Israel is in lockdown for a month, as coronavirus numbers climb ever higher. While better late than never, it is frustrating that brinkmanship has been the name of the game.
How can we have done things differently? Of course, people could have done a better job of following the rules, and the government could have ensured that the law was clearly presented and enforced. For the government to point its finger solely at citizens is ludicrous. Police exist because of society’s weak links: otherwise, we wouldn’t need them at all.
Speaking of weak links, the failed Uman pilgrims are now returning home. Many have refused to be tested, and declare that they will not enter quarantine, in spite of the fact that coronavirus has been found on a whopping 17 flights returning from the Ukraine. They defied government prohibitions when they went to Uman, and continue to show zero remorse. There is only one solution: march them off to coronavirus quarantine hotels, and garner the cost of the operation from the government funding received by their yeshivas.
The ultra-Orthodox account for a whopping 30 percent of corona cases in Israel, in spite of constituting a mere 8 percent of the population. This is not just due to defiant behavior but to lifestyle. Many of them live in small dwellings. They may live in developed Israel, but their lifestyle choices result in developing world conditions. Additionally, yeshivas and synagogues, with their indoor crowding, are breeding grounds for the virus. When these students return home, they spread it. According to one figure, a shocking 50 to 60 percent of these students have tested positive.
I applaud that the current lockdown provides a solution for this: yeshiva students are in lockdown in their yeshivas during this holiday season.
While one can’t move these large families into suburban homes, other measures can be taken. Outdoor learning, particularly in capsules, is far safer than any form of indoor gathering. In fact, researchers found that of 7,000 coronavirus cases in China, only one was caused outdoors (and that involved face-to-face spittle.) Add masks to the equation, and you are practically foolproof. Hence yeshivas and other schools needn’t close: they merely need to get imaginative.
Israel enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year. Why can’t classes be held solely outside? Add mandatory masks to the equation, and you have a safe way to continue cherished activities. Not enough room to be outdoors in cramped city environments? What is wrong with learning on the rooftops? The rabbis of the Talmudic Era, with whom these yeshiva students are obsessed, were masters of improvisation. Why not emulate them?
Speaking of out-of-door activities, demonstrations are currently in lockdown, but due to return in a month. While they are far safer than indoor activities, large numbers and crowding could result in the face-to-face spittle mentioned above. While many people do mask during demonstrations, others do not. And while demonstration leaders tell people to distance themselves, this is not always possible when thousands show up in a small space.
The solution to this was already tried and unfortunately lately ignored: the exes drawn on Rabin Square back in March. This brilliant idea should be reintroduced and enforced at all demonstrations. When numbers exceed a certain number, demonstration leaders could then lead demonstrators to back-up locations (a large outdoor area like Gan Sacher comes to mind.) Combine this with leaders handing out disposable masks to those lacking them and you have a safe demonstration.
Another potential solution is a lottery or sign-up system. For example, the beach, due to being outdoors and expansive, is quite safe, but less so if thousands of people show up. Why not break the day into three hour chunks? Registration via an app, first come, first serve. Special beach guards can check registration, and apprehend those in violation. This position can be filled by those currently out-of-work due to corona. The same could be applied to outdoor synagogue prayer or demonstrations: pre-registration, with a finite number permitted, and a back-up outdoor area available to enable continued registration.
The corona era is far from over: if we are to live healthfully with this scourge and its limitations, it is time for some out-of-the-box thinking.