There is something surreal about the current situation, as if time is standing still.
It isn’t, of course. Someday ‒ let us pray before too very long! ‒ we will look back on this and say, “Remember when…”
Here in Israel the gov’t is making noises about slowly reducing restrictions. We now have fewer new cases of coronavirus per day than we did at our peak – but the numbers are not yet where they need to be, and there is concern that freeing things up too much, too quickly will cause a spurt in new cases. Israel remains the safest country among those battling coronavirus.
In the meantime, I’m at home. For the past four plus weeks, I have stayed roughly within the required 100 meters when going out. (Do I know exactly how far 100 meters is? Nah…) I expect to continue this way until the restrictions are lifted.
I heard a brief shiur on the Internet from Rabbi YY Jacobson, whom I had not heard before. In the end, he said, with all of the restrictions and frustrations, we have to ask: “What remains in me that is indestructible?” That spoke to me.
You, my friends, are probably at home as well – although I realize that restrictions vary from one locale abroad to another. Wherever you are, I reach out to you. Connection is all important. And perhaps the desire for connection is part of what is indestructible.
I want to begin by asking for prayers for Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Haber ‒ Avraham Yishayahu ben Hadassah. The good rabbi is founder of Matnat Cha’im (Gift of Life) which facilitates live kidney transplants. Because he is a recipient of a donated kidney himself, he is more at risk; he is on a ventilator.
Rabbi Haber, left, with a kidney donor
Recently I asked for prayers for Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah. Eli is well on his way to recovery now, and I pray that I will be able to say the same soon about Rabbi Haber. His efforts have saved many lives.
I’m very mindful of the suffering going on in many quarters. But I’m going to start by focusing on the positive and the potentially positive. I think it is imperative that we do this. There are some good things, and some hopeful things, and some upbeat things, happening.
While there are multiple attempts to develop a vaccine for coronavirus – and this will happen in time, we will turn a significant corner when there is medication that reduces the severity of the disease, and people are no longer on respirators or dying from it.
There are many different approaches being developed, such as a promising treatment with serum containing antibodies from recovered patients. (I note here that I just learned that Rabbi Haber has received such a treatment, which seems to have stabilized him.)
But I want to mention one that particularly impressed me:
The treatment, which still requires clinical trials, is a placenta-based cell therapy product by Pluristem Therapeutics in Haifa. The cells in this product have immunomodulatory properties (“they induce the immune system’s naturally regulatory T cells and M2 macrophages”). Under a compassionate use program, it was administered to six critically ill patients in three different medical centers in Israel. They were all suffering from the complications of coronavirus, including acute respiratory failure and such secondary problems as kidney failure.
The survival rate for these patients is 100%; three are in the advanced stages of weaning off ventilators, and two with preexisting conditions are showing clinical recovery.
This is hopeful news. Pluristem is dedicated to large-scale manufacturing of this product to be delivered to “a large number of patients in significant need.”
Pluristem CEO Yaki Yanay
There has been a lot of PR and hype about anti-malarial medications – primarily hydroxychloroquine but also chloroquine – being effective for coronavirus, but there have not yet been sufficient trials to verify that this is the case.
Here in Israel, these medications are not being prescribed. Without hype, an interesting approach is being taken: we are stockpiling them, so that if they should prove to be effective, we will have sufficient stores. Should trials indicate that they work, there would be a mad rush on the market. We are hedging our bets.
In early April, Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan opened a COVID-19 obstetrics ward, the first in the country. So far eight babies have been born there, to mothers who are positive for coronavirus. The babies were all born healthy and virus-free.
I’m picking up reports of wildlife venturing into urban areas. First, I read about wild boars in Haifa (pictured below), and then about jackals in a Tel Aviv park. This phenomenon is being attributed to the quiet brought about by the coronavirus lockdown, which makes the animals feel safer. But some maintain that there are other factors at work, and that this has happened in the past. At any rate, I find it interesting.
This is definitely good news: After the rains we had last Shabbat (for some reason many of our heaviest rains have fallen on Shabbat), the Kinneret is now only 21 centimeters below full capacity. More rain is expected, and there will be run-off from the Hermon. By early May, the lake is expected to be full.
It is anticipated at this point that the Degania Dam may be opened, to prevent flooding in adjacent Tiveria. Water would be released into the Jordan River, which would flow into the Dead Sea – a most welcome prospect. The dam, which was built in 1931, has only been opened twice in Israel’s history – in 1969 and 1992, the last time the Kinneret was full.
I will continue to keep my eyes open for good news, and share it as I can. This buoys all of us.
However, it is not all good, by any means, and I feel obligated to report on the difficult stuff as well.
What I am referring to is our political situation. I doubt that there is anyone in Israel who is not disgusted at this point. Actually, “disgusted” hardly begins to describe how we are feeling. It is above and beyond, ludicrous.
Recapping: Benny Gantz, together with Gabi Ashkenazi, had broken away from his “partners” Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon and declared intention of negotiating a unity government with Binyamin Netanyahu. Gantz still had the mandate to form a government, but had clearly recognized that he would never be able to put together a coalition of 61.
In the course of several days, negotiations continued, with various leaks as to matters agreed upon and points of dissension. Assignment of portfolios aside (who would be minister of justice and minister of defense being key considerations), there were the two main issues of application of sovereignty and makeup of the committee that selects new justices. Apparently the sovereignty issue was resolved, with agreement of a delay of some two or three months (the reason for this not entirely clear).
But there were continued tensions with regard to the committee makeup. This really is a major issue, because if left wing justices were to be brought into the court, it would be destructive to right wing goals. Yamina was saying at this point that if Netanyahu caved on this, they would go into the opposition.
Gantz’s mandate expired on Monday. At this point, he requested a two-week extension, but President Ruby Rivlin denied the request, perhaps for the first time in Israel’s history. Gantz and Netanyahu then made a joint request for an extension, saying that they were close to a break-through. On that basis, Rivlin granted a 48 hour extension that expired last night at midnight.
By midnight a stalemate remained.
Rivlin then announced that he was turning it over to the Knesset.
Come again?! He was not giving Netanyahu a chance to form a government. I do not know that this has ever happened before, and I consider it outrageous.
Rivlin’s office put out something about the mandate not being given to Netanyahu because the president understood that he didn’t have a chance of succeeding.
First of all, I do not believe it is within Rivlin’s jurisdiction to make that judgment. And then, it is not so, because Netanyahu, who is close, just possibly might have done it.
Rivlin’s vision has become clouded, as political considerations intervened where they should not.
What happens now is that the Knesset has 21 days to decide (with the vote of 61 or more MKs) on someone to form a government. If this does not happen, the country would go to elections some several months down the road.
Under other circumstances, an election would be desirable. The constituent parts of Blue & White ‒ having revealed their true nature with their readiness to involve the United List in establishing a coalition ‒ have has lost favor with many of their previous supporters. The polls indicate a strong win for the right wing, which would be most welcome indeed.
However, as has already been made imminently clear, with the nation struggling with the trauma of the coronavirus, a stable government is necessary now – not an interim government with its inherent instability and limited ability to take certain actions. That is even before we look at the cost.
We are not there yet, however. We must see what the next 21 days bring. Gantz and Netanyahu are still negotiating. And we have to see if Netanyahu can deliver some political magic and come up with 61 Knesset supporters.
The title of this posting is most apt, then. It is not just the situation in which we find ourselves because of coronavirus that seems surreal. It is also the incredible political situation.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.