September 13, 2020 — Jerusalem, Israel … Following are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks, today, at the start of the Cabinet meeting:
“On Friday, I had another conversation with President Trump and the leader of an Arab country, this time with King Hamad of Bahrain. It was a very warm conversation in which we agreed on the establishment of peaceful relations between Bahrain and Israel – the official establishment of peace with full diplomatic relations and with all that entails.”
Netanyahu added: “We now have two historic peace agreements, with two Arab countries, which were established in one month.
I am certain that we all welcome the new era. Israel is at the threshold of a new era. I want to promise you that each and every one of you, through your ministries, will be part of it because this is going to be a different kind of peace. This will be a warm peace, economic peace in addition to the diplomatic peace, also peace between peoples. There will be brisk traffic in direct air links between the countries. The great excitement that exists in the country is also reflected in the very great excitement in Bahrain and the UAE among the public at large. There truly is a great change here.”
“Tonight I will leave for Washington to sign the beginning of these agreements in order to set this historic change in motion.”
The UAE and Bahrain will be represented at the White House signing ceremony this Tuesday by their foreign ministers, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, respectively.
Yoni Michanie, Middle East analyst and former senior adviser to CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) told the Israel News Agency: “These agreements illustrate two things. First, Israel will have a place among her neighbors in the Middle East. Second, the Palestinian rejectionist attitude towards peace with Israel will lose the support it had in the Arab world for the last seven decades.”
Dr. Josef Olmert, former Israel Government Press Office Director and today Middle East expert and professor at the University of South Carolina said: “These are welcome agreements and they indicate, that more Arab countries are reassessing their real national priorities and come to the realistic conclusion that Israel is not their problem. Rather, could be a solution.”
“We have a long way to go with more countries, and it is surely not leading us closer to a solution with the Palestinians, but the initial rejectionist Palestinian reaction is not necessarily their final word. The Palestinian position in the conflict is weakening and that could still lead to a reassessment on their part. President Trump deserves the praise of every genuine supporter of Israel. Whether it is the result of electioneering is immaterial. The outcome is what that matters!”
Olivier Rafowicz, a reserve IDF Colonel and a professional in crisis communications told the INA: “In two days two Arab countries will sign in Washington an historic peace treaty with the state of Israel. After so many years it will be the first time that on the same day two Arab nations will recognize Israel and start full collaboration and full cooperation in order to promote science, medicine, tourism and business ventures together. It is deep strategic change, a very positive one and a victory, not because a war was fought and won but because it is victory for peace and serves as a light against darkness and radicalism. It’s a beginning of a much larger process. Let’s bless the United States for having played a major role in this peace process.”
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer praised the news on Friday and thanked the Emirates and Bahrain for “this historic breakthrough.” He also thanked Trump for “confronting Iran and helping transform our region for the better,” teasing that there is “more to come!”
The tiny Gulf monarchy, ruled by a Sunni dynasty closely allied with Saudi Arabia, is the second Arab country to recognize Israel in the past month. The Bahrain-UAE peace treaty with Israel is the first such document since Jordan made peace with the Jewish state in 1994.
New York — September 11, 2020 … As America marks the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, the Israel News Agency focuses on the death of one victim. His name is Daniel Lewin, a man who defines the word hero.
It is believed that Danny Lewin was the first victim of 9/11. Seated in seat 9B aboard American Airlines Flight 11, he saw Islamic Jihadists Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari, sitting in front of him, rise and walk over to the cockpit. According to calls from flight attendants Betty Ong and Madeline Amy Sweeney to air traffic officials, later documented in the 9/11 Commission’s report, Lewin responded within seconds. Having served as an officer in the Sayeret Matkal, the Israel Defense Forces’ most elite anti-terror unit, he moved to take down the terrorists.
As Lewin focused on what was taking place at the front of the aircraft, he never saw the man behind him in seat 10B, Satam al-Suqami, who took out a knife and slit his throat.
Less than 30 minutes later, at 8:46 a.m., the plane crashed into One World Trade Center, the North Tower.
Danny was the co-founder of Akamai Technologies. A resident of the Boston area, a young 31 years of age, Danny was born to be a leader and an inspiration to all he met. He excelled in each and every one of his endeavors, whether it be as a distinguished IDF soldier, student, scientist, business figure and family man. With a multitude of interests, and a larger than life presence, Danny’s passion, brilliant mind and warm smile were only some of his endearing qualities.
Dedicated to his family, Danny possessed a unique ability to balance both the daily demands of academia and the workplace, with a constant flow of affection for his wife and children.
While his accomplishments began to grow, along with his circle of friends, his modesty remained intact. He founded Akamai Technologies, in 1998, with his professor F. Tom Leighton and fellow graduate student, Jonathan Seelig. In a short time, and under Danny’s dedicated leadership and vision, Akamai grew to be one of the top technology companies in the world.
As chief technology officer, he was responsible for Akamai’s research and development strategy, creating innovative Internet infrastructure services that would produce an entirely new industry segment, and change the way people and companies distribute content, data, and applications.
Akamai at the time of Danny’s death had 1,100 employees and a large global customer base.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Danny immigrated to Israel with his family in 1984. Upon completing public high school, ORT, in Jerusalem, Danny served for four years in the Israel Defense Forces. He earned the rank of captain in the IDF’s most respected combat unit.
Following his active military service, Danny was married in Jerusalem and began studies at the Technion, Israel’s highly respected technology university in Haifa. Soon after, Danny worked at IBM’s research laboratory in Haifa, where he was a full-time research fellow and project leader while simultaneously completing two undergraduate degrees, computer science and mathematics summa cum laude, and celebrating the birth of his first son.
In 1995, the Technion named him the year’s Outstanding Student in Computer Engineering. At IBM, Danny was responsible for the development and support of the company’s Genesys system, a processor verification tool that is used widely within IBM and in other companies such as AMD & SGS Thompson.
In 1996, Danny and his wife, Anne, welcomed their second son and moved to Cambridge, Mass. where he received a scholarship to study at MIT under the tutelage of MIT Professor, and soon to become close friend, Tom Leighton.
He published and presented several breakthrough papers at top computer science conferences and received several awards, including the 1998 Morris Joseph Lewin Award for Best Masterworks Thesis Presentation at MIT.
His Master’s thesis included some of the fundamental algorithms that embrace the core of Akamai’s services. He received a Master’s degree from MIT in 1997 and was a Ph.D. candidate in the Algorithms groups at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science upon his death.
His passion for risk, and an affinity for speed and freedom, was also demonstrated by his love for motorcycles, sports cars, and skiing. His love of country and appreciation for culture was shown in his early training in classical music and his knowledge of Israel’s politics and history.
Of all the challenges Danny took on, the IDF Sayeret Matkal – the legendary commando unit that shaped many of Israel’s modern-day leaders, from Ehud Barak to Benjamin Netanyahu – Lewin stood out. At a shiva call after Lewin’s murder, for example, one army friend recalled observing Lewin during one exhausting exercise and was surprised when noticing the usually fit runner lagging a bit behind. When the friend asked Lewin if everything was alright, Danny smiled and said that he thought the unit’s training was insufficiently rigorous and had therefore decided to challenge himself and pack his bag with twice as much weight.
Danny left behind one of the most creative and successful technologies the world has ever known and a legacy that urges us, as he had urged himself, to rise up, work harder, demand better and believe that everything is possible.
In addition to his many friends and colleagues, he is survived by a close-knit family. Danny was a devoted husband to Anne, his companion throughout adulthood, a fellow immigrant to Israel, and a student and teacher of art and literature; a loving father to sons Eitan and Itamar; loyal son of Drs. Charles and Peggy Levine, and brother to Jonathan and Michael, of Jerusalem.
Leighton, who helped keep Akamai going in the dark days after Lewin’s death, witnessed Akamai becoming a multibillion-dollar company active in cybersecurity. He thinks that Lewin may have gone in that direction, using both his mathematical mind and his military training to fight terrorism.
“I think he could have done whatever he decided he wanted to do,” says Leighton. “I think his potential was limitless.”
Lewin’s legacy is highly honored at Akamai. His portrait, painted by the mother of an employee, hangs in the lobby of the company’s headquarters at Cambridge Center. Every year, on September 11, Leighton and company executives hold a memorial tribute to Lewin in a small courtyard adjacent to Akamai.
In the far corner of the square, they dedicated an apple tree to Danny and at its roots is a plaque in his name. A block away, the intersection of Main and Vassar streets was named Danny Lewin Square.
Today, Akamai has offices around the world, more than 3,500 employees, and a market capitalization of $6.9 billion. In 2012, the company purchased the Israeli company Cotendo, one of its largest competitors, in a deal valued at $268 million. With the acquisition, Akamai finally realized Danny’s dream of a presence in Israel.
One thing is almost certain, that Lewin was the first person to die in the 9/11 attacks. He responded without doubt or delay as a confident and skilled IDF combat fighter would respond in seeing those around him being threatened.
He gave his life to save others. Danny may not have been able to save Flight 11, but he has left us with sacred values that have and will continue to inspire thousands in the days and years to come. That we need not be passive passengers in this short trek of life but rather brave pilots who strive to protect and defend the path ahead for our family, friends and even the strangers who sit among us.
Jerusalem, Israel — August 13, 2020 … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today, from his office, spoke by telephone with US President Donald Trump and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
Following the telephone conference, Netanyahu made the following statement:
“Today we usher in a new era of peace between Israel and the Arab world. I just came from an historic virtual conference between myself, President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates. We announced the establishment of a full and formal peace between Israel and the UAE. It includes the mutual opening of embassies, direct flights and many, many other bilateral agreements.”
Netanyahu adds: “This is the greatest advancement toward peace between Israel and the Arab world in the last 26 years and it marks the third formal peace agreement between Israel and an Arab nation.
In 1979, Prime Minister Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt. In 1994, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a peace treaty with Jordan. And today, I am honored to announce a formal peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates. I believe that there is a good chance that we will soon see more Arab countries join this expanding circle of peace.
I want to thank President Trump for his critical help in brokering this historic accord. And I want to thank him for his revolutionary Vision for Peace, which is the most realistic and important formula for peace in the region. President Trump’s Middle East plan served as a basis for today’s historic peace announcement.
Israel and the UAE are two of the most advanced countries in the world.
Together, we will transform the region and forge an even better future for our people. This is a future of peace, a future of security and a future of prosperity.
I’ve always believed that we could establish peace with the Arab world and I have been working towards that lofty goal for decades. You may not know it, but I’ve been doing it all the time in meetings that are publicized and in many that are not. In Washington, in the Middle East, in daylight and in nighttime.
In recent years, Israel under my leadership has made advancements in ties with such countries as Sudan, Oman, Bahrain and other nations in the Gulf. I have reason to be very optimistic that today’s announcement with the UAE will be followed by more Arab nations joining our region’s circle of peace.
And to the people of Abu Dhabi, and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, I say Salaam alaikum. Shalom Aleichem. Peace unto thee. Peace unto all of us.״
Netanyahu called foreign intelligence Mossad Director Yossi Cohen and thanked him for the assistance of the Mossad in developing the ties with the Arab Gulf states over the years, which assisted in bringing the peace treaty to fruition.
Israel President Reuven Rivlin said: “The agreement between Israel and the UAE is an important and strategic milestone for new opportunities in our region. I hope that this step will also lead to strengthening trust between us and the peoples of the region, and to a broad-based and stable understanding among us all.”
Israel agreed to suspend its planned extension of sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) to facilitate relations with the UAE and potentially other Arab and Muslim countries.
The peace agreement will include establishing embassies and exchanging ambassadors, investments in the Israeli economy, trade, direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, an investment in Israeli efforts to develop a Coronavirus vaccine and cooperation in matters of energy and water. An important element of the deal for the UAE is the expectation that its citizens would be able to visit the Al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said: “the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE will make Israel stronger and safer and will likely lead to additional exciting opportunities and incremental prosperity for Israel, its neighbors and the entire region.”
The Israel News Agency will interview Dr. Josef Olmert, professor of ME studies at University of South Carolina, former Israel GPO Director, participant in the Madrid and DC peace talks with Syria on Zoom on Aug 14, 2020 at 11:00 AM in Eastern Time (US and Canada) .
Jerusalem, Israel — August 4, 2020 — Pursuant to his approval of urgent humanitarian and medical assistance to Lebanon, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat to speak with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov in order to clarify how Israel can immediately assist Lebanon.
At least 80 people were killed and over 4,000 injured in a massive, mushroom cloud explosion that shook the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Tuesday evening, the national broadcaster said citing the health minister. The blast was centered in the city’s port area.
Data collected by geological survey organizations show that the massive explosion in Beirut was so powerful, it created seismic waves equal to if not exceeding a magnitude 4.0 earthquake.
The US Embassy in Beirut is urging those in the area of the explosion to “stay indoors and wear masks if available” due to reports of toxic gases released from the blast.
Israel security sources say that blast was most likely caused by Iranian weapons being stored under the cover of a residential area to be transferred to the Iran backed Hezbollah terror organization for use in terror attacks against Israel.
Following the explosion, Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Israel Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi conveyed via diplomatic and security channels Israel’s offer to provide humanitarian aid and immediate medical support to the Lebanese people.
“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere – in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion.”
Israel President Reuven Rivlin said: “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”
Jerusalem, Israel — June 29, 2020 … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, today decided on a new approximately NIS 2 billion plan to assist the self-employed and the business sector, which will be put into effect in the coming days.
The plan includes special grants of up to NIS 400,000 for Israeli businesses that were affected by Coronavirus up to at least 60 percent in May-June, for up to 10-15 percent of turnover, with turnover of up to NIS 20 million. It was also decided to expand the circle of businesses that will receive the assistance, to businesses the turnover of which is up to NIS 100 million and which were hurt by up to at least 80 percent in these months.
Self-employed with an annual turnover of NIS 300,000 will also receive an additional monetary grant, double that which they received in the first phase. Also, the criteria for receiving advances will be changed from 20 percent to 40 percent relative to the previous phase. It was also decided to continue giving higher grants to businesses that kept workers despite the Coronavirus crisis.
The plan currently being put forward by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Finance Minister Katz is part of a comprehensive policy for managing the crisis. Alongside the acceleration of the economy, independent wage-earners and businesses that need assistance will receive an appropriate response. The plan is designed to facilitate the immediate channeling of significant funds to the self-employed and the business sector, without delays and unnecessary impediments, thereby enabling them to weather the crisis. The foregoing is in addition to the allocation of NIS 7,500 grants for every employee who is returned to work.
The state budget and a comprehensive arrangements law will be submitted soon. The latter will provide for competition vis-à-vis the major monopolies and for reforms to remove impediments and regulation, and which will assist economic activity and lead to renewed economic growth.
The Coronavirus pandemic slammed Israel’s economy for some two months. Businesses have largely reopened over the past month, but many continue to struggle with severely reduced work.
Israel’s unemployment rates also remain very high, at 21 percent — only somewhat better than the 27 percent peak at the height of the pandemic. These include some 862,000 unemployed and 605,000 on unpaid leave. In February, unemployment had been at a record low of 3.4%.
Jerusalem, Israel — June 7, 2020 … Following are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks, today at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting:
“In the world today there are almost seven million people infected with the coronavirus, which has now claimed the lives of approximately 400,000 people. Also in our region, the situation has not improved. In addition to Iran and Turkey, which together have several tens of thousands dead, we have also witnessed recently a sharp increase in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia opened mosques and then closed them in light of this outbreak. Even here in Israel, we have seen a sharp increase in rates of infection in recent days. As I have constantly said: The virus is here. It is not a figment of either my imagination or of anyone else’s. Countries that reduced the assessment of danger regarding the pandemic and adopted a very lenient and very liberal policy understood that they have no choice but to take steps and impose restrictions that we took at the outset, after they have absorbed thousands of dead.”
“Whoever said at the outset that there was no danger in Israel or that there is no danger now, misled the public and encouraged behavior that endangered both the public health and the lives of many people. Part of the clear increase in the rate of infection that we have seen in Israel in the past eight days stems from – and it was expected – from the measures we enacted to ease restrictions in order to open up our economy. But some of it also clearly stems from a loosening in strict adherence to the rules regarding masks, distancing and hygiene.”
“Even if we neutralize the outbreak at the Hebrew Gymnasia [high school] in Jerusalem and the outbreak in the schools, we see a clear increase in considerable sections of the country and of the population. Therefore, I am convening the Corona Cabinet tomorrow morning. We will consider the necessary steps in light of the upsurge in the pandemic, including in schools, public transportation and in other areas as well.”
“At the same time, this week we will hold a meeting with the Israeli Finance Minister and his professional people, and with all of the economic ministers, at which we will be updated on the steps we have taken to put people back to work and the necessary steps to help small businesses and businesses in general to go back to routine activity.”
“There are preliminary encouraging signs of economic recovery; we see this. Businesses and restaurants are opening, sometimes too many. We see this recovery, but its continuation depends on you, citizens of Israel.”
Today, the Israeli Defense Minister, Health Minister and myself will go to the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Ziona where we will be updated on the progress in efforts to find a vaccine. We all hope and pray that these efforts will succeed, but it is impossible to build on them – not on these and not on what is occurring at the other institutes and companies around the world. We all need to understand that we are expected to live in the coronavirus routine for a long time. With being strict about wearing masks, distancing and hygiene, we will be unable to meet our goals or put the economy back on track. Therefore, I ask you – strictly follow the rules for health, for life and for jobs.”
“In this context, today we will discuss the corona law, which is designed to balance between the need to take rapid steps to halt the pandemic and the need to the individual rights that are dear to us all.”
“Over the weekend, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determined that Iran had refused to allow IAEA inspectors access to clandestine sites at which Iran had carried out secret military nuclear activity.”
“Iran has systematically violated its commitments by hiding sites and enriching fissionable material, and has committed other violations. I believe that the time has come, and I think that the time has passed, but reality certainly requires it in the light of these revelations, for the international community to join the US and reimpose paralyzing sanctions on Iran.”
“In any case, the coronavirus has not lessened by one iota our determination to act against Iran’s aggression. I reiterate: Israel will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons and will continue to act methodically against Iran’s attempts to militarily entrench on our borders.”
Netanyahu concludes: “What happened with Iyad Al-Halak is a tragedy. This was a man with disabilities, autism, who was suspected – we know wrongly – of being a terrorist in a very sensitive place. I know that the inquiries are being made. We all share in the family’s sorrow. I think that this embraces the entire Israeli public, as well as the entire Israeli government. I await your full inquiries on this matter. Of course, this does not justify the wild assault on former MK Yehidah Glick, and I am certain that justice will be done here as well.”
Jerusalem, Israel — April 10, 2020 … On the first day of Passover, for 24 hours all Israelis were confined to their homes. During this time IDF soldiers, together with all of Israel’s Security Forces, worked around the clock making sure that no one was left without food, medicine and personal assistance.
The photo above illustrates exhausted Israeli soldiers sleeping on the ground, after 24 hours of food distribution to Orthodox families in Bnei Brak, a town near Tel Aviv.
The government requested that the Israel Defense Forces immediately assist Israel’s elderly population, the disabled and the needy, ensuring access to food and medication, as well as basic human interaction, during the coronavirus crisis.
According to IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman, 1,000 soldiers from the Home Front Command took part in this humanitarian effort.
The troops worked with local government officials to locate each town’s elderly residents and determine how best to assist them, Zilberman said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said it gave the IDF the task based on advice of the National Security Council.
The procurement administration of the Ministry of Defense signed agreements with Israel’s five largest supermarket chains for the distribution of food to 350,000 senior citizens for the Seder on Passover eve.
The below letter, which was written by Rabbi ReuvenFink to members of his New Rochelle, New York synagogue one hour after learning that he was infected with the Coronavirus, has been reposted with the permission of Rabbi Fink.
New Rochelle, New York — March 6, 2020 Israel News Agency / Jewish News Agency …
As so many of us are now contemplating going into a Shabbos of seclusion, I want to share a few thoughts with you.
We all woke up Tuesday morning prepared for our usual schedules of work or school or whatever we usually do. By late afternoon we learned that the state and the county health departments ordered a voluntary quarantine of those who were in a number of venues where the Coronavirus might have been. I said to myself, “but at all of those places we were performing mitzvot. To be davening in shul, attending a funeral, attending bar and bat mitzvah celebrations — all are good deeds, mitzvot!”
And yet, we were about to commence an unpleasant course of action: Isolation and quarantine are words that evoke fear. I must confess I was frightened that we might have an epidemic, a pandemic in our community. Our lay leadership and I met with the health officials and tried to explain that quarantine of almost an entire congregation was an overarching edict. They quickly disavowed us of any such thinking and announced the shutdown of the Shul before we could even announce it to our own members.
We were locked in our homes. What would we do? This Shabbos is Parshat Zachor!
We all know it is incumbent upon Jews to hear Zachor being read from the Torah. Additionally, a young man’s bar mitzvah was scheduled for Shabbos. He had studied his parsha so long and hard. What would be? And then, a young woman’s bat mitzvah was on Sunday. She would be so disappointed! Our friend and member lost her dear father and is sitting shiva. We who are in quarantine are not able to visit her in her time of need.
People’s lives are so disrupted. And certainly our minds never diverted from thinking about and praying for our good friend who lay in the hospital in such serious condition. We thought of his wife and the kids and what they were going through in comparison to what our situation was.
I told myself we would work things out. The people of New Rochelle are resourceful people.
And we prayed. Everyone was emailing for our friend’s Hebrew name and wanted to know which Tehillim should be recited. People who were not in quarantine were calling to arrange to help people in need, particularly those who were elderly or sick. Neighboring communities volunteered to help. Our neighbors in Scarsdale and White Plains shopped and made deliveries to many. Seasons and Chickies tried to make ordering easy. UJA-Federation offered to send our members food from a canceled dinner. So many good people did so much good. And it continues.
Over the past day or two, other members of our congregation were tested and found to be positive for the Coronavirus. I as well found out an hour ago that I am infected with the virus. I can now reassure you that it is possible, Thank G-d, to get through this virus without a special vaccine. I have the virus and am doing reasonably well. But I must caution all of you who have had personal contact with me to seek counsel from your health practitioner as to how to proceed.
As a Shul we must worry about religion. We tried to address in writing what people could do for the observance of yahrzeit and recitation of kaddish. We worked out a plan to read Zachor on Purim. Daf Yomi was taught online via Zoom. We had two shiurim today given by me and by Rabbi Axelrod about Purim topics.
A crisis can bring out the best in people. It is bringing out the best in us.
Admittedly, it is hard to comply with the burden the state has placed on us. But as we see, despite all these measures, the amount of people testing positive is increasing. We all have to be careful to comply.
There are some positive elements that can be found in looking at our predicament. It slows down the pace of our frenetic lives. That can be positive. It can give us more time with our families. Maybe that book that we never got around to reading can be read now. Maybe we always wanted to find time to learn Torah. We now have that opportunity. I can’t remember the last time I davened without a minyan for Shacharis. But my davening this morning was much slower than usual.
This circumstance certainly gives us the opportunity to think. Our attention turns to mortality and our vulnerability. We sometimes find ourselves victims of life’s fragility and tentativeness. This is one of those times. It can help us to reorient our ultimate goals in life. Contemplation is good for the soul.
I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I discovered a fantastic insight into current events in this morning’s Daf Yomi.
The Talmud is in the midst of discussing various seminal events in the life of King David. It tells of an error he made. He decided to conduct a census of his kingdom. He wanted to have an accurate count of Israel’s population. According to the Torah, a census can only take place by counting tokens that represent a person but not by counting the people themselves. The Torah says: Count half-shekels so there “will not be a pestilence when you count them.” King David ignored this rule and counted people. The Navi tells us that a plague commenced as a result. The strange occurrence that guided that plague was that exactly 100 people died per day. The prophets and sages of that era ascertained from heaven that if they would institute a new mitzvah, the plague would end. They legislated a rabbinic mitzvah to recite 100 brachot each day. This is among the seven rabbinic mitzvot, along with lighting candles before Shabbat and the recitation of Hallel. But somehow this particular mitzvah has been lost to us during our bitter history.
Could it be only a coincidence that we learn this portion in the Talmud specifically today during this crisis of a possible pandemic? Perhaps. But perhaps we can take a lesson from it. Maybe we can accept upon ourselves to be more mindful and meticulous in reciting brachot. A bracha, a blessing, is our way of acknowledging the profound awareness that we have of G-d in our lives. A blessing can elevate the most mundane activity into something lofty and holy. It takes seconds but launches us into eternity.
We still have a way to go in handling our communal situation. Together we can persevere and triumph over these challenges. With our ever-abiding faith in G-d who is the healer, we pray that we, as well as our fellow Americans and the peoples of the world will conquer this disease במהרה בימנו אמן.
Editor’s Note: The global number of Coronavirus cases has passed 100,000, with death tolls over 3,200. In the US, the number of cases has passed 260 with thousands under quarantine as public health labs anxiously await diagnostic kits from the federal government, which will allow for a fuller sense of the scale of the crisis. As of Friday, New York State had 33 confirmed cases of Coronavirus.
New York — March 4, 2020 … Just a few weeks ago Jewish synagogues throughout the United States were implementing security plans to prevent attacks by Neo-Nazis and Jihadists. Today the most lethal threat to Jewish communities transcends anti-semitic graffiti. It overshadows the many missiles and rockets of Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
That threat is something called the Coronavirus.
The coronavirus was recently detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and is rapidly causing a global outbreak of lethal respiratory disease. On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization named the disease coronavirus disease 2019 (abbreviated “COVID‑19”).
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2).
There are more than 100,000 cases around the world – the overwhelming majority in China – but as deaths are reported in Italy, Iran and the United States, authorities are considering new quarantine zones and travel restrictions.
Coronavirus does not discriminate. Actually it does. If you are a baby or young child, chances of acquiring and dying from this new disease is very low. But if you are over 30, the disease can and will take you down.
As the Coronavirus infests the United States, hitting several states, prompting California to declare a state of emergency, the residents of Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Washington state now have more than 160 cases confirmed and 13 dead.
One location is particularly troubling. It’s a cozy northern suburb of New York City called New Rochelle.
New Rochelle is a middle upper class town embracing many people of various ethic origins. But one group, the close-knit Orthodox Jewish community is now being targeted by Coronavirus like a heat seeking missile.
Yesterday, Temple Young Israel in New Rochelle was ordered to close it’s doors as a member of that synagogue is now in critical condition with all his family infected. That member works as an attorney in New York City.
The 50-year-old New Rochelle man’s family includes a wife and four children, two of whom are in Israel. One of the children, a daughter, attends SAR Academy in Riverdale. It closed for the day. One son is in college, Yeshiva University, which has also closed. The man’s family is under self-quarantine in their home.
Two other private schools – Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck and Westchester Torah Academy in White Plains – also closed for the day.
In the last few hours it has been disclosed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that the man who drove the first infected person to hospital, has also been infected by the virus and his entire family has tested positive.
The New Rochelle lawyer may have spread the virus already to hundreds of people at Shabbat services, a bat mitzvah and a funeral he attended last week at his synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle.
Cuomo expects thousands of cases to manifest in the coming weeks.
The second family, also under quarantine at home, sends their children — two sons and one daughter – to Westchester Torah Academy, a co-ed Modern Orthodox Yeshiva in White Plains, New York. The school was one of three Jewish schools in the New York area, including Westchester Day School and SAR Academy, that closed on Tuesday amid concerns of spread from the family of the New Rochelle lawyer.
Health officials ordered Young Israel of New Rochelle, the family’s synagogue, to suspend activities. The officials mandated a two-week quarantine for anyone who attended a funeral at the synagogue on Feb. 22 or a bat mitzvah on Feb. 23. About 600 people are affected.
“It’s an old-world Jewish community, because everyone is so into everyone’s life,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of the Larchmont Temple, a synagogue in a nearby town. “There’s a real sense of mutual support and mutual care. There’s a real sense of connectedness that is an extension of their Judaism.”
Sirkman’s synagogue sent a letter this week urging its 800-family congregation to take immediate precautions, including “rubbing elbows instead of shaking hands, to minimize the transmission of germs.”
“If we hug or hold hands or kiss a little less,” the letter said, “it does not mean we don’t care. On the contrary, with sincerity of heart, it means we truly do!”
Immediate suggestions to Jewish communities:
1. Send out an email to all synagogue members stating that if they feel ill, are coughing or sneezing, to report their symptoms to a doctor, stay home and view services via a Web broadcast.
2. Install liquid disinfectant stations at the entrance of the synagogue, in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, in every classroom. Use Purell professional surface disinfectant spray before and after meetings.
3. The use of masks should only be used for those who are ill – but then again – they should not be attending Temple services.
4. Handshaking must stop. The Israel Ministry of Health is in communication and in line with all of the above emergency CDC / WHO recommendations.
5. Wash your hands as often as possible as the virus can live on some surfaces for a few hours. Do not touch your face as the points of transmission are your nose, mouth and eyes.
6. Stop kissing the Torah and or garments used to touch the Torah. Reflecting upon the verses written in the scroll will suffice.
Today, the Conference of European Rabbis published a list of recommendations — including avoiding kissing mezuzahs, Torah scrolls and other people – to worshippers on how to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Jewish world has a choice. Do nothing and say it will not happen here. Or eventually be ordered by the Town and or state health departments to close their synagogues.
We must take immediate actions to prove to the public that we care about our synagogue members and the general community.
Action on the above does not require a vote by the Temple Board and a meeting next month.
We need to alert all synagogue members and install disinfectant stations before Shabbat services.
As it took some time for many to accept police and uniformed security guards at the entrances of our synagogues with open arms – we must now act without panic – to keep our synagogues safe and secure from a lethal virus which as of last report today has mutated into something much more aggressive.
Yes, we will welcome the stranger. But not one who is sneezing or coughing.
We may want to take the advice of the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu, at a press conference in Jerusalem after a meeting to review Israel’s fight to stop the spread of coronavirus, said that several measures will be announced to prevent the spread of the disease.
Instead of the normal handshake, Netanyahu suggests his countrymen to opt for “Namaste” to greet each other. “Namaste” is the customary means to greet each other in India with a smile and folded hands.
“Just avoid shaking hands as I do. You can try to implement the Indian system of Namaste or say another word like shalom, but find a way, any way of not shaking hands.”
Some good news!
Israeli scientists have announced that a new vaccine they developed for a deadly virus affecting poultry could be adapted for human use against the coronavirus.
Scientists at the Migal Research Institute in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona said last Thursday that after four years of multi-disciplinary research, they developed a vaccine against IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus), an avian coronavirus that affects the respiratory tract, gut, kidney and reproductive systems of domestic fowl. The disease causes “remarkable economic losses to the poultry industry by inducing respiratory and reproductive signs, decreased productive performances and increased mortality,” according to a 2019 veterinary study. The effectiveness of the new vaccine has been proven in pre-clinical veterinary trials.
While working on the avian vaccine, the Israeli scientists said they identified a possible COVID-19 vaccine candidate as a by-product of the IBV vaccine and have made the “required genetic adjustments to adapt the vaccine to COVID-19, the human strain of coronavirus.”
The scientists said they are now working toward safety approvals that will allow for in-vivo testing and – in the near future, possibly three weeks – the production of a vaccine.
New York — February 24, 2020 … Almost every major US Jewish organization has criticized Senator Bernie Sanders for describing both Israel and AIPAC as representing racism and bigotry.
Without mentioning any specifics of racism, Sanders promised as President to withdraw aid from Israel and give it to (terror organization Hamas) Gaza.
Sanders completely ignores the fact that both the government of Israel and AIPAC would recognize a two state solution once Israel is able to secure a true and lasting peace partner.
AIPAC made the following statement in response to Sanders boycotting the March Policy Conference in Washington:
AIPAC’s full statement is below:
Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO said: It’s offensive that Bernie Sanders denigrates the AIPAC policy conference as a platform for bigotry. At a time when we see a surge of real hate across the US, it’s irresponsible to describe AIPAC like this. ADL proudly will be there.
The American Jewish Committee stated: “We flatly reject Senator Sanders’ smears of AIPAC and will attend its Policy Conference in greater numbers than ever before, led by our CEO, David Harris.
William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations urged all member Jewish organizations to attend:
“AIPAC brings together a bipartisan diversity of all sectors of society from across the political spectrum. Boycotting this important opportunity for dialogue is irresponsible and counterproductive. We advise our member organizations to join us in attending.”