News Digest — 4/8/20

United Under Curfew: A Special Passover Message From Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

My dear people of Israel, this year we are celebrating the Passover Seder, in difficult circumstances, in the shadow of coronavirus, a plague for modern times.  It has necessitated harsh rules for us all.

Suddenly, we have started to realize how precious the simple things are that make up our day-to-day lives; things like going out to breathe in the spring air that comes along with Passover each year, like the busy and bustling, which is very Israeli in our holiday preparations, like the beloved, well-known family gathering around the Seder table.

Suddenly, when we are compelled to observe social-distancing, lockdowns and family isolation, it throws into sharp relief the commandment to “tell your son,” the act of passing the story on from one generation to the next, from the grandmothers and grandfathers, to their children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Because that is our story, our anchor.  That is what binds us together, even when we are forced to be separated.

But despite everything, a holiday atmosphere has arrived and is present.  It is a unique one. In spite of everything, we will gather around the Seder table, recite the Shehecheyanu blessing, and tell the story — to those who recline at our sides, as well as those who are just as close but are forced to celebrate with us from a distance.

The Book of Exodus, in describing the suffering of the Jews in Egypt, says, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abrahem, with Isaac and with Jacob,” (2:24)

In these times, my dears, we are all praying — separately, but together — young and old, religious and secular, for better times to come.  We are all asking God to “remember the covenant with our forefathers.”

And for you children: even if this year, we won’t be celebrating the Seder like we do every year, as we will be with our immediate families only, don’t give up the traditions and the special Passover songs.  Other than that, remember that the more intimate the Seder is, the better chance you have of finding the afikomen. 



Coronavirus Cases Reach 71 As Israel Prepares For Passover Curfew

The number of Israelis infected with coronavirus continued to climb Wednesday (8th) as the country prepared to be locked down with a total curfew for the start of the Passover festivities.

The Ministry of Health reported the death toll rose overnight to 71 with 9,404 people in Israel testing positive so far since the outbreak of the pandemic.  Of the 740 people hospitalized, 147 are in serious condition and 122 of them are breathing with the help of a ventilator.

Traffic slowed to a trickle after a ban on intercity travel went into effect Tuesday (7th) in a targeted move to stop millions of Israelis from gathering for the traditional Seder meal Wednesday evening (8th) that marks the start of the week-long Passover holiday.

Police roadblocks were set up to prevent movement, with those traveling for non-critical reasons facing fines.  Starting Wednesday afternoon (8th), a curfew went into effect limiting citizens to within 100 meters of their homes until Thursday morning (9th) to ensure that Israelis get the message to stay home and not spread the virus.

“No one is to leave the community in which they reside unless it is to buy food, medicine or other essential products, or to receive essential services, that are otherwise unobtainable in the community in which they live,” a government statement said.



Only One Group In Israel Will Celebrate Passover En Masse (And They’re All Sick)

When Jews in Israel and indeed around the world, celebrate the Passover holiday with only their immediate family, or in the worst case, entirely alone, in one place at least there will be a mass Seder.  Ironically, all the participants have the coronavirus.

The Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, which was the first of several hotels in Israel converted into a quarantine space for those with light symptoms of the disease, will hold a Seder for some 500 people recovering from the disease.  The Seder is the festive meal that takes place on the first day of the week-long holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. 

Ze’ev Keren, the director of events at the hotel, told Channel 12 news that the hotel, its staff and the Home Front Command wanted to do something special for their guests who were getting back on their feet after suffering through the dreaded disease.

Two Seders will take place.  One will be for the majority of the guests.  The second, in a side hall, will be held by the Ultra Orthodox, or haredi guests.

Ironically, the Seder will only be for those diagnosed with corona.  The area of the hotel they’re in, designated orange, is off-limits to those without corona.

Each person will be given a plate of food, a Haggadah to follow along with the service, and a yarmulke.  One person will be given the privilege to lead the reading of the Haggadah, which sets out the order of the meal and tells the story of the Exodus in keeping with the religious commandment to ‘teach your children.’

Yehuda Friedman, 20, who has been in the hotel for the last two weeks, told Israel Hayom : “A Seder without family in a place that’s foreign to you can be very disconcerting.  From what I understand there will be good food, and I hope there will be a feeling of home.”



BDS Founder: “If Israel Develops Coronavirus Vaccine You Can Take It”

If Israel finds a vaccine for coronavirus, boycotters can still take it, Omar Barghouti, founder of the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said Sunday (5th).

Barghouti made the remarks in a live video on the BDS Arabic Facebook page as part of a webinar on “BDS and Anti-normalization: The most important strategies to fight against the deal of the century, even in the time of COVID-19.”

The BDS founder warned that coronavirus cannot be a “honeymoon” for Israel and questioned why the Palestinian Authority hasn’t stopped cooperation with them.

At the same time, he said “If you use medical equipment from Israel – it’s not a problem.  Cooperating with Israel against the virus – to begin with – we didn’t consider it normalization.”

“The BDS announced normalization criteria long ago,” Barghouti said.  “If Israel finds a cure for cancer, for example, or any other virus, then there is no problem in cooperating with Israel to save millions of lives.”  “However,” Barghouti added, “Up till now we have not been in a situation where we need Israel urgently – where no one else can save us but Israel. But if that happens, saving lives is more important than anything else.”

The Facebook post inviting BDS supporters to take part in the webinar, anticipated a “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza or among Palestinians in Israeli prisons due to the spread of coronavirus.  The BDS movement also accused Israel of exploiting Palestinian workers without protection against the virus.

However, the UN, has repeatedly commended Israel and the Palestinian Authority for working together in combatting coronavirus, with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs saying there has been “unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing the epidemic.”

Among those efforts have been regular meetings between the sides and Israeli training programs for Palestinian medical teams, as well as donations of PPEs to them.



Chinese Donate Medical Supplies To Israel – Nathan Jeffay

As a plane laden with medical aid from China touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday (6th), it was revealed that much of the cargo had been donated by former tourists and academic exchange alumni who have fond memories of Israel.  Additional flights coming to Israel with medical goods from China would also be carrying donations, alongside goods that Israel is buying.

“There are so many Chinese people who want to help Israel,” said Betty Xi, a visiting scholar at Peking University and a graduate of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.  She raised $10,000 in 72 hours, mostly from people who have become academics after postdoctoral fellowships in Israel. “We have such good memories of being at Bar-Ilan in Israel and were so deeply influenced by the spirit of the university, so we really wanted to do something for it,” she said by telephone from Beijing.  She recalled that Israeli help was received in China when the coronavirus crisis was at its height there.

Yossi Ben Shitrit, strategic adviser to the Israeli consulate in Shanghai, said people are inundating the diplomatic mission with medical materials for shipping to Tel Aviv.

“We got donations from several entities.  There were very rich people in China who were willing to donate, people who love Israel.  In China it’s opposite to other places in the world, in that there isn’t anti-Semitism but rather lots of admiration for Israel and Jews.”



Eilat Crushed By Coronavirus: 85% Of Residents Unemployed

Eilat usually hosts thousands of tourists during the Passover holiday.  The Red Sea resort town, known for its family-friendly hotels, is a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists during the Jewish holidays.

This year, Eilat’s hotels and beaches are empty, and the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis has devastated Israel’s southernmost city.

Now Eilat is one of Israel’s top cities for unemployment, with official numbers placing the city at 70%.

However those numbers don’t include self-employed people or municipal workers, and Israel Hayom reported that the real number of unemployed people in Eilat has reached 85%.  Of the city’s 60,000 residents, 80% work in the tourism industry.

Last year during the Passover holiday of 2019, there were nearly 20,000 daily visitors at Eilat’s Mall of the Sea, one of the most popular and economically successful shopping centers in Israel.  This Passover the mall is closed.

Shabtai Shai, CEO of the Eilat Hotel Association, spoke to Israel Hayom about his fears for the city’s economy over the next few months. “We’re talking about the biggest crisis ever in the city.  Everything depends on how and when the lockdown restrictions are lifted,” he said.

“Even if we go back to work in May or June, people are not going to be rushing to take a vacation in Eilat.  Even when that eventually does happen, it won’t be in numbers like before.”

One business owner said that “everything is shut down, the city is paralyzed, the boardwalk is empty, and even dogs and cats are wandering around looking for food.”