain media outlets have declared Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. The way things look right now, the declarations are expressions of a very likely reality soon to be confirmed, subject to legal challenges from President Donald Trump. If the nation is not divided enough now, it will become even more divided if the courts overturn Biden victories in different States and Trump manages to remain in office.

What is behind us and what may be in front of us? The answers to the questions place the years of the Trump presidency against the potential years of the Biden presidency – vis-a-vis Israel. This cannot be a prognosis, because a diagnosis of the “new reality” still needs to be made. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to consider some facts:

The Trump administration promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (2017) and followed through six months later (May, 2018). The following year, during a visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. During the four years of the Trump administration, there was an intention to accomplish the ultimate business deal, a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, via a peace agreement between Israel and the “Palestinians”, which did not come to pass. The proposed Deal of the Century was offered this year (2020), but not accepted by the  “Palestinians”, who viewed the U.S. as a dishonest broker. The U.S. cut off aid to the “Palestinians” and ties between the Trump administration and the leadership of the “Palestinian” Authority came to an end. This year, the Trump administration was also instrumental in brokering the Abraham Accords, that resulted in three Arab countries signing normalization agreements with Israel. Unfortunately, the signing of those agreement came in exchange for Israel not following through with its plans to annex about a third of the area of Judea and Samaria, as well as the sale of stealth fighter planes to the United Arab Emirates (that still voted against Israel in the U.N.), which could compromise Israeli air supremacy in the Middle East and, as a consequence, create a security risk to the country. We need to see whether Trump’s “lame duck” presidency will generate other pro-Israel measures, or whether plans that were on the drawing board will be put on hold. An attempt to continue trying to convince Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel would be in everyone’s interest, but much will depend on how much time and effort the Biden administration wants to put into the Middle East arena and whether the continuation of such efforts will require Israel to make “concessions” to the “Palestinians”, which was required by most American administrations prior to Trump.

What can we expect from an American administration under the presidency of Joe Biden? We cannot ignore the fact that he was the Vice-President under the Obama administration, which was one of the most, if not the most, anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. That’s eight years of influence that he would bring with him to the White House.

In all likelihood, an attempt will be made to resurrect the so-called “two-state solution” to the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict, which many political pundits considered to be a dead policy. Of necessity, that would mean that the U.S. would oppose any increased settlement activity in Judea and Samaria. Without question, unilateral annexation of territory in those areas is no longer viable – an opportunity missed by the Netanyahu government in favor of normalization agreements with certain Arab countries. Notwithstanding that Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for over 30 years, it is doubtful that such acquaintance would develop into such a friendship that the Biden administration would continue relations with Israel where the Trump administration leaves off. In all likelihood, it would revert to the perspective of the Obama administration and try to dictate to Israel how things should be worked out, namely, through a “two-state” resolution. This would also entail re-establishing diplomatic ties with the “Palestinians” that seriously deteriorated under the Trump administration. This would also fulfil a Biden campaign promise to renew relationships with the “Palestinians”, which could well mean that Biden would direct the reopening of the “Palestinian” mission in Washington that was closed by Trump. Things could be somewhat different, as Biden is not Obama. This remains to be seen. Much will depend upon the politicos in the Senate and House of Representatives. 

A potentially serious area of conflict is the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu fought against, diplomatically, at every opportunity. That deal, of course, was brokered by the Obama administration and eventually cancelled by the Trump administration – a move strongly criticized by Biden. Will Biden, as President, seek to reinstate that deal? It won’t take long before this question is answered.

There are, of course, other issues that a Biden administration would need to deal with, such as financial and military aid to Israel, the sale of highly sophisticated military equipment to enemies of Israel, as well as growing anti-Semitism in the U.S. All this while trying to deal with a nationwide health crisis, as well as the rifts that have occurred in American society during the last few years and, particularly, during the most recent campaign for the presidency.

It doesn’t really matter which side of the political divide we are on right now, whether we voted for this one or that one. We should be in prayer for all of our governments and leaders, local, state and national. Their welfare is our welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

We should always remember that God is still sovereign and in charge. His ways are perfect and often beyond our understanding. He is also able to change the hearts of our leaders and turn them in whatever direction He chooses. (Proverbs 21:1)

Leaders come and go and nations rise and fall. The eyes of the world may be on the United States right now. But, God’s eyes are on the nations of the world to see how they will relate to Israel – the apple of His eye. No nation is exempt. (Gen. 12:3)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

Yom HaKippurim (The Day of Atonements) 2020 – A Double Lockdown

Three years ago, I published a post about Yom HaKipurrim, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It was a sort of primer regarding this holiday, which is also the sixth of the prophetic holidays mentioned in the 23rd chapter of the Book of Leviticus.

As is the case every year, the country comes to a standstill. With the exception of exclusively Arab areas, all traffic stops, businesses are closed, synagogues are filled with the observant, who attend religious services regularly and consistently, and with the less observant, who attend services sporadically and sometimes, only on this day. There is a sense of reverence, of awe, congregations lifting up genuine and heartfelt prayers before the Throne of God, the King of the Universe, prayers of thanksgiving, of apology, of repentance. Ancient melodies are sung in unison, some with tears of sorrow, others with joy. The congregation rises when the closet containing the Holy Scriptures (Aron HaKodesh) is opened and they sit when it is closed. Particularly portions of the Bible are read that are significant to the them of the day: judgment. Multitudes try to fast for 25 hours, in an effort to atone for the sins of the past year. The long blast of the Shofar, the ram’s horn, signifying the end of this special day and the breaking of the fast with family members and often, with guests. The following day, the country returns to its normal pace,

This year was different. The country came to a standstill again, but it was at a 90% standstill for a week preceding Yom HaKippurim. Synagogues were not full, but practically empty. People were allowed to attend services, but only outside and in small groups (capsules). Even the Prime Minister suggested that people pray outside of the synagogue or at home. Those who chose to participate in the special services held on this day had to maintain a distance of two meters (just over 6 feet) from each other. It was a hot day and the worshippers needed to be outside for hours on end, rather than inside an air-conditioned facility. Not everyone heeded those instructions. Still, the special atmosphere that usually attends this solemn day was missing. 

Israel has been in a modified, national lockdown since just before Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, which began on Friday, September 18th. We are the first country to have a second, national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. After successfully tackling the first wave of the virus from February through mid-May, the rapid relaxation of the restrictions resulted in a rapid re-emergence of the virus. This small country has been experiencing between between 7,000-8,400 new cases per day for the past week. Hospitals are over-loaded and understaffed. Over 1,500 deaths have occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. I personally know people who have tested positive and others, including myself, who have had to be in isolation for up to two weeks because of exposure to someone who tested positive. Lockdown appeared to be the only reasonable measure to take in an effort to curtail the growing numbers of those infected. But, should it have been?

Throughout the past week, the out-of-control coronavirus shared the headlines with the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Some tried to compare the failures that led up to that war with the failures that led to the present health crisis, a crisis which gained Israel the reputation of having the highest infection rate per capita than any other country in the world. And, as of today, we even surpassed the United States in having the most coronavirus deaths per capita

Can we really compare the failures that brought about the military crisis in the Yom Kippur War and the health crisis of Yom Kippur 2020? I don’t think so. From a practical point of view, the present crisis is far worse. During and after the was of 1973, that took place on the most sacred day of the year, there were individuals who were held accountable for the intelligence and tactical failures. It took a little while, but the country assessed the tactical issues and dealt with them as they needed to do and the tide of the war turned. Despite the heavy loss of life, the nation recognized that the war needed to be fought effectively in order to win. There was no other option. It pulled together, worked together, fought together, mourned together and overcame together. Everyone recognized that they needed to cooperate and do their part in order to be victorious.

Not so with the war against the coronavirus of 2020. Leadership is lacking, responsibility is being blamed on “the other guy”. The numbers of dead and wounded are continually on the rise. But, the population is not behind the effort to win the war against the virus. From the leaders in the government to the people on the street, there is a lack of unity and a lack of clear direction how to fight. As a result, they end up fighting each other, rather than their common enemy. We see divisions and old polarizations, particularly between the religious and the secular segments of society, between those who blindly support the government and those who blindly oppose it, between those on the “right” and those on the “left”. Each faction claims to know best. But, no single segment of our society has exclusive rights to define how democracy should function or how one can exercise his faith. There are demonstrations that regularly take place against Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government’s handing of the health crisis. But, in doing do, they congregate together, most often without facial masks as a form of protest against the government, adding to the likelihood of widespread infection. Then, there are the religious factions, who largely ignore the rules of wearing a mask and social distancing. Not all, but enough.

So, it was almost inevitable that a nation-wide lockdown would be re-imposed, except for what is deemed to be an essential service. In the process, everyone is affected, men and women, young and old, school children (who may not be able to return to school until the end of the year), small businesses and many others. Unemployment remains extremely high. The economy is faltering and it may not be able to regain its strength for at least two years. Somebody needs to yell out “Stop. You’re fighting the wrong enemy. We can’t continue to fight against ourselves.” The divisions are being fuelled by the media, as usual, each with its own political perspective and agenda. Some want to bring down the government. Others want the protests and demonstrations to stop and give the government an opportunity to act like a government should. After all, they have their partisan interests at stake in causing the government to remain in power.

Yom HaKippurim is a day of introspection and soul-searching. It is a time to reflect on our sins, individual and national. It is a time to repent and to try to make things right. As long as we continue to fight against each other, the microscopic, silent killer that has invaded our land will continue to claim victims. The first lockdown was successful because the population saw that the danger was real and everyone was afraid of contracting the disease. Now, with theories debunking the seriousness of the coronavirus and the perspective that there are other, political issues that are more important than our health, people are doing what each considers to be right in his own sight.

We can make “peace agreements” with other countries in the Middle East. But, what good is it, if we can’t visit each other for fear of getting sick? Flights out of the country have been cancelled. The tourism industry here is at a standstill. Many businesses that rely on tourism during the holiday season (Passover through the Feast of Tabernacles – April to October) to make it through the year, are on the verge of collapse.

Less than a week ago, the Prime Minister stated: “We are at war – the Corona War . . . Only if we work together can we deal the virus – and we will defeat it.”

Those are not empty words. Israel knows how to fight a war. It requires, among other things, cooperation and determination on a national scale. We are a small family and cannot afford internal disunity. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Yom Kippur is a time of that is particularly appropriate to forgiveness, seeking it from God and from one another and granting it to others. Asking for forgiveness is a humbling experience. But, a little humility, when genuine, can go a long way. 

“[If] My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Knowing who we are; humbling ourselves; praying; seeking God; turning away from evil. Sounds like it fits perfectly with Yom HaKippurim. That shouldn’t be too hard. Or, maybe we don’t believe it because it sounds too easy. 

Why is it that the lessons we learn the best in life are the ones that hurt us the most or cost us the most. 

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

The Israel-United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Deals

Shalom all,

It’s been quite a week. What began with an announcement on 13th August, 2020, came to realization last Tuesday (15th September) with the signing of what has been designated as the “Abraham Accords” on the lawn of the White House. Israel signed two agreements – one with the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) and another with Bahrain. All three countries signed The Abraham Accords Declaration. Israel and the UAE also signed “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between The United Arab Emirates and The State of Israel”. Israel and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords: “Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations”. The full text of all three documents can be seen here.  While the document signed with the UAE is designated as a Treaty of Peace, the one signed with Bahrain is designated as a Declaration of Peace. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is probably the first international agreement negotiated and concluded, prior to signing, via Zoom.

A peace agreement was signed with Egypt in 1979 and another was signed with Jordan in 1994. Since then and until a week ago, no other “peace agreement” was signed with any Arab country in the region. There is no question that after a lapse of 27 years, the signing of two “peace agreements” on the same day, between Israel and two Arab Moslem countries, is certainly an historic event. There is no doubt that all three countries will benefit from the agreements that were signed. Even my daughter, who makes natural soaps and candles, received an online order from someone in the UAE only a few days following the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the agreements, stating that they “[bring] hope to all of the children of Abraham” and usher in a “new era of peace.” He added that the deal with the UAE was for “full, formal peace” [with] one of the strongest countries in the world.” The interesting thing to note is that “peace agreements” were signed with two countries who were never at war with Israel, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. In a practical sense, the agreements that were signed were normalization agreements that allow for the signatory countries to estabish diplomatic relations with one another and all that flows from well-intentioned, good faith agreements signed between sovereign nations.

For Israel, it is a major accomplishment. It crushed the long-standing, Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by the Arab League in 2002. That “initiative” calls for full diplomatic ties to be established between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world, conditioned on: the “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a “Palestinian” state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the “Palestinian” refugee question. That initiative, which never had a realistic possibility of being implemented, at least not under Netanyahu’s watch, is a cloud without water and will, hopefully, die a rapid death, as other countries in the region line up to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain and as other countries decide to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem. But, the Middle East being the Middle East, it is also possible that those Arab and Muslim countries who are, or will be, in the process of normalizing relations with Israel could form a coalition of “friendly countries” and make a coordinated effort to pressure Israel to make peace with the “Palestinians” along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative, although it would be a somewhat modified initiative. When that peace doesn’t happen, the “normalization of relations” will be tested to the limit.

Still, normalization with the UAE and Bahrain is also a wake-up call to the “Palestinians”, in that they can no longer control the establishment of “peaceful relations” between Israel and sovereign Arab states that share security and other interests. It should also send a message to the entire Arab bloc that the cause of the “Palestinians” is of less importance to some Arab countries than the issue of containing the threat posed by Iran. Another factor to take into account is that the longer the “Palestinians” remain adamant in refusing to recognize Israel as an independent, sovereign country, the more it will become isolated from the more moderate-thinking Arab countries, who recognize that peace canbe made with a right-wing, Israeli government.

The agreement with UAE and Bahrain was made without Israel having to actively give away any territory, which had always been a pre-requisite for entering into any agreement with the “Palestinians”. Netanyahu was convinced that “this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.”

As an optimist, I would want to agree with Netanyahu’s statement. But, I am not a politician, so I don’t have to make broad, sweeping statements that are unrealistic. It is encouraging that there are countries in this region whose leadership have enough common sense to realize that Israel is here to stay, that Israel is not a threat to them, that establishing normalization with Israel will have practical, and even spiritual, benefits that flow from the outworking of the Abrahamic Covenant: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen. 12:3).

Almost immediately after the announcement was made in August that the UAE and Israel were going to establish normalization, or call it whatever you want, the major question that arose was “What is this going to cost Israel?” It didn’t take long for the question to be answered. 

First:it generated a freeze to the plans of annexation. Netanyahu claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to put a “temporary halt” to annexation of portions of Judea and Samaria, as part of the deal to be concluded with the UAE and potentially with other Arab countries. Nevertheless, Netanyahu claims to remain committed to applying sovereignty in Judea and Samara, which will be coordinated with the U.S. President Trump, who on the other hand, emphatically stated that annexation was no longer a matter for discussion. “Israel has agreed not to do it. More than off the table, they have agreed not to do it…I think that very important. I think it was a great concession by Israel, I think it was a smart concession.” Trump’s Ambassador to Israel then stepped in and said that annexation was off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently. Add to that the statement of Senior White House official, Jared Kushner, that President Trump would not allow Israel to go back on its pledge to defer  plans for establishing sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria in exchange for normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates: “President Trump is committed to holding them accountable to it, and Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent…[and] we do not plan to give our consent for some time, as right now the focus has to be on getting this new peace agreement implemented.” 

From the UAE side, there is the statement by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE, made on the same day of the announcement of the upcoming process of normalization, that an agreement was reached “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” adding afterwards, that the two sides “also  agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.” The order of his comments is important: stopping the planned annexation and then establishing a bilateral relationship. To this, we need to add and reflect on the statement of the Director of Strategic Communications at the Foreign Ministry of the UAE, Hend al-Otaiba, that Abu Dhabi remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative. Or, as stated by another UAE spokesperson: “A two-state solution is at the heart of the Arab Peace Initiative. In the absence of a freeze on annexation, a two-state solution will quickly cease to be a possibility.” So, who are we going to believe? There are probably pieces of truth from all of them. The question is: What pieces?

Second:Behind the scenes and the rhetoric of the politicians was the “business deal” whereby the U.S. would sell F-35 fighters to the UAE. It is to be understood that Israel and the UAE have been in a normalization mode for years, the formalization of which was enabled through the intermediary of the U.S. The UAE is a very close neighbor of Iran, physically, a fact that undoubtedly weighed heavily in Abu Dhabi’s thinking of the risk involved in normalization with Israel versus the benefits, including the security benefit, to be derived by it, the most immediate of which is the sale of F-35 advanced, stealth-fighter planes to the Emirates. Warming up to Jerusalem was a warming up also to Washington.

The sale of F-35s to the UAE has prompted inquiry and concern in Israel. The primary concern is the potential loss of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East, a qualitative edge to which the U.S. was legally committed. Those who oppose the sale point to the instability of the region and that if the U.S. sells the F-35s stealth fighters, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to sell them to other countries in the Middle East with whom the U.S. maintains strong ties, such as Saudi Arabia, which is strongly committed to the Arab Initiative. Those who don’t object to the sale see it as a trust-building measure with Israel’s “new partner” that could strengthen the normalization process with the UAE. With this reasoning, those who are supportive of the sale believe that the fledgling normalization agreement would run into difficulties at the outset, endangering the newly-established relationship. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu denied that he consented to the sale of F-35s to the UAE. But, the failure to actively consent does not eliminate the strong possibility, or even probability, that there was passive acceptance of the sale, in order to conclude the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE. It should be clear that the QME that Israel has is not dependent solely upon its supremacy in the air, but on its overall tactical, military edge over its neighbors. Still, from a strictly human perspective, air superiority has always been a prominent factor in Israel’s military achievements.

President Trump is still a businessman and he sees almost all things from a business perspective. So, only a week after the announcement of the “peace/normalization” agreements, he expressed a willingness to move forward with the sale to the UAE. After all, it’s all about money: “They’d like to buy the F-35, it’s under review, we’ll see what happens. They have the money to pay.”According to reports in the U.S. media, Jared Kushnir, Trump’s son-in-law, brokered the deal for the UAE to buy F-35s, inasmuch as his father-in-law has no problem with it and even sees it as an asset, not as a liability. So, despite objections from Israel, the deal for selling F-35s to the UAE is moving forward and may be concluded before the end of this year.  

Would the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE have taken place without Israel’s agreement not to move forward with annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria? Would last week’s event have taken place without the understanding that the U.S. would sell advanced, stealth fighters to the UAE, without the tacit consent of Israel’s Prime Minister? I strongly doubt it. Both Trump and Netanyahu needed a public-relations shot in the arm for different reasons. In politics, the timing of events is often a key factor in swaying voter opinion. It is the rare politician whose “yes” means “yes” and whose “no” means “no”. Foreign policy success can never be an adequate substitute for domestic failure. A good, international business deal should never be the basis for compromising on Israel’s security. 

Lockdown on Rosh Hashana. One more thing. A partial lockdown was imposed immediately before the start of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). It will last for 3 weeks and then a decision will be made whether it should be continued or not, and if so, how. In the meantime, there is considerable opposition to the lockdown. Numbers of those who tested positive for Covid-19 continue to climb, while large segments of the population continue to ignore the guidelines of the Health Department. The politics of the pandemic!

Yes, it’s been quite a week. 

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth…Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121: 1-2 4)

May the Lord bless you from Zion (Psalm 128:5; 134:3)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

The Terror Of “The Bug”!

It’s the 11th of September, a date colloquially referred to as 9/11. The United States remembers! Israel remembers! The world remembers! The families of the victims of the terrorist destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, of the attack on the Pentagon and of the hijacked planes, will never forget! The events of that day, 19 years ago, changed the world. The photos of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers are etched in our collective sub-conscience. Thousands died because of the acts of those whose hatred had gone amuck and exceeded all bounds of reason, who held to a warped ideology and a supremacist worldview. Every airline passenger became an object of suspicion, particularly if one came from a certain region. Metal detectors and body scanners sprung up seemingly overnight. Personal searches were said to be justified because of national security. We began to live with a “new normal”, as uncomfortable as that may have been.

All of that, and more, are the out-workings of human, terrorist activity. They are people, visible, who can communicate – intelligently or not – who use weapons large and small, who can be fought … and beaten and eliminated. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence known in Israel, the government related to it like an invading enemy. It took appropriate measures, sought expert advice from various fields and went to war against a “bug”, a “microbe” that attacks silently, but whose presence is expressed publicly, wreaking health havoc in its wake. Many refused to accept that Covid-19 was a matter to be taken seriously and they laughed at the government’s concerns, claiming that it was part of one conspiracy or another. But, this virus crossed national borders with ease and without a passport, making a laughing stock out of the entire world. So, when Israel was under attack by the “bug”, we initiated stern measures, including extended lockdown, with severe restrictions on movement and assembly. 

People complained of the discomfort, of the harm being done to families (who needed to learn how to live together throughout the day), to the school system, to the religious communities, to the business sector, including every aspect of the tourism industry. And then, after push came to shove, the curve began to flatten, there were more who were healed of the virus than those who were sick and anticipation of a return to a degree of normalcy spread rapidly throughout the country. People wanted to go back to work, they wanted to be able to earn a living and provide for their families. They wanted to open the doors to their businesses and to travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet = 546 yards) from their homes. They wanted to return to their religious assemblies and to gather freely, without wearing masks or social distancing. And the government cow-towed to the wishes of the people. Restrictions were eased, children went back to school, limited indoor and outdoor gatherings were allowed. And the people thought the health war was behind them and they could now deal with the consequences of the fallout that devastated the economy. If there was ever a miscalculation on the part of government, this nation has experienced, and is still experiencing, it.

The lockdown, complained about by so many across the board, accomplished its purpose. When Israelis emerged from the lockdown, the national attitude became lackadaisical. Instructions of the health ministry were largely ignored. Gatherings took place without social distancing. People wore masks, but more as a decoration, keeping them below their chins, exposing nose and mouth that were to be protected by the masks. They, like the rest of the world, waited for the development of a vaccine, many of whom expected that it would come from Israel. After all, we are the “start-up nation”. 

Then, reality set it. The unemployment rate soared, going from around 4% of the workforce, before the pandemic, to over 20% and it remains at 21% to this date. People took to the streets in demonstrations that started small and ended up with multitudes, some of which became violent. They blamed it all on the government and, particularly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They called and continue to call for his resignation, not just because of the way that the protesters say he mishandled the health crisis, but because he is under indictment on separate charges of corruption. The truth or falsity of the indictments against him will be decided by the court, not in this blog post. 

The protesters gathered in multitudes, in close proximity to one another, many without masks. Within a short period of time, the “bug”, whose deadly impact was denied by so many, made a comeback with a passion. The renewed attack on our national health was experienced by schools, many of which closed down shortly after reopening, sending thousands into a two-week period of isolation. Employees of a multitude of businesses were sent into isolation because of exposure to one person, who tested positive to Covid-19. Thousands of businesses were again affected with many releasing their employees on “vacation without pay”. The numbers began to soar, the lowered curve began to rise again. 

This tiny stretch of desert sand, developed as it may be technologically, continued to ignore the warnings of failure to abide by the guidelines of the health department. Double-digit infections climbed to over a hundred, then two hundred, then a thousand and, as of yesterday, over 4,000 new cases a day. Almost 1,100 people have died so far from the virus. Those who laughed before are not laughing now. Some continue to deny the reality of a national health crisis. Hospitals are bursting at the seams with patients and may soon reach the point of super-saturation, where they can’t handle any more patients, whether coronavirus or otherwise. Health professionals are over-burdened and exhausted and there is concern that the senior population will again become the primary victims of the second wave, as they were during the first wave. Almost no concern is being expressed over a possible third wave that could come in during the approaching Fall and Winter seasons, with the tens of thousands who are affected annually by the flu.

Those who pooh-poohed the government’s efforts to contain and defeat Covid-19 during the first wave are now the most vocal in condemning the government for listening to the voice of the people and easing the restrictions that kept the virus under control. And now, instead of being at the head of the list of countries dealing with the pandemic, we are at the tail. Israel has garnered accolades for its innovations in medicine, science, industry and agriculture, among many other areas. It has gained the reputation of being the “start-up nation”, because of the initiatives and inventiveness of a small percentage of the population. But now, because of lack of initiative, inventiveness and decisiveness, the present government went from hero to zero in its failing to effectively deal with the health crisis and the resulting economic crisis. Israel has recently gained the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate, per capita. This small country is facing the inevitable – a total shut-down for at least two weeks, beginning next Friday, before the start of the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The ultra-orthodox have vowed to disobey lockdown rules during those holidays. Another lockdown could result in an economic collapse from which it will not quickly recover.

The country is now divided into zones of red (worst), orange (second worst, which includes Haifa), yellow (not severe) and green (best). Restrictions will be determined according to zone color. But, the nationwide lockdown will affect everyone. And, political consequences will certainly follow. If another election were to take place today, it is highly doubtful that P.M. Netanyahu will be able to pull another rabbit out his non-existing hat.

We are not a high-tech nation. We are a mixed population from a wide variety of different backgrounds and ideologies, goals and world views. A solid ninety percent of the population works hard to earn their daily bread and to live honorably and with respect. Many are the victims of the economic crisis engendered by the inconsistent handling of the health crisis. What will happen as a result of another nationwide lockdown? I don’t want to think the worst, even though we could end up with full-scale, violent riots and even uprisings along the religious and secular divide.

But, with all that said, I would be remiss if I failed to remember and remind that this is Israel, a nation called by God, established by His promise and not forgotten by Him. He remains faithful, even when those whom He has called have turned their hearts to the things of this world. We have endured much, in afflictions, hardships, distresses and deprivations, pogroms and genocidal attempts to destroy us as a people. Yet, God has kept His remnant and allowed us to be restored to the land of our fathers. When we will be tested in the furnace of affliction, we will be refined and come forth like silver and gold. Despite the unceasing efforts by many throughout the millenia to kill us, yet we live. We experience sorrow, yet we rejoice. We have little, but possess all things.

This is a tough time for Israel. Despite recent political achievements with some of our neighbors, some as recent as today, still, we are going through a national, socio-political time of crisis. For those of you who read this and believe in prayer, I would appeal to you to pray for wisdom for the national leadership. It is time to take serious care of things at home. Also please pray for those who are afflicted with Covid-19 and their families, as well as for those who lost their livelihoods because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. “The value of consistent prayer is not that God will hear us but that we will hear him.” (William J. McGill). Knowing God’s will enable our prayers to become more effective and that, in turn, will help to give permanence to the work of our hands. It’s a win-win situation. Prayer doesn’t change things, it changes us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

The Beirut Explosion – When Weapons of Hatred Backfired

Shalom all,

“Misery is now palpable across the country, in the rows of shuttered shops, in the garbage piling up in different neighborhoods as basic services are disrupted, and in the darkness of the nighttime streets of Beirut as electricity cuts soar to 20 hours a day.” One would think that this is a reasonable aftermath of the explosions that rocked Beirut only one short week ago. But, it isn’t. This was written by Lina Mounzer, a Lebanese writer and translator, in an article in the New York Times only one day before the explosion in Beirut. She continues: “[It] has become clear that there is nothing truly resilient about Lebanon except its politicians and ancient warlords, who refuse to step down, even after their profiteering has bankrupted the country and its people.” 

The day after that article was published, Beirut, once dubbed the Paris of the Middle East, suffered a devastating series of explosions, with the last one looking much like an atomic blast. It needs to be seen.

Before the smoke settled, speculation about the blast was rampant. What happened, what caused it, why, who is responsible? Accusations of local causation and responsibility, as well as foreign intervention were quick to surface. And, of course, along with the finger-pointing were the denials and counter accusations.

When the dust did settle, the extent of the devastation became clear, but the consequences of the blast are still being discovered. At least 160 people died as a direct result of the massive explosion. Over 6,000 people were wounded and over 300,000 have been made homeless. As the numbers grew, so did the wave of public outrage at the government, along with massive demonstrations and clashes with government security forces. Now, one week after the crippling explosions and contrary to the claim in the NYTimes article that the Lebanese politicians “refuse to step down”, the harsh realities following the explosion in Beirut, the entire Lebanese government resigned.

Israel offered, through intermediaries, to provide humanitarian aid to Lebanon, but the offer was rejected. Lebanon’s antagonism towards Israel is greater than its desire to help its suffering population. Israel’s extended hand of help to save life was slapped away by political considerations motivated by hatred. Has the leadership of Lebanon forgotten the help that Israel has extended even to her enemies? What kind of heart and mind rejects an offer to help locate missing persons under the rubble of collapsed buildings, an offer of medical assistance, an offer of humanitarian aid for multitudes of injured and homeless? It boggles the mind to think that a government would rather see its people suffer and die than accept assistance from a country they want to keep as an enemy, even though that country could ease their suffering and help to keep them alive. An act of kindness could go a long way to help turn enemyship into friendship.

Are there answers to some of the questions about the explosion? In a reasoned article entitled What Really Happened at the Port of Beirut?, Lt. Col. (reserves) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, of The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), concludes: 

“What probably happened on August 4 was an explosion of volatile and flammable materials that were incorrectly stored by Hezbollah for at least a day in a metal, non-airconditioned warehouse. As it is midsummer, temperatures are very high. I believe missile-fuel fumes evaporated from a container and touched the hot wall or ceiling, where they ignited and caused a chain reaction of explosions. 

“Less than an hour after the explosions, Hezbollah announced that the exploded material was ammonium nitrate. Hezbollah was the first to report it. The reason: Hezbollah was looking for a way to cover up its own negligence and establish an official version that deflected attention away from itself, because no one in the government would dare contradict them.

Since when do we take Nasrallah to be truthful?

The finger against Hezbollah finds widespread support, including an analysis by Zvi Yehezkeli, one of Israel’s top investigative reporters. Yehezkeli is fluent in Arabic and has reported from “behind the scenes”, having twice infiltrated Islamic groups in Europe to report on how the Islamic State and Muslim Brotherhood operate there. In a radio interview that took place four days after the massive blast, he stated: “I see Nasrallah (the General Secretary of the Hezbollah terrorist organization) as the main culprit and the main person responsible for holding and bringing this material, the ammonium nitrate to the port warehouses. As the person in charge of the port and the border crossings, that is what he is currently trying to evade.”  When asked in the interview whether the ammonium nitrate was intended for use against Israel, Yehezkeli’s response was: “Certainly. This material is the most available material for semi-military and terrorist organizations to obtain top-level explosions. It is material that was supposed to be used against us in the Third Lebanon War.” 

There is good reason for Yehezkeli’s comments. In a televised speech given on 16 February, 2016, Nasrallah threatened the Israeli ammonia storage facility in Haifa, claiming that a missile attack on the ammonia tanks would have the impact of a nuclear bomb, adding that this means that Lebanon has a nuclear bomb “this is no exaggeration” and such an attack on the Haifa ammonia facilities would potentially cause tens of thousands of deaths.

Israel’s Minister of Defense and Prime Minister in waiting, Benny Gantz, said that the Hezbollah was Lebanon’s biggest problem, as well as Israel’s biggest enemy to the north. He noted: “In Lebanon, in a house, there is a guest room and a missile room — in the same house! When that missile explodes, the guest room doesn’t stay whole, and the Lebanese civilian society will pay dearly. As a security network, we are fighting enemies that keep weapons and operate in civilian surroundings. If we don’t have a choice but to fight, it will have dire consequences”. Stated differently, the next war with Hezbollah will be a mess and will, in all likelihood, include our neighbor to the northeast, Syria. 

With the resignation of the Lebanese government, the chaos generated by last week’s catastrophic explosions leaves the country in a crisis situation, significantly more severe than that which existed immediately prior to the devastation. This provides an opportunity for the Hezbollah to step in and pave the way for its patron, Iran, to exercise its influence over the country in ways that few have imagined. Lebanon may rise from the ashes, but what form will it take? The answer to this question is presently an unknown that Israel needs to prepare for – not an easy task when dealing with an enemy who has no morals and is sworn to our destruction. May God grant abundant wisdom to the leadership of our country and strengthen the arms of those who stand on the walls day and night to protect us from those who would seek to do us harm.

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD, and whose deeds are done in a dark place and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:15)

No weapon that is formed against you will prosper. (Isaiah 54:17)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Amalek, 2020

Shalom all.

July in Israel is usually a hot month, at least from a weather and temperature point of view. But, this is not an ordinary July. The coronavirus is in its second wave here, with alarming increases in the number of those who tested positive to the virus. The present, coronavirus-economic crisis has affected multitudes of individuals and businesses, which, in turn, has generated 11 days of demonstrations and protests in front of the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in other locations throughout Israel. The north of Israel is heating up militarily, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is prepping for a possible confrontation with the Hezbollah, an extremist Shiite Muslim terrorist group supported by Iran, whose existence necessitates that the IDF is informed, determined and decisive in its actions. And, of course, Israel continues to deal with the disease of anti-semitism, sometimes disguised as anti-zionism or anti-Israel (collectively “anti-Israelism). It is a disease that cannot be studied in a medical laboratory under an electron microscope, nor is there a vaccine that will neutralize it and protect against it. Yet, it is pandemic and has been with us since we were freed from slavery to Egypt and were called as a nation.

The subject is too broad and pervasive to be dealt with in a short blog post. Still, my thoughts are to focus on one aspect of anti-Israelism that is not part of daily discourse, namely: Amalek, who reared his ugly head throughout the millenia and is doing so still today.

Many of those who subscribe to this blog may not be familiar with Amalek. A brief explanation is warranted. Amalek was the first enemy nation that the Israelites encountered after they crossed the Red Sea following their release from slavery under Pharaoh. According to the Book of Exodus (Exo. 17:6-16; 18:5), the Amalekites attacked the Israelites, but were defeated, although not totally destroyed. Moses was then instructed by the LORD to memorialize in writing that the LORD would utterly blot out memory of Amalek from under heaven. To commemorate the victory, Moses built an altar to the LORD and proclaimed that “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” As Israel was about to enter the land after its wilderness wanderings, she was again instructed regarding Amalek (Deut. 25:17-19):

“Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” (emphasis mine)

The passages quoted or referred to point out several things: (1) war with Amalek continues from generation to generation; (2) Amalek attacks from the rear: (3) Amalek attacks when we are faint and weary; (4) Amalek attacks “stragglers”; (5) Amalek has no fear of God and (6) the memory of Amalek needs to be blotted out. This is not intended as a Bible study, so I won’t undertake an exegesis of the above passages. Still, some historical data is important to grasp the reason why we need to remember what Amalek did when the Israelites came out from Egypt and the final instruction: “you must not forget”.

The grandfather of Amalek was Esau, who sold his birthright to Jacob for bread and a bowl of lentil soup (Gen. 25:34). Esau determined to kill Jacob, who was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but only after the death of their father, Isaac. He didn’t take into account that Jacob could have children before Isaac died and, therefore, nothing would be gained if he succeeded in accomplishing his goal to kill his brother, if Jacob was survived by at least one son. Centuries later, Pharaoh tried to kill every Jewish male at birth, but God intervened and allowed the life of Moses (and other Israelite male children) to be spared. Further along in our history reveals Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews (Esther 3:6), so that none survive. The Romans did their part in destroying the nation. They were followed by religious persecution over the centuries and mass murder of Jews by the Crusaders, followed ultimately by pogroms and ultimately Hitler’s attempt at the “final solution” to rid the world of Jews. 

The goal of Amalek is the annihilation of the Jews (Psalm 83:7). A major theme in the Passover Hagaddah (the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt) is: “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.” This is the collective outcry of the Jewish people, whose history has been one long anti-semitic, anti-Jewish progrom. In every generation, there is an Amalek who rises up against the Jewish people. Even though he has been called by different names and titles, his modus operandi is always the same: Get the masses stirred up over a particular event and then blame the Jews for causing it or being behind it. Don’t confuse the masses with facts, just present the situation as being true. Hatred, prejudice, jealousy and ignorance will take over. Amalek continues to war against the Jewish people.

By whatever name he is called now, Amalek definitely exists. It is evident in the anti-semitic events taking place daily throughout the world. The mass media, politicians, anti-Israel organizations, academicians, sports personnel, news reporters, performers of all kinds, and lay people from every walk of life, rally around the call to condemn the Jew, remove any influence he may have and then eliminate him from involvement in society. Israel’s very existence is hard pill for them to swallow, so they seek ways to delegimitize Israel and accuse it of whatever wrongs they can think of. It is a very sad commentary of the times in which we live when claims of anti-semitism are being whitewashed and ignored. One scholar recently questioned: Racism is recognized as intrinsic to Western societies. Why isn’t Antisemitism?

In today’s emotionally-charged demonstrations and protests against authority and history, we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the hatred that is swallowing up societies around the world. Conspiracy theories abound that foster anti-semitism. There is no paucity of conspiracy theories today or the people behind them who consciously or subconsciously compete with each other to come up with the best conspiracy to lay at the feet of the Jewish people.

We are told to remember what Amalek did. This is reinforced by the command: “you must not forget”. The reason is simple: If we forget, we won’t do anything to prevent it from happening again. We won’t act against Amalek’s efforts. We won’t “love our “Jewish” neighbor as ourselves”. We’ll excuse our non-action with a statement that “The Jew’s life doesn’t matter. His situation doesn’t affect my citadel of self: I, me, mine, myself, my life, my family or my possessions.” Hatred is color blind. It is a disease that affects people of every color and language and every belief and particularly, throughout the millennia, the Jew. Amalek is the manifestation of a spiritual disease, which the eternal Word of Truth describes as a hatred for God and Israel (Psalm 83:1-5). Amalek’s end is sure. It will be destruction (Number 24:20). 

It’s the beginning of a new week. With a little help, it can turn out better than last week.

He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. (Psalm 91:15)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

“I Take Responsibility!”

It’s hard to believe. With all that has been going on here … and there, these pages remained silent. Sometimes, we just need to take a break from the pressures of the tyranny of the urgent. The pandemic came, gave the appearance that it was leaving and then changed its mind and is now flexing its muscles again. The economic crisis that appeared to get a measure of encouragement, but was floundering at best, is again threatening to cause severe financial hardship to multitudes here. The plan of annexation that was supposed to go into effect at the beginning of July has been delayed and there is no determinative date for its implication. Anti-semitism has found new avenues of expression. Dissatisfaction with politicians, demonstrators and even riots and the diminution of respect for governmental authority and decisions have all continued during the past two months. And, for the most part, they have only gotten worse. 

During this time, the media hasn’t learned the lesson that those behind the headlines who condemn government, politics and “the left” or “the right”, “the liberals” or “the conservatives” are, for the most part, affected by the consequences of the same venomous rhetoric that they spew forth in both the public media and social media in an attempt to convince the mass multitudes that their ideology is the correct one. We’ve been inundated with reports of demonstrations against police brutality in various countries and have seen the consequences of some the riots that have broken out as a result – a phenomenon that expanded nationally and internationally. And, with all that has been said and done, more has been said than has been done and very little forward progress has been made.

It’s been four months since the coronavirus became a serious issue in Israel and was quickly categorized as a pandemic. The economic consequences that followed of dealing with the pandemic quickly became a financial crisis. During this time, there was no shortage of doomsday prognosticators who voiced their opinions, both in Israel and abroad, that were, and still are, designed to sway the multitudes to accepting that authority needs to be challenged and governments need to be toppled and replaced by those whose worldview is more in tune with the movers and the shakers. It’s easy to criticize and condemn, particularly when no viable alternative is offered with a plan to “make right the things that are wrong”. So, we are often left with accusations against local, regional and national leaders made with a desire to replace them with so-and-so. But, there are no guarantees. Political promises made before elections are intended to garner votes at election time. They are not unconditional commitments to carry out a particular plan for the good of society as a whole. They are more like expressions “I would hope to be able to do this that and the other” when you, the voter, elect me to office because you want to believe that I might actually be able to do what I am telling you I would like to do.” Countries that consider themselves to be democracies tend to have balance-of-power systems that help to prevent them from becoming autocratic and dictatorial. As a result, political opposition often prevents the fulfilment of campaign promises.

So, in the midst of a multitude of crises, great and small, it is actually refreshing that a national leader publicly acknowledges that he accepts responsibility for mistakes that were made, as well as the responsibility to remedy them.

Case in point: When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Israel faced it head-on and went to war against it. It took major steps to deal with a serious problem and we saw the flattening of the curve. Severe health restrictions and limitations on social gathering went into effect. Lockdown was widespread. The distance that one could walk from home was limited to 100 meters. The country was divided between following the government’s guidelines and wanting to resist them.

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After two and a half months, officialdom believed that the virus packed its bags and was ready to leave. But, because  of travel restrictions, the virus couldn’t find a flight out, so it decided to stay as an unwelcomed guest.

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And now, we are facing round two, which has begun with a vengeance.

Towards the end of May, beginning of June, the numbers who were testing positive were decreasing and the restrictions on gatherings imposed on the population began to be lifted. Large segments of the population disregarded almost all of the instructions of the Ministry of Health, thinking that the worst in behind us, the summer arrived, the sun is shining, time to return to the old normal and move on. During the past week, Israel saw a steady increase in those who tested positive to alarming numbers. 

Only two days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised, press conference, publicly admitted that the government re-opened parts of the economy too quickly. He took responsibility for the decision to ease the severe restrictions that were imposed early to halt the spread of Covid-19. 

“Looking back, as part of the trial and error, we can say that the last step was too early… We are in the midst of a global storm, which is growing… The second virus wave won’t skip almost any country… It requires fateful decisions every day, balancing between trial and error. You try, err and fix. That’s how all leaders are operating… In the first wave we had amazing success. The death toll was and remains very low. But the lockdown exacted a heavy toll on the economy.”

Netanyahu took responsibility for the decision to reopen the country a month ago after severe, early restrictions were put in place to halt its spread. I take responsibility for this step, and I take responsibility for fixing it“.  As of 1:00 p.m. yesterday (Friday), parts of 5 communities, including Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, became “restricted zones” for a week

We may not have the same numbers as other countries, but for a country with a relatively small population, having 5,000 people who tested positive during the past week is significant and the complications resulting from those who caught the virus are serious. Everyone who came in contact with someone who tested positive had to self-quarantine for a full two weeks. After being in extended lockdown (including Passover, Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] and Independence Day) for the better part of two months, an additional period of quarantine was almost too much to bear. The major concern, of course, was and continues to be the health crisis. But, the economic crisis that followed in its wake is still ongoing, with almost no end in sight. Travel and tourism have taken the biggest hit, but unemployment went from around 4% to over 25% and is now still around 21% of the work force. Multitudes were laid off on forced vacations without pay and needed to apply for unemployment benefits. Many may not be able to return to theirs former jobs. Businesses of all kinds have been affected and many have closed their doors, with no intention, or ability, to reopen. The coronavirus health crisis generated a coronavirus economic crisis. So, in the same “I take responsibility” speech, P.M. Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz revealed an economic aid program that is to go into effect immediately this coming week. Parts of the plan will remain in effect for a year – a move that reflects a reality that the economic crisis could continue to last that long. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu has become the bulls-eye on the target of condemnation. In a short period of time, he went from hero to zero, as he failed to undergird the successes that were achieved during the first wave of the coronavirus. The public did its part in failing to adhere to health department regulations, thinking that because the numbers were down, the danger of becoming infected was no longer a matter of concern. When push came to shove, the public looked to blame someone – other than itself, of course, for the re-emergence of the pandemic, this time even more forcefully that during the months of March through May. The finger pointing was directed at Netanyahu and the cabinet ministers dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Justifiable? Yes and no.

During the first wave, Netanyahu and his cabinet fought against the virus as though fighting a war – a health war, and it achieved a significant and commendable degree of success. A war should be fought to defeat the enemy, not to wound it and give it time to regroup and become another health or security risk. In this regard, Israel claimed premature victory, only to find itself in the midst of a second wave of fighting against a microbe that is disabling and, in some situations, crippling parts of our socio-economic infrastructure. Now, it is faced with the formidable task of increasing its efforts to combat – and this time, defeat – the health crisis, while insuring that the economic crisis does not become worse. 

We live in an age when the usual response to being accused of failure or wrongdoing is to try to pass the buck and accuse someone else. This type of response finds its origin in antiquity, back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:12-13). Thus, it is commendable that the Prime Minister of Israel acknowledges that the ultimate responsibility lies with him. It is regrettable, however, that such an acknowledgment followed the decrease in the public trust of the government’s handling of the health and economic crises. Such an admission is not without its consequences and the public can express its approval or dissatisfaction at the polls at the next election, whenever it takes place, soon or not so soon. It also places the consequences of failure to combat the health and economic crises squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders. 

Victory in war requires a combined effort of government and population. Both need to fulfil their respective obligations. May God hear our prayer and grant that we will press on to victory and that, in the process, a spirit of unity would control our actions and our behavior. 

And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD , am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:20)

Heal me, O LORD , and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

With prayers for your good health and for a great week,

Marvin

 

When Justice Collides with Politics

“Now the LORD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.” (Isaiah 59:15)

Pre-meditated murder. Rape. Aggravated Assault. We’re all familiar with the terms, some from a distance and some, to their great sorrow, from personal experience or up close. As we listen or read of the stories, we are all too often left with a sense of injustice. The perpetrator was found “not guilty” and afterwards proudly confessed to having committed the crime. A criminal was found guilty, but the punishment was too lenient  and in a short period of time, the criminal was permitted to go free. Or, the criminal is released early, or doesn’t spend time in jail at all, because of executive pardon. Or, because of legal maneuvering, the perpetrator doesn’t even stand trial for his crimes. 

We’re not talking about someone who was innocent, who was wrongly accused, legally tried, found guilty and even executed for a crime that he didn’t commit. Such a situation truly generates a gnawing anger that an irreversible wrong has been done. Indeed, according to what has come to be known as “Blackstone’s ratio”, expressed by the famous English jurist William Blackstone, is the idea that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”  This is also in line with the centuries earlier perspective of the renowned Jewish legal theorist referred to as “The Rambam” (Moses Maimonides), who wrote that “it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” 

On the contrary. The focus of attention is on one who openly, wilfully and wantonly plans and carries out, directly and/or through one or more accomplices, murder. We are a very diverse people and we have very different perspectives on punishment of criminal behavior. Some emphasize that the primary goal is rehabilitation, while others advocate that the best deterrent to criminal activity is the ultimate punishment of the convicted criminal, namely: capital punishment. In this regard, the oft-repeated line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” finds necessary application: “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

The question of the day is: What is the appropriate punishment for a terrorist, who plotted, together with others, to carry out the murder of innocent men, women and children, and, particularly, religious people, and who rejoiced without any regrets at the success of her efforts? Most people would answer that the “system” should throw the book at the terrorist and impose the death penalty or life imprison. The last thought to enter our minds would be to allow the terrorist to be released on a prisoner-exchange deal, allowing that terrorist to be cheered as a hero, be admired by, and be an exemple for, children, be blessed and praised by ruler and commoner alike, and be given freedom to move about and spout hatred and generate incitement of others to follow and commit similar acts of terrorism.

We personally know people who suffered through a personal act of terrorism that included child rape, others who lost a child in the prime of life and who didn’t even make it to high school, another who survived a stabbing incident, as well as a colleague who was killed when a terrorist blew himself up on a bus. My family was only five minutes away from a restaurant that was blown up by a female terrorist, destroying families and maiming others for life. Of course, there are other incidents. Some of the terrorists died while carrying out their acts of terrorism. Others survived. Some were captured, tried and convicted and put in jail, with the surviving victims and/or their families hoping that after the terrorists are locked away, the key to their prison cell would be thrown away.

On the morning of August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi, a 21-year-old Jordanian journalism student at a university located in the region of Judea and Samaria, worked as a newsreader at an Islamist TV station. She was a former Fatah (PLO) activist, who later joined Hamas.

Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, 22, was the son of a successful “Palestinian” restaurateur. The two met up in Ramallah, traveled by taxi to a military checkpoint north of Jerusalem, then walked across into Israel. Their dress and appearance gave the impression that they were just some young Israelis or tourists and they did not arouse the suspicion of the border soldiers, even though al-Masri was carrying a guitar case that was not examined. They took another taxi to a busy center of Jerusalem and separated just before 2 p.m. Tamimi took a bus back to Ramallah. Al-Masri walked into a crowded Sbarro pizza restaurant and detonated the bomb that was hidden in his guitar case. The devastation was not easily described – 15 dead, another 130 injured, one of whom remains hospitalized to this day in a permanent vegetative state. Al-Masri died along with his victims.

Tamimi was captured by Israeli security forces within weeks,  was tried and sentenced to 16 life terms for murder, with the recommendation of the trial judges that she “should never be eligible for pardon, for early parole or any other release.”

The lives of the families that suffered the loss of their loved ones in the terrorist bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria were never the same. Yet, they held on to the hope that the terrorist who remained alive would never see the light of day outside of the prison.

Still, even as the families of the victims remember the events of that day with sorrow, anguish and pain and have not recovered, the opposite is true for the terrorist who caused their irreparable loss. While in jail, Tamimi was interviewed by the media, expressed joy over the number of deaths that resulted from the bombing that she referred to as “my operation” and thrived, becoming a celebrity in the Islamic world. 

She was released as part of the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in 2006. He was released five years later, in exchange for 1,027 prisoners held by Israel, 280 of whom had “blood on their hands”. One of them was Ahlam Tamimi. Much as I usually agree with Israel’s policy not to leave any of its sons behind, I parted company with that policy when this “deal” was announced. It was a political disaster and laid the groundwork for future negotiations, including the present ones for the return of bodies of Israeli soldiers taken into Gaza by Hamas during the war of 2014. Hamas is looking for another public relations success with the release of a large number of prisoners, many of whom, like in the Shalit “deal”, have blood on their hands.

Since being released from prison, Tamimi’s life has been on the upswing. She has been able to marry, is planning on starting a family. She is revered and praised in Islamic circles and has no regrets, other than that more people were not killed through her efforts. 

I read an article today about one of the teenage victims of the Sbarro terrorist  attack, Malki Roth, and her family’s ongoing efforts to bring Ahlam Tamimi to back before the bar of justice. Now, there is a ray of hope that Tamimi will have to stand trial for her crime in, of all places, the United States. This is because U.S. law allows for the prosecution of criminals who kill American citizens. irrespective of where the crime was committed. Some of the victims of the Sbarro explosion were American citizens. Tamimi is in Jordan. The U.S. and Jordan have an extradition agreement in force. The U.S. asked Jordan to extradite Tamimi. Jordan refused. Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. will succeed to remove the smile off of her face. But, it is easier said than done. Politics allowed Tamimi to be released and now politics, at home and abroad, have again entered into the picture to try to keep her from being extradited to the U.S. The article can be read here.

Paraphrasing Prime Minister’s 1997 book, “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists”, the writer of the article contends:

“[Malki’s father]  would argue that governments that seek to defeat terrorism must refuse to release convicted terrorists from prisons since this emboldens them and their colleagues. By nurturing the belief that their demands are likely to be met in the future, he would argue, you encourage terrorist blackmail of the very kind that you want to stop. Only the most unrelenting refusal to ever give in to such blackmail can prevent this.” 

The article is not an easy read, but a necessary one and I would recommend it. Terrorism affects every one of us. We need to properly understand it in order to properly deal with it. No one can say anymore, “It can’t happen here.” Israel doesn’t have the death penalty, except for Nazi war criminals. Taking into consideration the number of Israeli lives lost as a result of terrorism, it is quite possible, as one of my close friends wrote, “A judicious use of the death penalty may have prevented this mess and others similar to it.” Would you agree?

May God watch over each of you and set His protection around you to keep you safe from all harm of all kinds at all times.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice….” (Micah 6:8)

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue….” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Three Thousand Five Hundred Years Old … Seventy Two Years Young

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ISRAEL! You are the oldest youngster among the nations. It is celebration time, but so incredibly different from all the birthday celebrations that have taken place since you returned to your ancestral homeland, after two thousand years of dispersion in the diaspora. Independence Day 2- 2020-04-29.jpeg.

The sky was blue this morning with white clouds interspersed, very symbolic of our national colors. We are a sovereign nation, whose inhabitants live in a free and democratic society. We don’t always agree on things that occur here or on how things are done, but we have the right and the freedom to express our differences, to be heard and to make a difference. Our freedom and the restoration of our national identity came at a price, a price that we continue to pay year after year. 

The day immediately preceding Israel’s Independence Day is a Memorial Day set aside to commemorate Israel’s fallen – those who were killed in the defense of the country, as well as those who died as a result of terrorist activity. Since the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, we fought six wars, dealt with two full-blown and extended intifadas and a multitude of terrorist attacks. From the date of our establishment, we have not had a single decade without a war. Yesterday, we honored 23,816 fallen soldiers and over 3,100 people killed in acts of terror. 

There is hardly a family in Israel today who does not personally know someone, or who does not know a family or neighbor or co-worker of someone, who was killed or injured in a war or as the result of a terrorist incident. It is a small country and every loss is treated as a family loss. I’ve attended funerals of people I knew personally, as well as funerals of people whom I didn’t know, such as the young lone soldier (who had no family in Israel), who was killed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. I still remember with vividness the throngs that turned out to honor someone who gave his life for this country. Year after year, we become riveted to the stories, the videos, the documentaries of the fallen, which are broadcast, so that all can see, so that all can remember. Everyone is referred to by name, often accompanied by photos from the time of birth, through school, to enlistment in the IDF, to the time and circumstances of their death. Even the most hardened, combat veterans cannot hold back tears, when they speak of their comrades, many of whom put themselves in harm’s way to protect others in their units. Truly, these stories never fail to pull tears from eyes that were dry, like a faucet that cannot be closed. Despite our many differences, we are truly a nation that unites in our losses, that mourns with those who mourn, that makes every effort to comfort those who are bereaved of  spouse, parent, child, brother or sister. 

This year, more than at any time before, when travel restrictions and lockdowns because of the Coronavirus pandemic keep us at home, we become, in a practical sense, a captive audience, sharing collective pain and suffering, as we remember not only the fallen, but the nation that they died for. 

This year, however, military cemeteries were closed to the public, as part of the ongoing efforts to minimize the health risks that would accompany the usual multitude of visitors to those cemeteries. Still, notwithstanding the government restrictions, there were a fair number of instances where family members went to the military cemeteries, only to be reminded by police units that they were in violation of the restrictions imposed on the country. Notwithstanding the blatant violation of “stay-at-home” regulations, the Israeli Police were instructed not to prevent immediate family members from visiting the graves of their loved ones, provided that they wore protective facial masks and kept a distance of two-meters between them. There was an unstated, but widespread, recognition of the importance of such visits by family members, particularly after a prolonged lockdown, the likes of which the nation has never experienced.

At then, with the going down of the sun and the beginning of the new day according to the Hebrew calendar, the nation began its celebration of our seventy-second year of national independence. If ever the country needed a break from the prolonged lockdown and restrictions on movement and contact, Independence Day was the ideal day for it to take place.

But, the yearly celebrations that normally take place throughout the country were cancelled. A portion of the special, Independence Day ceremony that takes place on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem was pre-recorded, while other aspects of it were broadcast live, such as the lighting of twelve celebration torches, symbolic of the nation’s origins from the twelve tribes of Israel. 

The official opening of the ceremony, with speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by Benny Gantz, who signed a unity government agreement with Netanyahu last week, were both pre-recorded and shown in video messages. Despite the words of encouragement by both of them, the fact remained that the feelings of celebration were somewhat muted, due to the lockdown and travel restrictions, which will remain in effect until the end of Independence Day.

With the elections behind him and the challenges of a national unity government in front of him, Benny Gantz spoke as a former IDF General, who was prepared to work with Netanyahu to guide the country to overcome the challenges and to press forward to “form a new ethos, a story of solidarity”: “We are going through difficult times, and we must prepare for even harder times. We will win this war, and form a new ethos, a story of solidarity; a story that would not be defined by strangers or enemies, but by ourselves. This should be our main mission in the national leadership.”

His speech also included reference to the fallen soldiers, whose memories were the focus of the day that had just concluded: “Nothing separates them – not where they were born, not their sexual identity and not their political stance. Under the deafening silence of death, they are all equal here. We have the responsibility to ensure we are all equal in life, too.”

There is an indomitable spirit among the people of Israel. The pandemic that has paralyzed most of the world for a season, has affected Israel as well. No enemy, national or microscopic, will succeed in diminishing that spirit. On the contrary, they spur us on to overcome the challenges and to press on to accomplishments even greater than what we were able to do until now. It is in a very real sense “built in” as part and parcel of our national being. It is “who we are and how we respond to challenges”. 

In the midst of travel restrictions and social distancing, communities join together and sing on our balconies. Modern technologies, such as Zoom, allow multitudes to encourage multitudes of others. Physicians use the media to diagnose and provide needed treatment to multitudes of senior citizens, who are unable to leave their apartments. Young people have volunteered during this recent health crisis to deliver food packages, medical supplies and other necessary items to people all over the country. People knock on the doors of their senior-citizen neighbors, to inquire if they are well and if they need anything. Telecommunications flourish, teaching “online” came into its own, multi-person “online” meetings may well re-arrange our schedules, without having to face traffic jams, and there is a major push to develop vaccines and medications to deal with Covid-19, as well as a wide variety of other illnesses. In the midst of difficulties, we look for ways that our lives would be improved when the difficulties are over. 

We are three thousand five hundred years old and, by God’s grace, we still yield fruit despite our age. (Psalm 92:14). We have learned a few things during that time that enable us to live amid difficulties and enjoy being seventy-two years young. Some of them are “to sing for joy to the LORD [to] shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation” (Psalm 91:1), “for the joy of the LORD is [our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) and a “joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 15;13 – loose translation), particularly when facing the microscopic giant.

Happy Birthday, Israel. L’Chaim! To Life!

Independence Day 1- 2020-04-29

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin

We WILL remember and WILL NOT forget!

Shalom all,

There are dates and events in history that become etched in our memory banks. They are brought forth from time to time to remind us to remember them. Some events are international in their scope, such as September 11, 2001 (i.e., 9/11) and the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. Some are national, such as the Exodus from Egypt on Passover and the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai; December 7, 1941 – the bombing of the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, “… a day that will live in infimy forever”. Some events are regional, such as 70 A.D. – the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus. Some relate to individuals – the death of Messiah Yeshua as the Passover Lamb and His resurrection, both according to the Scriptures. But, there are other events that relate to a specific people, and the attempts to eliminate them from the face of the earth – Psalm 83:4 – “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.” This is actually a series of events and attempts by those who hate God, who have exalted themselves and who made and make shrewd plans against “Your people” (Psalm 83:2-3; Deuteronomy 7:7; see the Scroll of Esther).

The Passover Haggadah (the telling of the Passover story at the annual Seder meal, the night of the Passover) contains the following statement (translation from Hebrew): “In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” A reading of Biblical history confirms this – Pharaoh’s command to kill all newborn, Jewish males and Herod’s command to kill all Jewish males under the age of two years old. Persecution under the Romans – You cannot live here as a Jew; convert or die. The slaughter of over a million Jews during the time of the Crusades; the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal – You cannot live here. The pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe and, eventually, to the Holocaust, the planned “final solution” to rid the world of the Jewish people – You cannot live!

But, WE DO LIVE. God has declared that He would always leave a remnant to Himself (Genesis 45:7; 50:20; 1 Kings 19:18; 2 Kings 19:4; Isaiah 37:4; 2 Chronicles 34:9; Jeremiah 42:2; 43:5; Ezra 9:8, 13, and many others, among them Isaiah 10:22 – “For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined , overflowing with righteousness.” Those who receive this blog are of many different nations, peoples, languages and beliefs. Some believe in the God of the Bible and what is written in its pages and others who do not. The fact remains: What was intended for bad, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).

Today is a national day of remembrance. A short while ago, sirens sounded throughout the land, piercing the relative silence and reminding people to stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are – at home, on the street, in the office and even on the highway. We paused for two-minutes in silent remembrance of the satanic, systematic plot designed to destroy us as a people, “so that the name of Israel would be no more.” Some remember the loss of family and friends, who were victims of the Nazi regime, even as some of them remember their personal experiences of having lived through the nightmare of the Holocaust. They don’t forget and we cannot allow ourselves to forget. 

Each year at this time, emotions well up within me that are difficult to suppress. Stories told by survivors of a dark night in the history of mankind that will always remain as a cancerous wart on the hide of society. As one survivor, now 92 years of age and living in Israel, said; “I cannot forget. I live with it year after year, month after month, day after day.” Tears flow freely, with no attempt on my part to stop them. A few months ago, I wrote of some of the events of the trip to Poland that my wife and I made back in September, 2019, and my hope to find traces of my family, who had lived in a small village north of Warsaw, whose entire Jewish population, with the exception of about two dozen, were murdered in the Holocaust. I remember our visit to the site of the one and only Jewish cemetery that had existed for hundreds of years, with tens of thousands of graves, that was entirely destroyed by the Nazis within a few weeks following their invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. A portion of my family’s history has been wiped out, as if it never existed.” How would you feel, if this was your family?

It is difficult to express, in words, the sense of loss of knowing that I had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and generations of family who preceded them, who lived and raised families, who worked, who died and were buried there. Yet their names, once etched on concrete gravestones, were erased in a moment by a tank and/or bulldozer that swept through the centuries-old cemetery. My parents are both gone, the last generation of our family from that village to leave and never to return. “There is something that is built into the fabric of our being that longs for permanence, for an existence that continues beyond our days.”

By God’s abundant grace, I found life in Israel, where my wife and children were born. They all served in the I.D.F. and our youngest son continues to do so, as an officer. He  visited Poland two months after we returned, as part of a special program of the I.D.F.  and wrote, as part of his experience there: “It is my privilege as a Messianic Jewish Officer, a free man and one who belongs to the Messiah, to be a representative here, not only on behalf of the army but as the representative of our whole family!

Attached is a moving, 2-minute video, with translation, but no link, of a special meeting between an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and her grandson, that speaks for itself. For Hebrew speakers, the link to the same video from the IDF website, but without translation, can be seen here.

The spirit of freedom – to live, to protect and defend are part of the warp and woof of those who are the remnant of the Jewish people today. In a directive issued yesterday by Lt. General Aviv Kochavi, to all I.D.F. personnel, he wrote, in part: 

“When the soldiers of the Jewish Brigade went into the concentration camps with the Allies, the survivors couldn’t believe their eyes – soldiers were wearing the Star of David. They saw a Jewish solider as a contradiction in terms … something that could not be.”

Time after time, Kochavi wrote: “We remember. . . . They all shared the hope that one day, a generation would arise out of the blood and ashes that would have the privilege of living in its own nation – the State of Israel. That is what came to pass. . . . The Star of David is no longer a badge of shame, but the symbol of the IDF which expresses the power to defend, time after time, the people and the nation. . . . At this time, our mission is to protect them. We will always remember them . . . We will follow in their path and remain vigilant, so that we need never depend on someone else’s kindness. We will continue to tell their stories and ensure that their testimonies continue to echo forever, and we will keep in our hearts those who fell victim to the Nazi evil. Memory is a source of strength, of spirit, and of values. (my emphasis)

But memories will fade, particularly as the generation that survived the Holocaust slowly passes from the scene. More and more voices are heard denying the fact of the Nazi Holocaust and, sadly, the degree of historical ignorance concerning it among millennials is appalling. The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin wanted all Jews to imagine themselves as having gone through the horror of the Holocaust, to make it a collective experience, similar to the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the destruction of the Second Temple and even the expulsion to the diaspora. But, the memory of the Holocaust does not need to be confined to Jewish people.

The number of Holocaust survivors in Israel is 189,500. Almost 15,000 survivors passed away in Israel in 2019, prior to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. If this rate continues, in the short space of 14 years, there will be no survivors left. Who will continue to speak and keep the memory of it alive, if not you and me?

If you’ve read this far, then this post speaks to your heart. Please remember not only the victims and their families, but those who put their lives on the line to save Jewish people from the Nazi scourge. The Israeli non-profit organization, “From the Depths” (“Me’ma’amakim”), is assisting those whose actions during the Holocaust saved the lives of Jewish people in Poland, who were recognized as “Righteous Among the the Nations” and were awarded a Certificate of Honor by the State of Israel. During this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic, they are locked away in their homes and only this organization is reaching out to assist them. They helped us in our time of need and they will not be forgotten at this time of their need.

We ALL have a responsibility to remember, to relate and to repeat for generations to come that an evil so incomprehensible was allowed to exist and that, in the midst of what was claimed to be an enlightened society. Even more so, we need to remember that God will preserve the remnant of His people and what was and is meant for evil, God will use for good, even as out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the nation of Israel was re-established in our ancestral land.

A remnant is alive. Some have returned to Israel! Others are still in the Diaspora. Wherever we are, we WILL remember and WILL NOT forget!

Remember also: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Inching our way out of lockdown and into Spring

Shalom all,

At the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, Israel was quick to see the handwriting on the wall and acted accordingly. From the beginning of March, the government imposed strong restrictions on the general public including social distancing, lockdowns and holiday curfews, which undoubtedly resulted in saving a multitude of lives. In the process, more than 25% of our entire work force has been laid off. Small businesses that were not deemed to provide “essential” services were required to be closed. The government’s concern was, rightly, to restrict the spread of the coronavirus and protect, to the extent possible, the general population from  becoming infected.

There is no doubt that if the government had delayed in its response, the number of people who would be affected by the pandemic would have been vastly greater, creating an overload to, and breakdown of, the health system. In this regard, Israel is to be commended for taking bold action, even if many here disagreed with its measures. If other countries had acted in the same way, the number of victims of the coronavirus could have been reduced substantially, some even estimating by as much as 90 percent.

Although the number of those in Israel who contract the virus, as well as the deaths that result from it, continue to grow, the exponential growth that was expected is no longer being reported. The “curve” still exists and it is far from being flat. Containment will continue to take a long time and there is no guarantee that the outbreak will not re-occur. Nor is there any guarantee that people who were once affected by it and survived would not become re-infected. We are still in the throes of the pandemic of our times, which has generated problems of different kinds and issues that will need to be dealt with long after the “coronavirus crisis of 2020” becomes an historical, socio-economic study. Science Magazine of 14 April, 2020, reports: “[A] key metric for the success of social distancing is whether critical care capacities are exceeded. To avoid this, prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” This is not exactly the best-case scenario to warm the cockles of our hearts.

As much as Israel is to be praised for its prompt action at the beginning of this health crisis, it now faces another crisis, an economic one. Its response to the economic fallout from prolonged social distancing, closures and lockdowns did not run on a parallel course with its response to the health crisis.  Government assistance programs are admirable, but they fall short in helping hard-hit businesses, particularly small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. Moreover, the aid packages extended by the government are not geared for the long haul and, admittedly, they shouldn’t be. So, different government ministries met to try to come up with an “exit plan”, that would get the economy back on track. 

What is missing at the moment is a clear, agreed-upon plan to end social distancing and re-open the Israeli economy, a plan that includes, at the very least, a verifiable, sustained reduction in the number of new cases of people infected with Covid-19. Even though this is missing right now,  its absence is not stopping the country from trying to inject new life into the economy by getting people back to work, or at least some of the work force, subject to guidelines of the Health Department. 

Tomorrow night, at the end of Shabbat, Prime Minister Netanyahu is supposed to reveal the government’s plans to gradually end the lockdown and get the life of the country to return to “normal”, whatever that may be. But, an honest appraisal of the situation is that what was “normal” before the coronavirus pandemic will no longer be the “norm”. 

Everyone wants the health crisis and the economic crisis to end. But, in looking for a way to end the economic crisis, will we act in a way that will aggravate the health crisis? This is an open question and one that will be answered only after people begin to go back to work, assuming of course, that they still have a job to return to. The proposed outline leaves a percentage of the population still at home, due to their age and health history. Everyone 65 and over needs to remain in lockdown. For small business owners, this would be devastating.

Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen is on the 21st of April. Holocaust Remembrance Day is one week after that, followed immediately by Israel’s 72nd Independence Day celebration. Could these be factors that entered into the decision whether to begin to restore the economy this coming Sunday, notwithstanding that the coronavirus continues its sweep across the country like the wave of a tsunami? There is no question that not being able to participate in these national events would have a long-term psychological impact upon our citizens. A celebration of the day of our national independence might be just the thing that the doctor ordered, as we look forward to being freed from the consequences of the pandemic. But, public celebrations would allow for multitudes to assemble together – the exact opposite of what we tried to avoid during the past month and a half. The government will be taking a calculated risk in allowing people to return to work and participate in public celebrations. Still, we need the release from the pressure of the prolonged lockdown. The question is whether the release would generate an explosion of contagion that will be difficult to contain? Let us pray that it won’t.

May we keep one hand on the work that is before us and the other hand on the sword to keep danger away, so that we can build a wall of safety around us and an economy that would be even stronger than what we had before.

A final note: Today was a beautiful day in Israel, at least it was all morning. It is Spring time now – a time when the desert blooms and the flamingo comes for a visit. So, I’m attaching a link to some of the beautiful moments in Israel at this time. The link is to a site in Hebrew, but the pictures speak in a language that everyone can understand. It opens with a 18 second introductory commercial. After that, click on the box and there will be a 2 minute, 19 second video segment. When that finishes, scroll down on the website to see the photos. The photo array starts with blue flowers on Mount Hermon. The coral reefs and turtle (last photos) are from the Red Sea in Eilat, where our oldest son is doing his research for his doctorate in marine biology.  There is incredible beauty and amazement in God’s creation. We just to take time to look at it, in order to appreciate it. If you want to know any of the areas depicted in the photos, ask me. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get rid of the additional articles and advertisements that follow the photo array. 

The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. (Isaiah 35:1-2)

Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah. (Isaiah 35:6)

Shabbat Shalom. Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Is a Coronavirus “Breakthrough” on its way? Maybe.

Shalom all,

May this find you and yours all healthy and hanging in there during this unique time in our modern history. The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread far and wide with attendant health and economic consequences for many. All are looking for an end to the crisis. If we look at the glass half full, a potential cure may not be that far away.

The Haifa-based, Israeli company, Pluristem Therapeutics Inc., reports that preliminary testing of COVID-19 treatment on six critically-ill coronavirus patients showed a 100% survival rate, with four of them showing respiratory improvement. The company also treated its first American patient suffering from COVID-19 complications. The latter was carried out in a hospital in New Jersey. the US. trial was run under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Single Patient Expanded Access Program, which is part of the US. Coronoavirus Treatment Acceleration Program – an emergency program aimed at moving new treatments to corona patients as quickly as possible.

According to the Company, “Pluristem has made the strategic decision to work only with adult stem cells, purified from the placenta after birth and, therefore, not subject to ethical or religious controversy.”

The six Israeli patients were treated at three different hospitals here for one week, under a compassionate use program. All suffered from acute respiratory failure and COVID-19 related complications. Four of them had other severe medical issues.

Not only had all the patients survived one week later, According to Pluristem, all of the six patients not only survived the week, but four of them showed respiratory improvement, with three of them being weaned off of ventilators. 

This comes as a breath of fresh air, particularly as the number of Israel’s dead has climbed about 20% in the last two days, with over 12,000 having tested positive for the coronavirus so far, including an 8-day-old infant, who was diagnosed today and hospitalized. It seems that the virus is not listening to what the medical authorities have to say, namely, that it afflicts mostly the elderly and, particularly, those with pre-existing medical conditions. 

If that wasn’t enough, the government authorized a nation-wide restriction about traveling between different community, which went into effect at 5:00 p.m. today and will remain in effect until 5:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. This is the second time in one week that there is a nationwise lockdown, the first being on the eve of Passover and now, at the end of the last day of Passover, which is also a national day of celebration here. The restriction will continue and include the festivities that usually take place during the Mimuna, a non-Biblical event that is celebrated by many in Israel to mark the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and allows for the eating of regular bread again. All normal celebrations for these two days are cancelled. 

The political on-again, off-again, negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to form an emergency, unity government continue, with the latest round of meetings taking place this morning and afternoon, without success.  They are scheduled to continue right after the holiday, that is, not before Wednesday evening. The joint statement released by the Likud (Netanyahu’s party) and Blue and White (Gantz’s party) was to the effect that the intended goal of Wednesday evening’s meeting is “to reach agreement on the establishment of a national emergency government”. For all intents and purposes, the mandate given to Benny Gantz to form a government expired last night. Israeli President, Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin can give Netanyahu the mandate, or he can turn it over to the Knesset. But, one thing is clear – if the leaders of the two major parties do not reach agreement by tomorrow night, we will go back to politicking and in a worse-case scenario, we will be on our way to a fourth election. 

Hard to believe. In two days, I’ll have been in lockdown for a month. Could be worse…I could have written these lines after two months! Looking at it from the bright side, I’m thankful that my family and I are healthy, I didn’t have to shave during this entire period, I had more time to pray, read and write and to be be in contact with folks, near and far. So, there are positive things to dwell on.

For those who are able to celebrate the last day of Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread, enjoy … in good health! L’chaim!

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

Negotiations for Unity are Cancelled! The Breakthrough Broke Down.

Negotiations to form a Unity Government between the two front-runners of the last three elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Benny Gantz (Kahol Lavan = Blue and White) came to an abrupt halt this afternoon, due to a disagreement regarding the Committee for the Appointment of Judges. Really!

One would think that after jumping over difficult hurdles and issues regarding sovereignty and security, the two politicians were well on their way to reaching agreement on the formation of a Unity Government that would be able to focus attention the national health crisis and the economic crisis. But, no! There was another bug that caused not only social, but political, distancing between the two men who were supposed to take turns being the shepherds of the sheep and return us once again to enjoy greener pastures. 

They were close. It was almost a done deal. But, the Likud party wanted to re-negotiate the issue of being able to veto judicial appointments, an issue that the Blue and White party said it would not allow and then promptly announced the cessation of negotiations to set up an emergency government. According to Blue and White, “After reaching understanding in all matters, the Like requeste to re-open discussions regarding the activity of the Committee for the Appointment of Judges. As a result of that, negotiations were discontinued. We won’t allow any change in the function of the Committee for the Appointment of Judges and injury to democracy.” 

It appears that the Likud had earlier waived a demand for a veto in the Committee appointing judges. This is no small matter, given the fact that the Ministry of Justice was conceded to the Blue and White party. What the Likud wanted is a mechanism that would allow the rightist bloc to cancel or approve judges. Blue and White refuses to permit this and contends that what is really in issue is a change in the constitution – an interesting contention given the fact that Israel does not have a written constitution, but a number of Basic Laws, which taken together are treated as a constitution. When the demand was made, the talking stopped. When I first heard the news, I thought for a moment that it was talking about the appointment of a judge to the U.S. Supreme Court. But, reality took resurfaced a moment later. 

After reaching agreement on a major issue like Israel being able to impose sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (after redrawing borders in line with the Deal of the Century), are we going to regress to where we were a month ago following the third round of elections because of an inability to agree how a judicial appointment committee is to function? Amazing. 

Like the rest of the world, Israel is dealing with a health crisis the likes of which we having seen since Biblical times and economy that is trying to stay afloat. It needs an injection is wisdom and courage, working together, to get us back on our feet, physically and economically. The last thing we need two days before the celebration of the Feast of Passover is the continuation of an interim government. Cautious optimism dwindled to renewed pessimism over the inability to agree how judges – who should be impartial in their decisions – are to be appointed.

Both parties should be ashamed of themselves. The apparent last-minute breakdown in negotiations leaves the country with neither an emergency government, nor a unity government. Gantz turned his back on those who ran the political gauntlet with him (except for former General Gabi Ashkenazi), purportedly for the very purpose of avoiding a fourth round of elections. If anything was clear following the elections, it was that he would not be able to form a majority government, because of defections from different parties, including from his own. Netanyahu, for his part, conducted negotiations for an emergency, unity government to the almost virtual exclusion of those individuals and smaller parties who made up the rightist bloc and who backed and supported him during the past year and a half through three difficult and very costly and less than honoring elections. In the process, he alienated many from within his own party and others over a number of disastrous concessions relating to not only Judea dn Samaria, but also the Jordan Valley.

Both men made promises to the nation. Both men reneged on their promises. Both ran on platforms supported by a coalition of parties, as political blocs. Both left their colleagues in the lurch. Both are back to playing politics. A fourth election looms large on the horizon. But, if we go that route, Gantz will not have the backing that he had for the last year and a half. Netanyahu’s trial will have begun and how that will end is still an open question.

Netanyahu just addressed the nation and announced a tightening of restrictions. A general lockdown will go into effect from tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. until 07:00 Friday morning, both Israel time. This Feast of Passover will not be like the Festival of Purim. When we ask: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The answer will be: “Because Elijah had to stay home due to the lockdown.” This is the first Passover since the Exodus from Egypt that the nation of Israel is commanded to stay in their homes!

Yes, there is a time for everything under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), including a time to embrace and a time to [practice social distancing – 3:5]; a time to open the gates (doors) – Isaiah 26:2) and a time to close them and not go outside (Exodus 12:2).  It’s at times like these that we need to remember that we face temporary, physical confinement. But, spiritually, we are not confined.  

“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born, or You gave birth to the earth, even from everlasting to everlasting You are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in Whom I trust!’ For it is He Who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence.” (Psalm 91:1-3)

“[You] shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 26:11)

Celebrate, be well, bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

Be anxious for nothing. It won’t help.

No matter where we turn, somebody is talking or writing about the Coronavirus, a pandemic that has affected everyone, everywhere. If we pay attention to the media, which is almost impossible to avoid unless we “lock down” our computers, televisions and cell phones, then we start and end our day accumulating statistics, how many are sick, how many died, how many made it through and were released from quarantine. And, in the process, no small amount of anxiety is generated, if not for ourselves, then for relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers who are over a certain age, have a certain medical history that puts them at risk, or are alone in their homes. It’s amazing how a tiny bug, unseen except under a microscope, has turned the world on its head. It’s amazing how, in what appears to be almost an overnight phenomena, everything that was part and parcel of our daily, normal routine has been put on “hold”. Well, almost everything. There is still the arena or circus of politics that seems to be on an endless struggle for power and supremacy. Even though most of the verbal assaults have now diminished, they have been replaced by in-fighting. But, that’s another story. It will continue long after the Coronavirus becomes a history lesson.

Still, we are now all facing a common enemy, small and ruthless, crossing national barriers with ease, seeking whom to devour. In the process of the battle, many have been sidelined in different ways. Some were laid off from work, with or without pay. Some were fired from their jobs. Some businesses closed their doors and may not be able to open them again. Some have becomes victims of the tiny virus, or are related or close to someone who has. Others have been killed. We don’t all experience the battle the same way. Some stand out and take risks to protect others – the heroes on the front lines: medical personnel, ambulance drivers, hospital support staff. Others continue to process daily needs like food, medicines and other essential services, such as police and firemen. Then there are those in uniform, who serve 24/7, so that we can have one less anxiety in the midst of many and so that we can sleep at night, because they remain alert and “on the walls” to protect us. There are those who use the media to continue to teach, so that their students would continue to learn. There are those who entertain from their homes the children who are stuck at home. Still others try to cope by keeping themselves as busy as possible without leaving home – catching up on correspondence, Skyping or Zooming with others, organizing (I know that for some this is an almost forgotten word!), reading, catching up on movies that they wanted to see, but never made time to do so. 

We tend to fall into different categories of responders: those who are anxious, those who are semi-anxious, those who simply don’t know how to get a handle on what’s going on and those who make every effort to be in control, or at least give the appearance that they are in control. But, the reality of the situation is that we are learning, some quickly, some more slowly, that we are definitely not in control. And for some, this is the major source of their anxiety. 

It’s time to realize that we have been given an opportunity to consider, or reconsider, priorities in our lives – the things that will matter today, tomorrow and ten years from now. For example, things that are true will always remain true. Undoubtedly, some might say that truth is relative. But, relative to what or to whom? What is the standard by which we measure truth? If someone says that there is no absolute standard, then we could rightly question whether or not that is a true statement. We should have the same perspective regarding things that are honorable, or right, or pure. We can reflect on things that are lovely – things that we enjoy seeing, people that we enjoy being with (even though they may be at a distance from us). Or, things that are of a good repute – people or things concerning which we have a high opinion. We have an opportunity to strive to do the best with what we have, to leave the mania and mentality of mediocrity and strive for excellence in whatever we are doing. We have an opportunity to commend, rather than to condemn. While not being exclusive, these things will help us to deal with anxiety (Proverbs 12:25 – “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”; 2 Samuel 22:31 – “The Word of the LORD is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.”)

This coming week we will be celebrating the Feast of Passover where the question is asked: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Well, there’s certainly a lot to say about this, particular Passover being different! I’ll deal with that in a separate post. But, the point to remember for now is that the Israelites were slaves to a ruthless taskmaster. Still, no matter how ruthless he was, he was no match for the God of all creation. They were kept safe and were freed from slavery by faith expressed in action.

We don’t have to be slaves to fear, to our governments or to the Cononavirus. We have not been given spirits of fear, but of boldness and a sound mind. Like the Israelites of old, when the plague passes, we will open our doors and experience freedom from slavery. But, our freedom should not mean that we are free to do whatever we want, or that each one can do what is right in his own eyes. Our lives will forever be changed and we will reflect on things as pre-Coronavirus and post-Coronavirus. Will we go back to doing the same things we did before, with the same attitudes and for the same, self-centered reasons? Has v’halilah! (May it never be!)

Social distancing may still be the norm of the day, but in the midst of confinement, we have an opportunity to experience things that are beyond what we can ask or think. Call upon Me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3) “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.” (Isaiah 30:18)

In these days of turmoil and uncertainty, may we learn that we don’t have to let anxiety weigh us down and we CAN experience victory over it. Hear a Sabbath prayer: “The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.” (Numbers 6:26) He’s the only One who can.

Be well, bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

There has to be a better way.

Shalom all,

Modern technology allows us to zoom in from outer space to an individual walking the street. But, sometimes, we need to take a bird’s-eye view of a situation to see it in its entirety. By failing to see the whole picture, we often miss seeing the forest through the trees. We can be so close to a particular problem, and focus all of our attention and energy to dealing with it, that we can fail to recognize the accompanying development of another, potential disaster that is inseparable from the primary one. Or, while we do pay attention to a secondary problem, we don’t attach to it the seriousness that we attach to the main one. 

Such is the situation with the present Covid-19 pandemic that has caused the world to slow down, to talk with one another, and even to put down weapons of warfare (not exclusively, but on the whole), in an effort to cooperate with each other to fight a common enemy, one that is tiny and unseen, until it attacks our health. The Coronavirus is no respecter of persons. It attacks people of every race, every color, every language and every religion. Its victims tend to be mainly older in age, but as the pandemic spreads, younger and even young people are affected, as well. There is no difference between rich and poor. A person wealthy in the things of the world has no defense against the plague any more than a person who is without means. In Israel, some who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust, who have survived the devastations of war and the nightmares of terrorism became victims to a tiny microbe. Stopping the spread of the disease and bringing it under “control” is the focus and concerted efforts of nations and governments around the globe. And rightly so. 

What about the developing problem that is recognized, but is not receiving the attention that it deserves? The world is slowly stopping, figuratively, of course, so that it can take care of its health. And, as part of the plan of how to deal with the problem, we are generating another problem, potentially more widespread and more complicated.

Stay home! Practice social distancing! Don’t go to work, unless you are involved in what society considers to be “essential”. These can be and certainly are practical and reasonable guidelines in the circumstances in an effort to “flatten the curve” and slow down the contagion, so that the health-care system doesn’t collapse under the strain. Of course, social distancing is really another term for physical distancing – keeping ourselves removed from physical contact that could result in the spread of the virus and has already claimed the lives of thousands around the world. Most countries started to put this into effect too late. They tried to close the barn door after the cow had already escaped. By God’s grace, Israel started relatively early and by doing so, it undoubtedly saved the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of our citizens.

Still, let’s start with the presumption that this was and still is the correct procedure to follow. Besides the isolation and the social problems that have already developed from prolonged lockdown, another, immediate consequence is the potential economic collapse that has already begun in earnest in some places. Israel is not immune to such a consequence any more than any other country.

At the present time, within the last month, almost a million Israelis have lost their jobs and registered for unemployment benefits. Approximately 24% of the total work force is now without jobs. The government – such as it is – is working to enact emergency legislation to help alleviate some of the economic distress and is prepared to provide an 80 Billion Shekel bailout. Local governments can join in and ease the burden of monthly or bi-monthly payments. The tax authorities can join in and allow a deferment for a few months. Landlords can be involved in helping to minimize the economic burden and delay or even cancel rents for a certain period of time. One Israeli Member of Knesset said that he was willing to forego one-third of his salary to help those who lost their jobs and encouraged his colleagues in the Knesset to do likewise (link to Hebrew site only). But, these measures cannot go on for an extended period of time without the economy collapsing. If it does, God forbid, we will be facing another depression, perhaps even greater than the Great Depression of the 20th century.

This is not a doomsday prediction. It is a realistic appraisal of what could happen when businesses close, when demand exceeds not only supply, but is accompanied by the inability to pay for the supply when it is available. If people don’t work, they don’t pay tax. If they don’t pay tax, there is less money available to the government, state or local, to pay for social programs and provide assistance where and when needed. Whatever saving were accumulated over the years of employment will be utilized to stay afloat. There will be a need for governments to print more money to distribute to people who cannot generate active income because they are stuck at home, and in the process cause a severe inflation of the economy and a diminution in the value of the local currency. 

If the economy suffers, services provided by public health facilities could become unavailable to any, except for the very wealthy. In the end, the health-care system that we want to protect from becoming overburdened and from collapsing will end up failing to provide the needed health assistance to those who can least afford it.

What choice do we have? We need to stop the spread of the virus and the only way to do that right now is to slow it down. OK. Understood. But, after about twenty-five percent of the work force is unemployed, and an even larger percentage can be generated over a relatively short period of time, the two questions that need to be asked and need to be answered are: “Is lockdown the best option to deal with the pandemic?” and “What happens when the Corona crisis ends?”

Businesses are already failing. Bankruptcies will undoubtedly increase. Some people may no longer have a job to return to when the pandemic ends. The disruption in the lives of the multitudes can create widespread fear, panic and pandemonium. The long-term effects of a prolonged lockdown, including, but not limited to, domestic violence and the traumatic impact not only on children, but adults, as well, could be devastating. And, the disheartening point is that we don’t know how long the physical distancing is going to last, or how long the economic “recovery” will take.  The ones who will be hardest hit will not be those who are on a 6-month vacation twice a year, but those who put in their 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, with one or two days off at the end of the week for a bit of a break. 

There has to be a better way. 

Until then, we need to keep in mind that physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing. We can still reach out an touch someone! And while we’re considering how to stay in touch, we are given a golden opportunity to reflect, as one person did, on the things that are really important to him. As he stated:

“[This] period has allowed me some time to reflect on my life. I have offered personal prayers for those who are currently ill with the virus or with other infirmities as I wish them good health and well-being. I have thought about those who are chronically ill or disabled who have to spend most, if not all their time, indoors without experiencing the freedom to move about and take advantage of the beauties of nature and the pleasures of good health. I have a new appreciation for those who had no choice but needed to isolate themselves so they could live – the thousands of Jews who hid themselves during the Holocaust for weeks, months or even years, sometimes helped by good and righteous people, and did not see the light of day or experience the presence of another human being. And I marvel at the strength and courage of the Prisoners of Conscience – the Refuseniks – many of whom were ostracized by their communities or sat in prison and in solitary confinement for no other reason than they wanted to immigrate to the State of Israel….

It will take some time but everyone admits Gam Ze Yaavor – this too shall pass. Hopefully we will find a vaccine, we will save those who are ill so they can return to good health, and we can get back to living the lives that we did before the onset of this pandemic. However, life will have changed for us all and will never be the same. Let us hope that those of us who have lived through this period of human history will never again take life for granted but will be grateful for each breath we take, each friend we make, each love we share, and each community to which we belong.

And along with the temporal, to reflect on the eternal: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:9). “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)

You’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you have. This is the better way.

Be well, bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

A Time to Unite – Turning Enemyship into Friendship

Shalom all. May this find each of you healthy and encouraged, notwithstanding the events shaking the world at this time.

On our end, things are never boring. There are rays of light in the midst of clouds of darkness. And with the events of this day, the question is asked: Is a unity government on our doorstep? From the looks of things, the time is ripe and is now here.

The Blue and White Party under former IDF General Benny Gantz (head of the Hosen L’Yisrael faction of that party) is splitting up. Another former General is remaining with him, while the third General that made up the coalition (from the Telem Party) of the Blue and White Party will now be part of the opposition. Yair Lapid, the fourth leg that made up Gantz’s center-left party and head of the Yesh Atid Party, accused the party leader of crawling into the government with Netanyahu. 

Everyone who can think rationally recognized that in the back drop of the coronavirus pandemic that affected the entire country, an emergency coalition government was not only desirable, but absolutely necessary.

The forward progress in this regard came following the action of Benny Gantz, who promoted himself to the position of Knesset Speaker (replacing Yuli Edelstein, who resigned yesterday, Wednesday). This followed extensive negotiations with the Likud, which culminated in forming a unity with a “political rival”, while causing disunity among “political friends”. The decision by Gantz to appoint himself as the Knesset Speaker was explained as an attempt to unlock the stalled unity talks with the Likud. It accomplished its stated purpose and received full support by Netanyahu’s Like Party. 

There is “a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Political warfare took place before, during and after three national elections, which resulted no winners. The big losers were the people of the State of Israel. The country was splitting apart, politically and ideologically. Just before the third round of election, we were beset with the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, within the space of a month, the number of those who tested positive went from single digits to almost 2,700, with 6 deaths, as of this writing. The last thing we needed was continued political rivalries and inability to make decisions. The country needed a government made up of people who could and would work together for the sake of the nation as a whole. The time had come, indeed, it was long overdue, to stop fighting each other and join together to fight against the growing health crisis and against a looming economic crisis. 

How will the face of the new, unity government look: Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to serve as Prime Minister, his fifth term in office, for a year and a half. During this time, Benny Gantz will serve as Foreign Minister, after which he will replace Netanyahu. Former General Gabi Ashkenazi will serve as Defense Minister. Other ministers will be agreed upon. Can it work? It has to. 

Not everyone is happy with the new developments. The Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) and Telem (Moshe Yaalon) parties felt betrayed and broke away from Gantz after he moved to appoint himself Knesset Speaker. According to an agreement between the different factions that made up the Blue and White Party, this position was to be held by a nominee of the Yesh Atid Party. Both of these parties will now be part of the “Opposition” to the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, although they will retain the name “Blue and White”. In all likelihood, Yair Lapid will be designated as the head of the Opposition.

If all of the kinks are worked out and the “peace process” between Netanyahu and Gantz comes to fruition, including ministerial portfolios, the government will come into being and will have at least 73 Knesset Members – a significant majority to be able to move things forward. And when the government is finally established and in place, it will leave Avigdor Lieberman out in the cold, along with the Joint List of primarily Arab parties. 

There are still procedural matters that need to be completed. Technically, Gantz still has an additional two weeks to complete his mandate of trying to put together a government. The likelihood of his being able to do so is almost nil, even before today’s events. If, and when, Gantz will join a Netanyahu-led government, he will have to return the mandate to the President of Israel, who would then give Netanyahu a renewed opportunity to form a government. So, while things look promising, we should keep in mind, as has often been said, that “it’ ain’t over till it’s over”.

Still, the immediate need of the moment is for the emergency government to deal with the national health crisis and the economic fallout of some 20% of the entire labor force being out of work, not to mention the multitude of small businesses that will close up shop due to absence of business and sufficient income to keep them afloat.

Today’s events are a temporary breath of fresh air, in the midst of reports of gloom and doom that follow in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We must always remember, this is Israel, a land of miracles. God has tasked us to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3). As Tevye said in “A Fiddler on the Roof”, I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?. He has called us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. In His way, in His time, He will bring forth the results. 

Be healthy, bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

A tale of two crises

Oy! As if the political crisis were not enough, along comes the Covid-19 (coronavirus) health crisis. And, along with the coronavirus comes an aggravation of the political crisis, because of efforts designed to deal with the coronavirus crisis. Sometimes, it seems as though we don’t see the forest through the trees. 

The third national election in one year took place on March 2nd. Neither of the two major parties achieved a majority to form a government. Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc gained more votes, but the center-left block, which received backing from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party, with support from Joint List of Arab Parties succeeded in getting a bare majority of 61 recommendations, allowing Benny Gantz to try to set up the next government. In the meantime, the coronavirus crisis made its presence real in Israel. This, in turn, resulted in a number of decisions that were taken by the interim government of Benjamin Netanyahu that were designed to deal with the health crisis. One of them affected the functioning of the court system, which resulted in delaying Netanyahu’s trial on three counts of corruption and breach of public trust, which was moved from last week and re-scheduled for May. Cyber monitoring of telephones, used primarily by Israeli security forces, was put into force to track the locations of people affected by the disease and to identify people who may have been exposed to it. The Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) was disbanded for a week, with no new committees being formed and no government oversight of electronic invasion of people’s privacy. This created a crisis in our democracy in addition to the political crisis of still not having a government. The Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the Knesset needs to get back in business by Monday,  that there can be proper supervision of electronic invasion of privacy, or the phone tracking – used for the sake of the public health – would stop. Political crisis and health crisis!

Which crisis is worse? If we need to choose between health and politics, it doesn’t appear to be a brain twister. Obviously, dealing with a pandemic should take precedence. What good is having a democratic, rights-protecting government, if it is not allowed to function in an effort to keep the voting public alive? Even in the midst of the health crisis, we still have the right to protest and demonstrate, as long as we keep a safe distance from one another. We can challenge the government’s behavior, but we need to be alive to do so.

Shabbat here is almost over. It is a day that we are to cease from our labors and regular involvements of the past week and rest. That’s essentially what we have been told that we need to do for the last six days. We are supposed to cause this day to be separate from the rest of the days of the week. Separation, isolation, seclusion and quarantine, terms that have been used to express how we are supposed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Along with those terms comes a new one: social distancing. As if we haven’t already done this during the last one or two decades. 

We are social beings by nature and by design. Some of us live in the concrete jungle. Others in community settings of many different kinds. We used to relate to one another face-to-face, physically. We would arrange to “do” a meal together, meet for coffee, go to the mall, the beach, for a picnic, a hike, a movie, sports, and a host of other things – together. And then, along comes the coronavirus. Our lives are turned upside down. We’re told to stay put. All places of recreation and normal social gathering are now closed. Don’t leave home, except for a health-related reason, to purchase food or other necessity, or in case of an emergency. If we do go out, we’re told to stay at least 6-1/2 feet away from someone else, don’t be in a car with more than two people, wear a facial mask, don’t touch anyone else and don’t even to touch our faces. While we are told not to go out, we often allow confusion, frustration, panic and depression to gain an easy entry. 

Social distancing is not new to our generation. Long before the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head, we have been physically separating from one another more and more with each new digital and electronic devise that entered the realm of what has been coined “social media”, which has done more to generate social distancing than the coronavirus. The social media revolution has affected our mental health. Technology surpassing human interacationWhat we caused to happen slowly over time for physical convenience, we are now compelled to do as a means to save our physical lives. What a turn around! Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a product of technological social distancing as anyone reading this. Some aspects of technology are good, others are anything but good. We truly need to have discernment to know what is beneficial and what is destructive, socially, mentally, ethically, morally and even physically.

How can we redeem the time? How can we remain “social beings”, while being compelled to exercise “social distancing”? It’s clear that our way of thinking and viewing the situation needs to be reversed. Instead of thinking that we are confined, we should find creative, innovative ways to reach out. Many have written and suggested solutions how to deal with the disease and the negative affects of isolation. We need to get out of our rooms of gloom and recognize that “this, too, shall pass”. One struck a chord with me:

“Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.” In other words, being separated from one another doesn’t have to mean being cut off from one another. A burden shared is a burden half lifted. Be in touch … from a distance!

When both of these crises are over, we may well be facing new realities in all areas of government, business and social involvement. We’ll have to deal with each one in its time. We made it through Pharaoh, we’ll make it through this.

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy; and may You shelter them, that those who Love Your name may exult in You.” (Psalm 5:11)

“…I, the LORD am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

Keep looking up. Have a great week. 

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Shutting down the Country, one notice at a time

It’s difficult these days to discuss almost anything of importance other than the expansion and handling of the coronavirus pandemic. As of this writing, 427 Israelis have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, an increase of 90 cases since yesterday. While some of them are severe, most of the cases were said to be mild. To date, there have been a handful of recoveries. Thousands have been placed in isolation.

The latest Guidelines from the Ministry of Health, that were last updated this morning, set forth the “dos and don’ts” for the moment, as part of a mandatory lockdown. 

No sector remains unaffected, including the IDF, which announced that there have been half a dozen cases of soldiers, who were diagnosed with the disease. Almost 4,300 soldiers and civilian employees of the IDF are in quarantine.  Two government Ministers and an additional two members of the Knesset are also presently in quarantine. And, notwithstanding the steps taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu, that are designed to curtail activities in both the government and private sectors during the present health crisis, emergency regulations still have not been signed and government employees were directed to report to work today as usual. There is still considerable confusion over how the new guidelines are to be implemented and the economic consequences resulting from them. It is estimated that some 70 percent of employees in the private sector are remaining at home. A violation of directives of the Ministry of Health can result in receiving a fine of NIS 5,000 (approx. US $1,335).

In addition, the present interim government approved the taking of cyber measures that would allow the General Security Service (Sha”bak) to track people who came in contact with the virus, in order to track and, hopefully, prevent its spread. The clear purpose and goal of the emergency regulations that allow for the gathering cell phone data is two-fold: to locate and warn potential victims of the virus and also to enforce quarantine orders. Both are designed to curtail the time that a person who was exposed to the virus can continue to walk about freely and potentially endanger others. The hope is that this would ultimately help to reduce the spread of the virus. The regulations (for those who read Hebrew🙂 explain who will be tracked, how surveillance will be carried out, who will manage it, how long the information can be kept and who will have access to it. 

Considerable upset and serious concern have been voiced within the political system and by experts dealing with the protection of privacy over the use of technological means to track civilian members of the population. The primary argument is that at least for the present, there is no oversight by the Knesset or the public. Obviously, applying sophisticated “spyware” against private individuals, something that is usually kept for use against the war against terror, increases the risk that sensitive information might fall into the wrong hands. The right of privacy is a protected, fundamental right in Israel and a violation of that right should only be allowed first and foremost for the benefit and protection of the public and, to the extent possible, in a limited fashion. The thought that immediately arises is that such “invasion of privacy” might continue after the cessation of the emergency, or worse, that the information gathered during the coronavirus crisis would be used for other purposes. There is also no provisions for imposing sanctions for wrongful use of the information, even by those entrusted with the responsibility to gather it. This is a continuing issue and will need to be followed. The situation is constantly changing. 

From the present looks of things, we could well be facing a total, mandatory lockdown. It could be later today, or tomorrow. It depends on the speed of the spread of the coronavirus. If it continues in its present course, there will be a need for a call-up of reservists, and, particularly, those serving in the Home Front Command, to help enforce the lockdown and to help the Police and Health Ministry in different ways.

Original estimates from the Ministry of Health were that we would be facing the crest of the wave of coronavirus illnesses in mid-to-end April. Now, the “guesstimates” are end of May or June. This is a potential nightmare from almost every perspective. May it be that it will pass sooner than expected, rather than later.

Attitude definitely makes the difference in how Israelis (and non-Israelis alike) are responding to the health crisis. Some panic, other are somewhat more relaxed. And, while the coronavirus is definitely not a laughing matter, some try to overcome the increasingly problematic situation with humor. We can take all the precautions that are prescribed by the authorities, but there is one thing that has proven effective over the millenia: “A joyful heart is good medicine….” (Prov. 17:22)  Watch a movie that makes you laugh. Read a book with a happy ending. Try to be innovative, without being insulting.

Attached are If you need 144 rolls of toilet paper...three examples of humor found on the internet. There are multitudes of them around. Corona LisaFind some that Me seeing hand soap shelves empty in stores...make you laugh out loud.

 

 

 

You’ll be surprised how it takes the edge off. Try to help and encourage someone else that is struggling with the situation (Isaiah 35:3; Prov. 16:24).

As for the politicking in the midst of
the coronavirus crisis, that is a joke of a different sort, but no one is laughing. It will be dealt with separately.

Smiling is Infectious

Give someone a smile😄, by email, WhatsApp, Skype, even telephone (remember what that is?). It can go a looooong way. It can even become (you should forgive the expression) viral! 

[Give] attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. (Prov. 4:20-22)

Seek the welfare of the city where [you now live], and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Even the wind and the sea obey Him.

Shalom all,

This post is a bit different from the things I usually write. I am sharing something my oldest son wrote regarding the coronavirus. This is translated from Hebrew and was shared originally in a young adults group.

Red Sea Corals-image-2020-03-16-at-19.21.21

Sadly, this past weekend’s hard storm in Eilat left massive destruction in the coral reef. Not only did it damage scientific projects, but it damaged the beauty and richness of the animals dependent on the reefs for their lives.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). This is a harsh and painful reminder of the consequences of sin that has entered the world. Like creation, we too, await the day when we will be free from destruction, illnesses and death in the world.

 

 

“…’Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:41). The Lord Yeshua is in control of everything, over natural and supernatural forces, including coronavirus.

He has the power to restrain and stop and on the other hand, do nothing if He chooses so. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” (Psalm 33:11), and as Job said: “‘I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted’ (Job 42:2).

We love to be in control and know what is going on. I think that somewhere the coronavirus shattered this illusion and reveals to us the reality that we aren’t really in control…We can’t go wherever we want. For some of us, work and studies are stopped, there is a lot of sadness, anxiety and so forth. No doubt the year 2020 is both very interesting and challenging! I believe the coronavirus is also teaching us to view life in proportion, at things that really matter.

How interesting that at the first young adults’ meeting this year, we spoke about how our faith is expressed in the most challenging and difficult times of our lives. Is it not during difficult times that we should place our trust in the Lord Yeshua? As you noticed, we don’t have fellowship gatherings now and we have heard countless times how the Congregation is not just a building. We don’t need a special place to have fellowship, to pray, to read or even to worship! Let’s remember to be a light in this dark time: to allow others to pass us in line at the supermarket, to be with self restraint and patience with everyone, to ask others in the faith (and also not in the faith) how they are doing and to seek opportunities to show God’s love.

Have a blessed week and remember: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners” (James 4:8)  

 © Nati Kramer

Underwater photo by Nati

Can Coronavirus bring healing to the government crisis in Israel?

Touching elbows, instead of shaking hands. Saluting one another, instead of greeting with a hug. Now, we are told that we need try to keep a “reasonable” distance between us, with “reasonable” being at least one and a half meters (4.9 feet). All of these are contrary to the norms and culture of our society. Slowly, slowly, little by little (or, as we say in Yiddish, “Yiddle by Yiddle”), we are facing increasing restrictions, limitations and interruptions in our daily life. All because of a microbe gone wild.

There are some 69 species of the family of viruses known to the medical community as coronaviruses, only seven of which are said to affect humans. The virus has been referred to SARS Covid-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the disease that follows being infected by it was labeled Covid-19 (coronavirus disease-2019). We are 73 days after the first disclosures of the disease and, as of this writing, 143 people in Israel have tested Coronavirus positive, with more than two dozen being added daily. About a thousand medical personnel are now in quarantine because of exposure to the virus. The Ministry of Health does not have a projected date for conquering the virus, although serious efforts are under way to find a solution. Even if a vaccine is developed to prevent contracting the disease, its commercial manufacture and distribute could well take a year or more. According to the statistics listed in Worldometer’s Coronavirus update, 137 countries and territories have been affected to date.

Israel is low on the list of countries affected, but has instituted protective measures early on. Restrictions imposed on traveling to and from affecting countries; mandatory quarantine for persons entering Israel from certain specified countries, which has had a major impact on the airline and tourist industry; restriction the number of people who can congregate in certain places, which restriction is now not to exceed 100; restrictions in public transportation and closures of educational institutions, among others. On the drawing board is the closure of government offices and having employees work from home (to the extent possible) and gradual closure of non-essential businesses, among other measures. The population is been encouraged to remain at home, with the exception of those in essential services. In short, we are gradually approaching a nationwide shut down, which has already occurred in other countries. 

Being in the presence of someone with the sniffles causes knee-jerk reactions in people, who immediately distance themselves. Someone who coughs while at a supermarket check-out counter can cause angry responses and accusations of wilfully endangering other customers. Panic buying has become the norm of the day and supermarket shelves are quickly emptied of basic items. Fear and anxiety are seen, and expressed, in almost all locations. As one person put it, “I’m afraid of being afraid.”

With the Covid-19 being official labeled as a “Pandemic” by the World Health Organization and the possibility of additional, even more severe restrictions being imposed by the Department of Health and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there has been a stirring that the crisis of the Coronavirus could bring about a healing, although temporarily, to our political crisis.

As the Coronavirus crisis was elevated to a national health emergency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form an emergency unity government to combat the pandemic.  In the process, Netanyahu made it clear that the emergency government would be under his leadership and that the Joint Arab List would not be invited to participate in the government. He was pushing for an affirmative response from Gantz, as he called for “the formation now, even this evening, of a national emergency government”, while pointing out that it would be “an emergency government for a limited period … [to] fight to save the lives of citizens.” Although previously ruling out any partnership with Netanyahu, he nevertheless expressed a willingness to discuss the possibility of a national unity government, adding that the Blue and White Party would do “everything in our power to see it move forward.” However, this remains to be seen.

Whether or not Netanyahu’s offer is eventually accepted or rejected, there is a ray of hope, at least on the surface of things, that the two main political rivals are willing to work together to combat a powerful microbe that is bringing this country to its knees. Such cooperation, if it happens, could result in the healing of a government that has, essentially, been in a shut down mode for the past year and a half.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts… (James 4:8)

Shabbat Shalom.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing. Happy Purim!

Marvin

Mordechai, Where Are You? Please Stand Up.

I was asked (strongly encouraged) to republish my blog post on Purim, that was originally posted on 20 March, 2019. It appears below, with minor modifications.

Despite the clouds of political uncertainty that continue to hover over the nation, the fear of a national health emergency and a looming financial crisis, among other things, there is always a reason to be thankful. Even if there is forced quarantine, we don’t need to sit in rooms of gloom. How we view our circumstances can make or break us. Are we mindful of the fact that God is mindful of us?

Some stories, like true vintage wine, become better with age. One of them is the story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. We are commanded to tell the story from generation to generation. It reveals the presence of God, His might, His power and His holiness and ability to save the people whom He has chosen (Deut. 7:7-8). These attributes of God are also present, and He remains mighty to save, even when He is not in the forefront of the action, but in the background and even when He is not referred to or mentioned by name. This is the situation in the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther). It reveals the presence of Him Who is invisible.

We know the story and it is a great one. It is a story of absence – absence from the country where the sons of Jacob were to shine, to prosper, to worship God in the majesty of His holiness, to be blessed and to be a blessing. It is a story of the absence of a national leadership amongst the captives from Judea and Samaria who were taken first to Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, some of whom were later brought to Persia (modern-day Iran) and who were living during the reign of King Ahashverush (Ahasuerus). It is a story where the absence of God in the lives of the captives stands out by the failure to refer to Him. It is a story that serves as the background for the complaint of the people, as revealed in the explanation of the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel, namely, an absence of hope: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off”.'” (Ezekiel. 37:11) But, even in the blatant absence of specific reference to Him, still, the Holy One of Israel continues to exercise His sovereign control over all the fortunes and misfortunes of the people, whom He referred to as “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).

This comment is being written in the Hebrew month of Adar. It was on the 13th day of this month, “when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them”. (Esther 9:1)

We look at the story with the benefit of hindsight. It is written for us and we can see how the pieces that seem disjointed all fit together and reveal the Hand of God and His unseen presence among His people, during one of the lowest times in the history of the nation of Israel. The major players are Mordechai, his niece Hadassah (whose name in exile was changed to Esther), King Ahashverush, who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia and Haman, to whom the king gave exceedingly great authority. The king commanded that all of his servants, who were at the king’s gate, were to bow down and pay homage to Haman. But, Mordechai did neither.

From a political perspective, we see a “situation developing”. One man, who was at the king’s gate (i.e., was part of those who were close to the seat of power and who were able to come in and go out of the court without a special permit), defied the command of the king and would not bow down before Haman. It is recorded for us that Mordechai was living in the citadel of Susa. He was a descendant of Kish, who was a Benjamite and part of the upper class families who were taken captive and exiled along with King Jeconiah of Judah. (Esther 1:5-6) Another famous descendant of Kish was Saul, Israel’s first king, who disobeyed the Lord’s instructions given through Samuel the prophet, to strike and totally destroy Amalek. King Saul defeated the Amalekites, but allowed their king, Agag, to live – an act of disobedience that resulted in the Lord rejecting Saul from being king. Ultimately, the prophet Samuel killed Agag.

Haman was said to be “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite”. So, the consequences of Saul’s disobedience had future consequences for the nation of Israel. The descendants of Agag came to distant lands and some of them, like Haman, ended up in the service of the king of Persia. And so, once again, a descendant of Kish meets up with a powerful Amalekite.

However, as mentioned above, not only is Mordechai a descendant of Kish, he is also a Benjamite. Benjamin was the last son of Jacob. He was born after Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, after Jacob crossed the Jabbok and after he and all of his household bowed down before Esau. (Gen. 32-33, 35:16-18) Therefore, Benjamin, who was the only son of Jacob who was born in the land of Israel, did not bow down before Esau. And, his descendant, Mordechai, stood his ground, as well, and did not bow down before Haman. When questioned by the king’s servants why he refused to bow, his answer was that “he was a Jew”. (Esther 3:4)  The refusal of Mordechai to bow down before Haman “filled [Haman] with rage”. When he was told “who the people of Mordechai were … Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordechai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahashverush (Ahasuerus)”. (Esther 3:5-6) Lots (Purim) were cast to determine the day that this would take place.

Haman’s understanding went beyond the simple fact that there are a people under the king’s rule who have a different religion. The issue was not the existence of a different religious belief, which could be tolerated, but rather, the Jewish people, whose existence would not be tolerated by the descendant of Agag, the Amalekite. Even though only Mordechai refused to bow down, the entire nation was going to suffer the consequences of his act of defiance.

The rest of the story continues, with Haman convincing the king to issue an edict that the Jewish people be destroyed. Haman was even willing to pay money into the king’s treasury if the king would agree to his request. Mordechai publicly demonstrated against the king’s edict and enlisted his niece, Hadassah (i.e., Esther, after whom the Scroll is named) to appeal to the king. Esther was chosen to replace the deposed Queen Vashti, when the latter refused to appear before the king and his drunken friends, who had been partying for seven days. Esther explained to Mordechai that her life would be endangered if she came into the presence of the king without being summoned. Mordechai wisely explained the situation in a clear and unequivocal manner: “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14) Things don’t get much clearer than that. Esther understood the gravity of the situation and that it was not her life only that was at risk, but those of the Jewish people who were under the rule and reign and authority of the king – her husband.

She requested that all of the Jews in Susa fast (and impliedly, pray) for her and not eat or drink for three days. She and her maidens would do the same and afterwards, she would go to the king, contrary to law, and, as she said: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) And she and they did so and on the third day, the fate of Esther and the Jewish people was decided. The sentence of death had already been passed. Now, would the sentence of death be carried out, or will there be life? The golden scepter was extended to her and with it, life for her and eventually, life for the Jewish people. She chose the manner of presenting her petition to the king and the timing of it. In the meantime, the king had a bout of insomnia and instructed that the chronicles of the kingdom be read to him. It was then that he learned that Mordechai discovered and informed about a plot to kill the king, who now decided to publicly honor and reward Mordechai by dressing him in royal garments and having him paraded through the city square on a horse, on which the king himself had ridden. Haman was appointed to do this for Mordechai and to proclaim before all the people: “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desire to honor.” (Esther 6:10-11) This further enraged Haman.

When Esther revealed to the king what Haman had done, the king issued another edict that allowed the Jews to defend themselves, inasmuch as by law, he could not cancel his own decree. Haman was the recipient of the king’s wrath, as he and his ten sons were hanged on the gallows and what had been meant for evil was turned around for good. (Esther chpt. 9) Mordechai recorded the events and sent letters to all the Jews in all the provinces under the authority and rule of King Ahasverush (Ahasuerus), obliging them to annually celebrate the 14th (today) and 15th days of the Hebrew month of Adar, “because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday … for Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them…Therefore they called these days Purim after the name Pur…So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants…The command of Esther established these customs for Purim and it was written in the book.” (Esther 9:20-32)

At the end of the story, Mordechai was exalted to a position of power and authority, second only to the king himself. He was “great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.” (Esther 10:3)

There is much that this story reveals and many aspects of it have significant, and indeed, eternal ramifications and applications for those within the Messianic community, as well as for the whole world. We see how the Hand of God was moving behind the scene, using the drunken feast of the king to embarrass the then queen, who was removed because of her disobedience to the command of the king (by the way, there was significant reason for that refusal); the choosing of Esther to replace her; the positioning of Mordechai as one who was at the king’s gate and his overhearing the plot to kill the king; his being of the descendants of the tribe of Benjamin; his refusal to bow before Haman the Agagite; the unsuccessful attempt to destroy the Jewish people and Mordechai’s being exalted with power and authority, second only to the king himself.

Our God reigns! “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Prov. 16:33) What the enemy of our souls meant for bad, God used for good.

Israel sorely needs men like Mordechai today. He was the godly remnant amongst a people who believed that God had forsaken them. He represented the hope of a national restoration, when there had not yet been any experience with exile. Living outside the land, away from the Temple service, away from the place where God commanded the blessing, was all that the people knew. Yet, one man stood in the gap. He said “no”. He would not bow down to man and certainly not to a descendant of those who sought to destroy the Jewish people. Today, we see and experience that once again, the nations conspire together against God and against His people, saying, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation that the name of Israel be remembered no more” (Psalm 83:4). The Lord God of the universe, creator of heaven and earth, knows if you and I are alive “for such a time as this”.

Looking at the situation today in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East and in North America, we cannot fail to see that the Hamans of this world abound and have multiplied. Some have even been elevated to positions of power, giving them a platform from which to curse and condemn the Jewish people. Indeed, Israel is not exempt from their presence. We see some of them emerging from the shadows in Israel right under our noses. They accuse us, insult us and want to bring us before the International Criminal Court, while giving support and encouragement to our enemies, some of whom are only a stone’s throw away (literally). They would be thrilled if the State of Israel would cease to exist. Despite this, some of our political leaders are prepared to bow down to them, figuratively, and willingly consent to allowing them to be informed on matters of national security and involved in making decisions on a national level that will affect our entire country. Where are the Mordechais? We need to be people who are willing to proclaim who we are, as we face the plans and pursuits of nations around and enemies within, who seek to divide this land and scatter God’s people. God doesn’t change. He remains the same yesterday, today and forever! A little faith can move mountains. And God is not removed from us, even though we do not see Him physically, but only with the eyes of faith. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 125:2)

“I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse.” (Gen. 12:3)

So Bless, be blessed and be a blessing. Happy Purim!

Marvin

©️

Purim, Politics and the Plague of Coronavirus

Shalom all.

It’s a holiday in Israel, starting tonight. It is the Festival of Purim. Time to take a bit of a break from double-Excedrin headache politics, even though politics doesn’t want to leave us alone. Three former army generals, two of whom made public statements about not being in a government with those who want to see the elimination of the State of Israel, are now willing to ignore what they said and join hands with the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, some of whose members openly praise terrorists and want to see the elimination of the State of Israel. 

Hey, it’s Purim – a joyful, Biblical festival that commemorates and celebrates God’s intervention and salvation of the Jewish people, who were taken into exile in Persia (the Biblical name of what is now Iran). It is the story told in the Scroll of Esther and reveals God’s working behind the scenes to save the Jewish exiles from a ruthless enemy, who sought to annihilate us (so, what has changed over the last 2,500 years?). But, the holiday today is marred by the outbreak of the coronavirus, which Israel is now referring to as the Plague of Corona.

As of this writing, we have 42 cases of people who tested coronavirus positive. The Israel Ministry of Health has issued a number of guidelines and restrictions, each new one a little more stringent than the preceding one. Tourism has been seriously affected. Airlines have cancelled or limited flights to and from different countries, creating financial crises said to be unparalleled in our short history. The Tel Aviv stock exchange experienced a sharp decline, particularly energy and tourism shares. The IDF has imposed travel restrictions on its personnel and is setting up field hospitals to accommodate soldiers who returned to Israel, who were exposed to the virus while abroad. Passengers on a bus cannot sit in the seat immediately behind the driver and no one is allowed to stand on a bus. If there are no more seats, passengers will not be allowed to get into the bus. 

Only a few minutes prior to the writing of this post, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that all Israelis returning from abroad will need to be quarantined for 14 days. Starting this Thursday, non-Israelis who were in “affected” countries during the last 14 days will have to prove that they are able to self-quarantine, otherwise they will be denied entry. The consequences of such a declaration are far-reaching and unprecedented. It is estimated that some 300,000 people will need to be quarantined. How will such an enormous task be carried out? How will it be enforced? How will it impact on an economy that is already beginning to feel the effects of a slowly increasing awareness of a potential national health crisis? Will the people accept or reject increasing governmental restrictions due to the virus? Will fear over being “exposed” to the virus and the possibility of quarantine cause increased panic buying? 

These and other questions do not have easy answers and we’ll have to see how things are played out. In the meantime, Israel is third highest coronavirus testing countries in the world, surpassed only by South Korea and Italy. Lowest on the list appearing on the data website Worldometer is the United States. Along with the high rate of testing, Israeli medical scientists are working diligently to try to come up with an appropriate remedy.

Oh yeah, we need to remember that we are now at the start of the joyful festival of Purim. It doesn’t matter that the coronavirus has caused public celebrations to be cancelled throughout most of the country. It doesn’t matter that we are told not to congregate in places that have more than 500 people. It doesn’t matter that we are cautioned not to shake hands with anyone, but to keep them almost sterilized. It’s a time to celebrate, as we remember what God has done for us in the past and to recognize that He is more than able to do the same for us today. He helped us to overcome Pharaoh, He can help us to overcome the Hamans of today, whether they are external, dwell among us, or both. 

It’s Purim. Read, remember, rejoice.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin

Win Some, Lose Some – Balancing Power Politics

Shalom all.

With the major focus these days being on the spread of the Coronavirus in Israel and elsewhere, the political establishment continues to play its games of power politics. Does it matter that people are testing positive to the virus, or that multitudes are being quarantined, or that the economy here is facing a potential major crisis? Yes and no. Yes, it matters. But, no, it is not a priority. The only thing that is important for politicians is how to undo what the voice of the people determined in a democratic election. 

How can a small political party, that has only seven seats out of a parliament of one hundred and twenty, determine who can be or will be the Prime Minister of Israel? The question almost boggles the mind, when it has been asked in each of the last three elections here. And the answer is that it is always the same party, headed by the same person, who has come to be labeled as the king maker of Israeli politics.

Well, it didn’t take long for Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) Party to follow up his endorsement of the proposed legislation to set a term limit for the Prime Minister and to curtail a P.M.’s ability to form a government if he is under indictment. That endorsement was like a re-invigorating shot in the arm for Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party, as well as for the leftist conglomerate of parties. This morning, Sunday, Lieberman blew wind to his sails as he came out with his five basic terms for joining the next coalition government that he would support Gantz to head up.

The points: (1) minimum income, based on the minimum wage, for pensioners living on supported income and old-age pension; (2) transferring to local governments authority regarding public transportation and operation of businesses on Shabbat; (3) completing the passage of the Draft Law that passed its first reading in mid-2018, that would, in part, cancel exemptions of Yeshiva students, set recruitment targets and impose economic sanctions on Yeshivot that don’t meet those targets; (4) passage of a law allowing for civil marriage [yes, there is no legitimate civil marriage possibility in Israel and such ceremonies can only be performed abroad and then can be registered here]; (5) changing the laws relating to conversion, allowing local rabbis to carry them out [instead of the orthodox, religious establishment]. These are starting points, not final ones.

Within the space of a few short hours, Gantz accepted Lieberman’s conditions, saying: “Agreed. We must move forward.” But, in the language of politics, “moving forward” often means moving backwards, attempting to undo what has been done and to negate the voice of the people that was expressed in the elections that took place last week. So, if Lieberman’s assistance will help to push Gantz over the threshhold to enable him to get the nod from the President to form a government, then one must ask whether Gantz is the one who will really be in charge, or whether the strings of the country will be pulled and manipulated in the background by Lieberman.

What is it that motivates Lieberman, who was once a close associate of Netanyahu, to pull out all the stops to unseat the Prime Minister? According to a report in the Times of Israel, Lieberman claims that Netanyahu was responsible for multiple complaints filed against him and his family with police, prosecutors and tax authorities. Some of the “complaints” were made anonymously while others were said to be made by persons close to Netanyahu. Lieberman was quoted as saying: “It’s clear to me that behind this move are Netanyahu and his lawyer ….”, adding that efforts were made to dig up dirt on him. “By my code this is a sin for which there is no forgiveness, even on Yom Kippur” (i.e., the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar). “They should stop sending messengers to me on behalf of Likud — the thought that I will sit with Netanyahu is a fantasy with no chances.” Obviously, the Likud denied any validity to Lieberman’s claim.

For a secularist, Lieberman’s reference to Yom Kippur and saying that Netanyahu cannot be forgiven of his sins against Lieberman, is nothing short of hypocritical. Even though there are some differences in political ideologies between Lieberman and Netanyahu, Lieberman’s own statements reveal that his primary reason for opposing Netanyahu is personal, not political. For him, “The most important thing right now is to ensure [Blue and White party chief Benny] Gantz gets the mandate [to form a government].” 

How exactly Gantz, with Lieberman’s help, is planning to set up a government without the help of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties remains to be seen. But, as we have seen time and time again, politics makes for strange bedfellows. Still, the possibility of getting support from the Joint List has generated opposition within the ranks of Gantz’s Blue and White Party.

The world continues to turn and power politics of misaligned players continue to try to overturn, while the Coronavirus continues to spread in its not so petty pace from day to day and impacts more and more of our population and our national life. National health should take precedence over national prominence. Our priority should be the welfare of the population, not the whims of the political establishment. We are a first-world nation with a third-world mentality. Hatred will not bring about healing. We need an injection of common sense and a spirit of camaraderie. With God, nothing is impossible.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin

The Election is Over, But No One is Smiling

“Still, he has pledged that there will not be a fourth election, although the reasons for making such a statement are anything but clear. He has, however, said that there will be “surprises”, which is not a word that is looked upon favorably in political circles. Lieberman has consistently vowed that he would not help form a government that is dependent upon religious parties (right) or the support of the Joint List of Arab partiers (left). He cannot now back-track on either position, as it would spell political doom for his party and, possibly, for him personally. So, what are the surprises? We’ll have to wait and see.” (TWTW-2 March, 2020)

The statements of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party were made prior to last week’s election, the third in less than a year. When the election was over, his party received seven, presently unaligned Knesset seats, allowing him, once again, to become the king maker of Israeli politics. Only three days after the election was over, after the people of Israel made their voices heard, efforts were underway to undermine the voice of the people, as well as to jeopardize Israel’s democracy and, potentially, its security. 

The results of the election, left, right and center-left:

33 – Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) 55 – Center Left – Gantz 58 – Right – Netanyahu 36 – Likud
15 – Joint List (of Arab Parties) 9 – Shas (Orthodox)
7 – Labor-Gesher-Meretz 7 – United Torah Judaism (UTJ)
6 – Yamina (Religious-Secular Right)
7 –  Yisrael Beiteinu

Lieberman ??? Unaligned

And the surprise is now out of the bag. Lieberman’s party made the following statement this past Thursday: “At the recently ended faction meeting, [the party] decided to promote two laws. The first law proposes a term limit for the prime minister. The second law prevents an indicted MK from forming a government.” The significance of those decisions should not be missed. It would now appear that Lieberman is no longer sitting on the sidelines, but is actively taking sides in the political battle that continues to rage after the votes are in.

The proposed legislation, which can only be submitted for consideration after the new Knesset is sworn in, is alleged to be the brain child of the Blue and White Party, together with the two left parties, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List. But, if so, then the “surprises” promised by Lieberman are still to be revealed. It is reasonable to presume this legislation is what Lieberman had in mind, but that it needed to be submitted by Gantz et al. in order for it not to be considered the personal vendetta of Lieberman against Netanyahu. It is still on the drawing board, but can become potential draft legislation in less than two weeks. 

But, getting the bill passed is another story and will require Gantz to become the favorite son of the soon-to-be-sworn-in politicos, then to have his chosen nominee to replace the present Speaker of the Knesset, both of which would necessitate his getting the full support of the Joint List, which is somewhat disjointed at the moment, if the three members of the Balad party in the Joint List continue to refuse to sit in a government with Gantz, whom they referred to as “racist”. That would leave the Gantz bloc of center-left and left parties with 59 potential seats, as opposed to the Netanyahu-right bloc of 58. Such a situation would again require Israel President, Reuven Rivlin, to use his discretion to determine which of the two major candidates should be given the opportunity to form a new government. Still, 59 seats would still give the Gantz bloc a potential majority in any vote in the Knesset. 

Gantz and Lieberman are determined to unseat Netanyahu. Up until now, they have not succeeded. Netanyahu is determined not to be removed by political rivals. If he will not continue to be the Prime Minister, it will be either by his own choice or by decision of the legal system.

As noted, the seven votes of Lieberman’s party, if thrown in with the Blue and White bloc, will end his fence straddling and mark his taking sides in the on-going saga and concerted efforts to unseat Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, who originally had Lieberman’s support some two plus decades ago.

It should be noted that the proposed legislation is intended to become effective only after the “next” election, not this one. If it is so presented and passed, it could withstand a court challenge to its validity, while also constituting a legal obstacle to Netanyahu running in a fourth election – if, God forbid, a compromise is not reached soon and a fourth round becomes inevitable. At present, there is still the political stalemate. The possibility of setting up a minority government still exists, but is not the best-case scenario by any stretch of the imagination.

Enter The Coronavirus

With the spread of the Coronavirus. and its entry into Israel and the possibility of facing an unprecedented health crisis in Israel, one that looms large on the horizon despite efforts being made to curtail it, the politicians will be forced to deal with multitudes of our population being in forced isolation and with the potential nightmares facing the economy. It’s time to put personal animosities aside and make every effort to work together for the sake of the nation as a whole. The people have a long memory and if we are severely affected by stubborn political figures, whose pride and self-interest take priority over the needs of the people, they will be held accountable, in the days to come or at the next visit to the polling stations. May wisdom and compassion move them to work together.

Have a great week.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin