The Terror Of “The Bug”!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom.

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

The Beirut Explosion – When Weapons of Hatred Backfired

Shalom all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since when do we take Nasrallah to be truthful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Amalek, 2020

Shalom all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

“I Take Responsibility!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

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

Marvin

 

When Justice Collides with Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Three Thousand Five Hundred Years Old … Seventy Two Years Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day 1- 2020-04-29

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin

We WILL remember and WILL NOT forget!

Shalom all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvin

Inching our way out of lockdown and into Spring

Shalom all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvin

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

Shalom all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

Negotiations for Unity are Cancelled! The Breakthrough Broke Down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvin