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