Highway 2, the coastal eight-lane road connecting Tel Aviv and Haifa, which on any given weeknight is jammed with vehicles moving at a snail’s pace on their way to the bedroom communities of Herzliya, Ra’anana and Netanya, on Sunday night looked more the way it does on Yom Kippur: vast lengths of eerily deserted asphalt. Israelis have grasped all too well the message drilled into them by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in repeated, tireless television appearances: stay home, don’t touch each other, keep a distance of 6 feet between yourself and the stranger coming to greet you.
My daughter and I, having just moved to a new apartment, were out hunting for a new armoire, which we found on sale at the Home Center next to Kibbutz Shefayim in a shopping center by the side of the highway. It is a vast store, with the closets department at the far end, and the two of us progressed there in the kind of silence one associates with military hangars in Hollywood films as the heroes approach the doomsday device laying at the center. We and the nice Arab salesman were the only ones there, in this silent, abandoned megastore.
Everybody else stayed home.
Israeli news outlets deal mainly with two issues: the progress of the coronavirus as it infects more of us every day, much the way it has been doing elsewhere on the planet; and the heroic struggle between two political giants, one pretend-right, the other sort of left, to outmaneuver each other on the way to the desired post of PM. With nothing else in our social environment, and with places of entertainment, coffee shops, restaurants and practically everything else shut down, Israelis have adopted a determined, even grim attitude, reminiscent of Londoners at the time of the Blitz.
But in Israel, as in Israel, one cannot avoid the sneaking feeling that things here continue to edge on the miraculous, or at least the unexplained. We’ve gotten used by now to dozens of rockets falling on our southern communities and hitting close to nothing, or they hit a kindergarten when the children are safely asleep at home. I recall back during the first gulf war, when the country was hit by some 40 cruise missiles with one casualty. Miracles are the norm here. Including when it comes to the coronavirus.
Oh, I could be proven wrong in seconds, God forbid, but for now, having endured about three weeks of this plague, and with 250 patients identified as of Monday morning, no one has died.
The health ministry reported Monday at 8 AM that of the 250 infected Israelis, 231 are in light condition, 11 fair, 4 severe, and 4 recovered.
May I say, Holy Moly, Captain Marvel?
On Sunday, several Haredi leaders, both Lithuanian and Chassidic, decided that yeshiva children and young adults continue their Torah study uninterrupted. They have since altered their rulings in a variety of ways in response to outside pressure, but you know something, I admired them. I didn’t think they were being callused regarding the health of the thousands of boys and girls under their care, I believe they acted on their strong notion that we here, the Jews of Eretz Israel, exist on a miraculous plateau.
All of which does not suggest that we stop our efforts to apply sensible public health policy – which Netanyahu and his cabinet have been doing, despite criticism from Gantz’s camp that they were cynically turning the lemon of the virus crisis into a huge bowl of frosty, refreshing lemonade. And, naturally, all this sensible isolation is starting to tear cracks in the country’s economy, which must be dealt with. Nevertheless, Israel—government and citizens alike—is measuring up to the faceless foe as we have done every day since we first set foot here, back from exile, in 1878.
The burden of these 250 or so cases is shared among 21 hospitals around the country, with 44 patients in home care. There are complaints of medical staff being stretched beyond what is humanly possible, of shortages in supplies of protective gear, of shortages in test kits. But look at us, 8 million Israelis, bearing down, determined, strong, brave.
Just look at us.