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