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