Very early my time one day this week, and very late in the U.S. I got a text from a close pastor friend in the U.S. asking, “What message do you believe God is speaking to Israel and my Jewish family in the midst of the CV situation?”
I replied, “I don’t pretend to be able to get into God’s head on this.”
“What are you perceiving?” my pastor friend probed.
“It does give us the opportunity to be reflective and look into ourselves.”
“There’s always a message,” my pastor friend added. “Some say He’s Jehovah Sneaky like that.”
“Yes, I don’t doubt that, but I don’t know what it is. I’m not sure it’s focused on Jews specifically or on all humanity. Like Noah.”
In a very pastoral way, my friend commented, “That’s what I was looking for. Noah... you went straight to a portion of scripture that comes to your mind when analyzing what’s going on.”
Well, none of this makes me a prophet, but I do try to look at things through a biblical prism, and when I don’t understand something I try to search within. These days, I am lack understanding. I’m grateful, that despite nearly 1,000 people getting infected and one death in Israel as of this writing, and despite living in a community with a proportionally high rate of infection, my family is safe and healthy, albeit on top of one another.
We are lucky and grateful for all we have. But there are challenges.
With tourism halted, Jerusalem is isolated. Lamentations come to mind: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.” No, we’re not mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. It will come back. But it's scary and sad to see it so deserted. And there is suffering behind closed doors. For the first time in anyone’s memory, the Jaffa Gate was sealed, and the Great Synagogue was closed. Only Old City residents are allowed to enter, reminiscent of the last siege of Jerusalem in 1948 when the Jewish community was isolated.
It's not a war but it feels like it. Israel knows from wars. During war, there are daily reports of battles, rockets, terror attacks, and casualties. Sometimes hourly. Now, we wake up to new restrictions, and reports of casualties, not completely knowing whether it is new information or old news.
Protecting us from the threats of our neighbors, our son the paratrooper expects to be in the army for at least a month without being able to come home; not for Shabbat and not for the Passover seder. In order to keep the soldiers safe and away from people who are infected, he said that the army is suggesting it might be as long as three months.
With Passover coming, some are worrying that the food supply, means to deliver it, or even just the permission to go shopping, will be interrupted. Extended families are now accepting the reality that they may not be together for the holiday. There’s been a particular focus on protecting the elderly, not having them exposed to others who might be infected and not knowing it yet. I love that it’s a national priority that we have to keep grandma and grandpa safe and healthy. But then I realize that I fall into that category and can’t imagine being separated from our grandson.
Prayer and introspection have been fervent but interrupted. In Judaism, it’s preferred to pray together as a community, with a minyan (a quorum of at least 10). For now, in most of Israel, synagogues are closed. There are no prayer quorums. This undermines one of the very elements that makes Jews and Israel so close, albeit with lots of conflicts (just like an extended family). We live and pray together all the time.
On a positive note, all transportation, restaurants, stores, and more have been closed entirely for the weekend. This includes Shabbat, the Day of Rest. It’s a social tension that not all of Israel is religiously observant and commerce takes place on Shabbat in the Jewish state. To a degree, at least for the moment, all Israel is observing the Sabbath at least in public. Jewish tradition is that when all Jews observe Shabbat together, Messiah will come. Maybe we’re getting closer.
According to the current rules, Israelis must remain at home, with exceptions made for buying food and medical supplies, seeking medical treatment, aiding elderly or ill people, donating blood, attending court hearings, seeking aid from welfare services, attending the Knesset or a ritual bath. Lifecycle events such as weddings and funerals may have no more than 10 people. Demonstrations are allowed, mindful of social distancing, leading to some to ask if a protest prayer service is okay.
We are permitted to exercise outdoors, with no more than two people, and go out for short walks near home. Only two people can drive in a car together, unless they are members of the same family. This impacts another pillar of society and transportation. “Tremping,” or hitchhiking, is still common in much of Israel. Now, not knowing who might be infected, cars stop for strangers much less often.
With most international travel stopped, and the risk of families being split up, two incredible things that are unique to Israel are still happening. First, Jews continue to make Aliyah, immigrating and starting their new lives at home in quarantine. Additionally, Israel sent multiple planes to central America to “rescue” stranded Israelis who were stuck because of the shutdown of commercial air travel.
Perhaps this sense of togetherness, of community, is part of the reason this past week it was also reported that Israel is and remains one of the happiest countries in the world.