Welcome to our beautiful Corona hotel!

A two-week “vacation” in a Corona hotel! That’s one of three new solutions for stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Israel.

We’ve tried several methods already. They include requiring masks and social distancing. Imposing lockdowns of various degrees. Closing schools, then reopening them.

They’ve failed. But instead of yet another rant about how Israelis are all to blame for the daily spike in active cases, the increase in numbers of seriously ill, and the ever-nearing collapse of the health care system, let’s make this clear:

The majority of Israelis do try to follow the rules. At the Ramla shuk, where I go every week, most of the shoppers and stall keepers wear masks. About half wear them properly.

It’s a minority who flout the regulations. Even if you take a day with 600 people at a mass wedding, 10,000 at a demonstration, 3,000 at bars and restaurants, and 1,000 at parties—then you count the same numbers for a month, using different people each time—it’s still a small but significant minority—but extremely “newsworthy.” The rest of us are doing what we can to stay safe, even if we’re not wearing our masks right.

Let’s not go into the incompetence of the Israeli government in handling this crisis and creating unbearable confusion (not “unexplained” as in the sign on my synagogue door). That’s been raked over and over, and there’s not much left to say. Just this observation—it’s our government, it represents us, and we voted it into office.

The political distortions that brought this about are the theme of my second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” So I won’t repeat that here. There is, however, an aspect of Israeli society and mentality that is contributing to the crisis.

In other developed countries, when the government passes a law or puts out a regulation, the first impulse is to comply. At some point citizens, especially the wealthy, may look for loopholes or exceptions, but by and large, people follow the edicts of their governments.

Here in Israel, our response to a new regulation often is, “How can I get around this?” A law is worth following only if there’s a chance we might get caught breaking it.

The question you hear when the government imposes a new Corona restriction is, “How are they going to enforce that?”

  • So the first solution is to change the mentality. I can hear you saying, “Right. Good luck with that.” So let’s take a first step. Instead of presenting each new measure as a “gezera” or punishment, the government should present it as a benefit.

Why are we wearing masks? To make a fashion statement? Of course not. We’re wearing masks to protect ourselves and others from the virus. This should not be a matter of, “you’ll pay a fine if we catch you without a proper mask.” People aren’t wearing their masks on their wrists because they actively want to harm their neighbors and grandparents. They’re doing it as a reflex—“I won’t get caught.” So instead, let’s appeal to the better nature of people and get them to wear masks because it’s the right thing to do, not because they might be punished if they don’t.

Likewise, selective lockdowns should be presented as a way of controlling the spread of the virus, not punishing the people who have caught it.

The second solution is more practical. It is highly uncomfortable to wear a mask over your nose and mouth for any length of time, especially in the summer. There’s a common practice of wearing a mask around your chin and raising it to cover your mouth and nose if you see someone approaching—a big “if” at best.

  • So here’s my idea: Let’s start promoting the use of face shields. There are conflicting studies about whether face shields are as effective as properly worn masks. The jury is still out on that. They’re best worn together with cloth masks—but face shields alone are undoubtedly more effective than under-the-nose masks, chin masks, wrist masks, and no masks.

Israel’s Health Ministry does not recognize face shields as effective enough, and you can’t get into a hospital or clinic while wearing one—but it’s time to consider the better-than-nothing factor, especially outdoors, where the danger of COVID-19 transmission is markedly less than indoors.

So we’ve suggested changing the Israeli mentality toward regulations, and we’ve tried getting people to wear masks because it’s responsible behavior, or at least wear a face shield. However, these are long-term solutions, and we’re in a crisis situation. We may already have crossed the point of no return where the pandemic spins out of control, and we may be facing a year or more of extreme hardships before a vaccine is available. And even then, it’s unlikely that our government, or any other government that depends on getting elected, will have the guts to make a safe, reliable vaccination compulsory for everyone except a small number of medically challenged citizens.

  • Here’s the short-term solution, in keeping with the prevailing attitudes of both the government and the people toward regulations: People who are caught violating a Corona regulation, whether it’s masks, gatherings, or curfews, are immediately sent for a two-week stay at a Corona hotel.

As of the end of August, there were 28 Corona hotels here. Their object is to remove Corona patients from their homes and neighborhoods to prevent their spreading the disease to relatives and neighbors. So the hotels are, by definition, the best place to go if you want to guarantee catching the disease.

So you think that COVID-19 is just a form of the flu? That it only hits old folks? That the government is handing this all wrong? So why bother following the regulations? Off you go to a Corona hotel for a nice two-week stay. Then we’ll talk. If you can.

That might be frightening enough to persuade even the most recalcitrant, skeptical, or cantankerous Israelis to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay away from crowds, weddings, and demonstrations, and follow the rules.

And that would stop the spread of the virus in its tracks.

—   —   —

Correspondent MARK LAVIE has covered the Middle East since 1972.

Halacha and COVID-19—fateful choices

We Orthodox Jews appear to be having a “Coronavirus contest”—who can say “no” the most.

  • A rabbi rules that people praying on close but separate balconies can’t be considered a “minyan,” a prayer quorum of ten men.
  • A rabbi informs a worshipper that a certain mask is improper because the straps holding it to his face go behind the head and get in the way of the straps of his tefilin.
  • Another rabbi tells worshippers lined up on two sides of a narrow street for social distancing that they don’t constitute a single minyan.
  • A “Corona monitor” at a synagogue confronts a worshipper, calling him a “liar” and a “cheater” for the heinous crime of wearing a face shield instead of a mask.
  • Citing Health Ministry restrictions, a synagogue closes its women’s section.

This is the face of Orthodox Judaism as the pandemic drags on—and there is every reason to believe that it will drag on for at least a year.

How long will it take until people rebel against this unreasonable behavior and either stop taking part in services or try a different stream of Judaism?


“Be Afraid” is the wrong message

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

That appears to be the message of various arms of the Israeli government, warning their people in panic-stricken terms about a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections, with “thousands of deaths.” ahead.

Some say we can keep that under control by following the rules–wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Others say it doesn’t matter–sooner or later, most of us will catch the disease, and then old folks will die by the thousands.

I’ll admit straight out that I’m not a mathematician, and I don’t have a degree in statistics. I do have some basic knowledge of both, and that’s all I need to declare that the numbers we’re getting at this time do not justify the five-alarm fire we’re hearing about.

Here are the latest statistics I have:

Total number of cases in Israel: 20,533

Total active cases now: 4,598

Total patients in serious condition: 39

Total on ventilators (part of the 39): 29

Total deaths from COVID-19: 305

Total new cases on last full day of testing: 349

You can note that the 349 new cases is the highest daily total we’ve had since April. You can note that the death toll is rising by one or two a day. You can hear the warnings about exponential increases in new cases unless we take immediate action.


You can note that of the nearly 4,600 active cases, only 39 are in serious condition–amounting to a tenth of one percent. The death toll of 305 is 1 1/2 percent of total cases.Indeed, 324 new cases is 10 times the daily amount from the height of the lockdown. The increase in new cases is linked to several developments: First, the easing of restrictions, allowing people out of their houses and back to work. Second, the reopening of schools. Third, significant increase in testing, especially asymptomatic school kids who happened to be within shouting distance of an active case.

It’s actually a wonder that the numbers of new cases aren’t significantly higher, because of the last two items on the list–which point to discovery of active cases that might well have gone unnoticed before the reopening of schools and mass testing of classmates.

People my age don’t like to go here–but the fact remains that we golden agers are the ones who suffer the most from COVID-19 infections. A stat from a few days ago showed that the average age of fatalities in Israel is 80.7. There are horrendous cases of younger people becoming extremely ill with ongoing, lingering effects, but the breathless news reports are anecdotal, because these cases appear to be exceptionally rare.

This is the place to recall that the original goal of the measures like social distancing and lockdown was to “flatten the curve”–not to eradicate the disease, which is impossible. We have lost sight of that goal. Instead, we have Health Ministry people warning of the system being overrun with thousands of critically ill patients, and not enough ventilators for them.

The reality is quite different. Israel has several thousand ventilators available now and several thousand more on order, set to arrive by mid-summer, though of course there could be delays. But look how many patients are on ventilators now–29. So there’s a lot of room for expansion here if we need it.

So is the prime minister’s threat of a new lockdown warranted? No, and that’s not even the direction the government itself is taking. The new approach is to lock down specific places where there’s a significant outbreak, close schools where there are cases (anyway, summer vacation is upon us), and quarantine people who might have been exposed. As we learn more and more about this new disease, it’s becoming clear that the best measures are the ones we’ve been told to take all along: Wear masks, wash hands, and maintain social distancing where possible. Simple, mundane, boring–and effective.

None of this is meant to even hint that the crisis is over. It’s not going to be over. What it’s intended to show is that we need to learn how to live with it. If we take a breath, examine our lives, and figure out how to live, not just survive, in a new reality that is not going to go “back to normal,” then we can begin to plan with cool heads for a new way of life.

front cover

I understand that scare tactics are a way of getting people to comply with government policy. But they backfire. When it doesn’t all hit the fan, people are liable to conclude that the

whole thing was overblown, and they can just go back to the way they lived before.

I wrote this book before the COVID-19 crisis, and its lessons are not derived from the pandemic–but the conclusion is the same: In the long run, keeping the people afraid is destructive, depressing, and counter-productive.


Israel ending Shin-Bet Corona spying

Israel is stopping surveillance of its population by the ISA, better known as Shin-Bet domestic spy agency, as part of its program to limit the spread of COVID-19. This move was predicted on this page when the surveillance program was started, in response to the cries of foul and dire warnings about erosion of civil rights . The Israel Democracy Institute, a veteran watchdog, praised the decision by the Cabinet not to pass a law to allow the surveillance to continue.
“It is heartening that there are voices of reason in favor of discontinuing the ISA (Israel Security Agency) tracking,” said Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, in response to the decision to halt the ISA surveillance of Israelis who have tested positive for COVID-19. “The ministers understood that there are alternatives, in use by democracies around the world.”
“We now have to prepare for a routine that includes corona, and develop voluntary apps that can benefit our society in these trying times, while simultaneously protecting both public health and personal privacy.” the statement from IDI read.
The proposed law to allow Shin-Bet tracking is still around, and it can be implemented if the Israeli leadership sees a necessity–but clearly, Israel has rejected in principle this kind of internal non-criminal espionage. Now the Shin-Bet can go back to its primary job, anti-terror activities among Palestinians–and that’s already controversial enough.

Numbers don’t add up to Corona wave #2

The trouble with numbers…

Israeli headlines scream about an “Outbreak” of corona virus cases “spreading through the school system,” “hundreds” of new cases, and the inevitable “second wave.”

It could very well happen if people aren’t conscientious about wearing masks and maintaining social distance–but we’re not there yet. A closer examination of the numbers under those headlines shows why:

Indeed, there are a few hundred new active cases. This follows a decision to reopen schools, and start testing asymptomatic classmates and teachers in schools where an active case was discovered. So–more testing, more cases. That’s an easy one.

Corona numbers1Now let’s look at the schools. The table below ran in an Israeli newspaper. It shows the dispersion of new cases in the schools. There’s a total of 303, out of two million kids. And look at the top: Jerusalem, 213. So 70 percent of the new cases are in Jerusalem. Here’s what’s not in the table: At least 130 of the cases came from a single school. There’s no explanation yet as to why that happened, but the fact is–half the new cases in Israel over the week before the table was published on Friday came from a single school. Tel Aviv schools had 19 new cases, and all the other cities and towns show single figures.

This is the place to emphasize that we need to learn how to live with Corona. A permanent total lockdown is unfeasible. We need to learn what we can open, and what needs to remain closed, who can resume semi-normal or “new normal” lives and who can’t. A leading Israeli educator noted that none of the new cases on that list have proved to be serious, and we need to get used to the idea that there will be a handful of cases, a handful of schools that are closed for a short time, and incorporate that into our reality.

It has been shown that young people are less likely to develop serious effects from Corona than old people. That’s not to say that we can sacrifice old people. It means that we can afford to be less stringent about young people. We need answers about what to do concerning teachers who are over 50 or 60. We still need many answers. But here was my reply to a friend who posted a picture of a school being closed down and wrote, in all caps, “I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!!!”

“Folks, we have to learn how to live with this. It’s not going away. It means some trial and error. So far, taken in a larger context, opening the schools isn’t an error. There are localized outbreaks among thousands of schools, and they’re being dealt with locally. Two of my grandkids are in isolation, so it’s not as if I’m writing this from Alaska. Closing the schools means closing down the economy, and we can’t do that indefinitely. With each step, we’re learning more about the virus and how it acts, and we’ll be able to make better decisions. Stiff upper lip, friends…and meantime I’m staying home because I’m old and I can 😀”

Which brings us to us old folks.

Corona numbers2The same newspaper carried some statistics about people who have died from the disease. Each death is a tragedy, and up to now Israel has had 295 fatalities. My home state of Indiana, which has 3/4 the population and four times the territory, just crossed the 2,000-fatality “milestone.” That’s the perspective aspect. Now the figures from Israel’s Health ministry: The average age of victims here is 80.7. 57 percent had high blood pressure. 35 percent had heart disease. 37 percent had diabetes.

Clearly, then, many had more than one underlying illness. More importantly, these figures do not (that’s “do not”) show that the accompanying conditions necessarily contributed to the deaths. An expert quoted in the accompanying article will go only so far as to say that the occurrence of the above conditions was higher among the dead than in a comparable group that did not catch the disease. That’s all. So we’re still working on it.

And that’s the key. We’re still working on it. This is a new disease. We are still learning. As more data becomes available, the experts know more and more, and we can get better instructions from them. The fact that they change their instructions from time to time does not mean they were wrong and therefore don’t know what they’re talking about–it means they can update their conclusions as new knowledge becomes available. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Keep in mind the main point. We need to learn how to live with Corona. It is not going away. Neither are we.



Israeli hospital award masks weaknesses

Israel’s Sheba Medical Center (aka Tel Hashomer) has been rated the world’s 9th-best hospital by Newsweek. That’s a great honor. But there’s another side.
I need to do a medical test–not a particularly unusual one–but in Israel, it’s done only at Sheba. I made an appointment yesterday–and the first available date is JULY 21!
That’s more evidence, if we needed any, that while Israel’s medical system is one of the best in the world, it is lagging badly behind population growth. Every family has stories about someone who spent hours and hours in an emergency room, waiting for initial treatment. In our family, we have a case of someone who was waiting for 15 hours in an emergency room, and that’s where he had his heart attack.
HOW IS THIS NOT THE TOP ISSUE IN TODAY’S ISRAELI ELECTION? Are we threatened more by Iran or Hamas than by government neglect of our own social infrastructure? Isn’t it time to reorder Israel’s priorities to deal with real issues, instead of exaggerated “security” threats that, anyway, the army would deal with no matter who the prime minister is?

Soleimani assassination: Right, but wise?

A wise teacher once said, “Everything depends on where you start your history.”
So here’s my take on the Suleimani assassination, followed by a series of tweets from the rightfully respected former ambassador to israel, Dan Shapiro.
Certainly he deserved to die. But there is a saying on Hebrew: “Better wise than right.”
Read his whole series of tweets, and then ask if the policy of confronting Iran militarily, instead of implementing the nuclear accord and attempting to bring Iran back into the family of nations with economic incentives, is really such an enlightened concept. https://brokenshttps://brokenspring.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/cancelling-the-iran-deal-a-dangerous-i-told-you-so
Here’s Shapiro’s view:
“Qassim Soleimani had the blood of many thousands on his hands: Americans, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians, Israelis & many, many others. Truly one of the most evil men on the planet. Seeing his smiling mug in selfies with terrorists across the region was hard to take. Good riddance.
“That he deserved this fate, a fate he authored for so many others, is not in question. The ability to carry it out is also impressive, as an intelligence and operational achievement.
“To take a decision like this has major strategic consequences. Iran has capabilities far
beyond al-Qaeda or ISIS when their leaders were eliminated. And they will have many opportunities to respond. The question is, will the US and our allies be ready?
“To state the obvious, careful, strategic, fact-based planning is not a hallmark of our current President. So there is plenty of risk in this moment.
“Immediate challenges will include keeping our embassies, troops, and personnel safe in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf. Dealing with political blowback in Iraq, possibly to include demands that US forces leave, will be a major challenge.
“Allies will want to know if the US will stand with them against blowback that may land on them. Previous decisions after attacks in the Gulf and on pulling troops out of Syria have raised many questions in their minds. They will be looking for reassurance now.
“It’s a major decision. Soleimani richly deserved his fate. The strategic consequences can last months, or years. Time to breathe deeply, prepare seriously, and give our personnel and allies all the support they need.
“But one can’t help but be concerned about the current administration’s ability to think strategically several steps ahead. We are going to find out.”
Yes, we will find out. It won’t be pretty. And the tragedy is–we didn’t have to go this way at all, but we never gave the other way a chance.

How to prevent a massacre

Here’s news of a Texas church under attack, and the hero who stopped it before more people were killed.

At a time when attacks against religious institutions, especially Jewish ones, are becoming a near-daily occurrence, we need to think seriously about how to react. Then we need to think about how to stop it. The first is an immediate necessity. The second, while potentially more important, is a long-term goal.

This isn’t an endorsement of random worshippers packing heat and opening fire inside a crowded church or synagogue. Just the opposite. This person is the “deacon of security” at his church, highly trained, and doing his job. THAT’S what we need to emulate. Unfortunately, that’s 21st century reality, and it doesn’t matter who’s to “blame.”

מכתב משי פירון

 שי פירון כהן כשר החינוך לתקופה קצרה מדי. הוא מהווה קול שקול נדיר

  .בקרב מנהיגי הצינות הדתית


1. מר נתניהו,
אפשר לאהוב ולהעריך, להעריץ אותך. אפשר לבוז, לחלוק ולראות בך ראש ממשלה רע. על
כך יחליטו הבוחרים.
אבל אם לא תרד מהבמה בזמן, ישכחו את כל הדברים הטובים שעשית – ועשית. כל משקלך
ההיסטורי יסתכם במשפט, בנאומיך המסוכנים, באמירות חסרות אחריות. יש לך מורשת,
יש לך הישגים. אל תהרוס אותם.
2. שרי הליכוד.
אני מתחיל לחשוב שכפי הנראה כמעט אף אחד מכם לא מתאים להנהגת המדינה. אף אחד
מכם לא אומר מילה, לטוב או לרע; בעד או נגד?! אתם מנהיגים?
3. מוסר.
אין שאלה על העובדות המוסריות. אבל זה הפסיק להטריד אותנו כחברה. וזה כואב.
עזבו. לא מתאים לכתב אישום?! בסדר. אבל מוסרית? ערכית? התנהלותית? זה מה שהיינו
בעיני, מוסרית, תיק 1000 הוא החמור בתיקים מפני שהוא מצביע על התנהלות אישית
מוסרית קלוקלת. ואנחנו – ממשיכים לדון בעוצמה המשפטית של התיק. האמת פחות
מעניין אותי. מטרידה אותי העוצמה המוסרית של התיק.
4. עם ישראל חי.
זה לא יעזור.
לא למר נתניהו ולא לחבורה שמסביבו.
אנחנו חזקים.
לא נתפרק. נמשיך לחלוק, להתווכח. יהיה לנו שמאל וימין, דתיים וחילוניים ויהודים
נתווכח על דמותה של ישראל אבל לא ניתן לאיש, כולל ראש הממשלה, לפרק אותנו. לא
תהיה כאן הפיכה, לא יהיה מרד ברחובות.
זה הרגע שבו כולנו צריכים להוכיח, אחד לשני, שיש משהו שאנו אוהבים יותר מכל –
את מדינת ישראל.
5. ולסיום – אכזבה.
זה לא סוד. אני שייך – במהותי – לציונות הדתית. גדלתי בה ובמוסדותיה. מאמין
העובדה שכל מנהיגיה – כאיש אחד – מגנים על ראש הממשלה בשעה שיש ספק משפטי
ווודאיות מוסרית – היא חרפה דתית. אני משוכנע שהיא מזיקה לתהליך החינוכי ולאמון
קראתי פעם אחר פעם בתנ”ך. אני יודע ש”על כל פשעים תכסה אהבה”.
לא שמעתי ש”על כל פשעים תכסה ימניות”.
שבוע טוב

 IDI-הסקר מ