News Digest — 4/9/20

Across Israel Coronavirus Captives Welcome Passover Together While Apart

For Israelis the first night of Passover – Seder night – was different this year from all other years due to a curfew aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus.

Instead of large family celebrations, many Israelis took to their balconies to sing the songs of the Passover Haggadah, including “Mah Nishtana.”

The songs echoed through the night around the country, as neighbors sang together to celebrate the festival of freedom from bondage.  Those who did not lend their voices cheered their support by lighting up their balconies.

In one Beersheba neighborhood, local residents set their Seder tables out on the street determined to share the holiday spirit while upholding the regulations against mass gatherings.

In Givatayim, near Tel Aviv, local police chief Revital Karko took a tour of the city with a special message for local residents.

“Residents of the city of Givatayim, this is the station commander,” she said through a loudspeaker, “We love you – wish you a happy holiday.  You are amazing. Look after your health.”

Residents clapped and cheered in response to Karko’s message of support.

Jews could only celebrate their Seder with immediate family, while travel between cities was banned until Friday (10th), with roadblocks erected at main junctions leading from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Israel this week imposed special holiday restrictions to try to halt the spread of the highly infectious disease.  A full curfew also went into effect on Wednesday (8th) and was to last until Thursday morning (9th).

In hospitals across Israel, medical teams in protective clothing prepared a Seder meal for patients in coronavirus wards.  The world’s largest Seder night was held at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv which is currently housing some 500 coronavirus sufferers.

“Passover will not be Purim,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier in the week, referring to last month’s traditionally festive holiday, which preceded a spike in virus cases.

“Every family will have Seder alone,” he said.  “Only celebrate with the family who is now at home with you.”

Police have said that during the week of Passover, all operations will continue around the country, on land, in the air and at sea to ensure government regulations are implemented. 

Meanwhile, as of Thursday morning (9th) Israel’s death toll increased to 79, with the total number of COVID-19 cases in Israel increasing to 9,775.



The Story Jews Repeat On Passover Is The Secret Of Their Survival – Melanie Phillips

→ Throughout history, there have always been times when Jews had to celebrate Passover alone and in unimaginably dire conditions.  There are unbearably moving accounts of it being celebrated by the inmates of Nazi extermination camps during World War II.

→ What was so astonishing was the iron determination of those Jewish inmates to celebrate the deliverance of the Jewish people from a terrible evil while themselves being subjected to another, even more terrible evil.

→ By observing Passover in whatever way they could, those inmates affirmed what the Nazis sought to eradicate – the indelible sense of their own identity as Jews and their utterly unbreakable connection to the Jewish people.

→ The strength of that connection has ensured the survival of the Jewish people despite their unique history of persecution and oppression.

→ As former British Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has observed, Jewish identity is based on collective memory, and that means it survives as the result of the story the people tell themselves about who they are, how they should live and their bond with those who came before them.  If there is no such story to be told, a nation and its culture cannot survive.

→ A strongly internalized indelible sense of identity is the unbreachable defense against tyranny, slavery or imprisonment.  It’s inside your head and your heart, and nothing and nobody can take that away from you.

The writer is a columnist for the Times of London 



Israeli COVID-19 Treatment Shows 100% Survival Rate According To Preliminary Data

Six critically ill patients in Israel who are considered high-risk for mortality have been treated with Pluristem’s  PLX cell-based therapy product and survived, according to preliminary data provided by the Haifa-based company.

The patients were treated at three different Israeli medical centers for one week under the country’s compassionate-use program and were suffering from acute respiratory failure and inflammatory complications associated with COVID-19. Four of the patients also demonstrated failure of other organ systems, including cardiovascular and kidney failure.

Not only have all the patients survived, according to Pluristem, but four of them showed improvement in respiratory parameters and three of them are in the advanced stages of weaning from ventilators.  Moreover, two of the patients with preexisting medical conditions are showing clinical recovery in addition to the respiratory improvement. “We are pleased with the initial outcome of the compassionate-use program and committed to harnessing PLX cells for the benefit of patients and healthcare systems,” said Pluristem CEO and President Yaky Yanay.  “Pluristem is dedicated to using its competitive advantages in large-scale manufacturing to potentially deliver PLX cells to a large number of patients in significant need.”

Previous preclinical findings regarding PLX cells revealed significant therapeutic effects in animal studies of pulmonary hypertension, lung fibrosis, acute kidney injury and gastrointestinal injury.

Pluristem plans to apply for initiation of a multinational clinical trial for the treatment of complications associated with coronavirus, the releases said, noting that it will no longer report on its compassionate-use trials but rather on the status and progress of its contemplated clinical trial.  The company is already in discussions with regulators in the United States and Europe to “define our clinical strategy for COVID-19,” Yanay added.



Will Ramadan Rekindle The Global Plague?

Worries about corona’s spread during Passover may pale in comparison to the dangers awaiting during Ramadan, Israel Hayom reported on Tuesday (7th).

Israel took extreme steps to prevent large gatherings on the first night of Passover, banning intercity travel from Tuesday (7th) through Friday (10th) and confining citizens to their homes Wednesday evening (8th) when a traditional religious festive meal, or Seder, was held commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.

The goal was to prevent a spike in coronavirus infections, which happened after Purim, a Jewish holiday that took place on March 10.

However, Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday starting on April 24, poses another challenge and Israel Hayom reports that the Israeli government doesn’t yet have a plan to cope with it.

A senior official of the Arab sector in Israel, about 20% of the country’s population, told the paper that the health ministry has only just started to meet with heads of the community and with members of the Joint List, and Arab party in the Knesset, with the intention of building a united  front to ensure that Israeli-Arabs abide by the ministry’s guidelines.

“What we’re seeing now in Bnei Brak and the haredi community is just a promo to what will happen in the Arab sector during the month of Ramadan,” the senior official said.

The Ramadan holiday celebrates the commemoration of the Muslim Prophet Muhammed’s first revelation and is marked with daily fasts punctuated by large meals in the evenings.  The holiday is also notable for mosques filled to overflowing and the visiting of relatives, especially the elderly.

In other words, from the perspective of the global corona fight, Ramadan is a nightmare.

The problem is not limited to Israel, the paper notes.  In the West, particularly in Europe, with its high Muslim population, and in Muslim countries, there’s a fear that people won’t pay attention to the health risks as they celebrate the holiday.

The paper reports that Arab media have begun quoting Muslim religious figures who are calling for special religious injunctions against going to mosques this year and for smaller festive meals.



As Coronavirus Spreads In Germany, So Does Anti-Semitism

Germany has seen an increase of anti-Semitism along with the rise in coronavirus cases, the country’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, said.

“There are direct links between the current spread of the coronavirus and that of anti-Semitism,” Klein said Tuesday (7th) in Berlin, the AFP news agency reported.  “In recent weeks, right-wing radicals have increasingly tried to leverage the coronavirus crisis for their own ends.”

Klein described one current pandemic conspiracy theory which states that the coronavirus is a failed bio-weapon set loose by the Mossad, Israel’s secret service.

Klein is in the German capital for the launch of a government research project involving several German universities to better understand the causes and manifestations of anti-Semitism.