In marmur, Our Virtual Mishkan

Israel’s Leaders Have Failed Us

In an effort that some consider to be misguided and incompetent in dealing with the pandemic, the government of Israel has virtually shut down the country, at least till the end of the Festival of Sukkot. This means that services in synagogues will be almost impossible to hold, though some groups will meet in courtyards and other open places. It is also anticipated, alas, that many – especially ultra-Orthodox – congregations may defy the directive.

What about mass demonstrations? For many weeks now opponents of the current government, particularly the critics of the prime minister, have demonstrated outside his official residence, his private home and in many other places around the country urging him to resign in anticipation of his trial. Despite Netanyahu’s presumed wishes, the government has hitherto been reluctant to ban demonstrations in order not to further compromise the country’s increasingly fragile democratic profile.

But now when worship services are curtailed, it seems logical and legitimate to stop the demonstrations. Though it is unlikely that Netanyahu would have shown up at a synagogue on Yom Kippur, he must be grateful to the festival for being liberated him not only from the noise outside his office and his home but, more important, from the implied threat to his tenure.

It seems that most Israelis will learn to live with closed synagogues and cancelled demonstrations. However, it is not clear that they can endure closed businesses. There are even those who say that the economic damage to the country because of these closures will be infinitely greater than the alleged benefits of banning gatherings for worship and the protests. I hear many voices urging easing restrictions on commerce in order to save many from poverty and worse. There are reports that even Israel’s “Corona Czar” finds the commercial restrictions too harsh and counterproductive.

All this is yet another sorry illustration of the failure of Israel’s political leaders to deal with the Corona crisis. They did well in the beginning but appear to have lost their way since. The prime minister is seen as the main culprit of the failure. The situation is, of course, bad in many other countries, yet, by all accounts, the situation in Israel is particularly bad. Nobody seems to take charge or take responsibility; it is an apt but very sad reflection of the state of the political leadership in the land.

The fact that political leaders in some other lands may also be failing those who brought them into power is no consolation. That is how I understand a leading article in today’s Jerusalem Post. A subheading reads: “Yom Kippur is a fitting time to review the apologies that Israel’s leaders owe to its people.”

Though synagogues will remain closed, our tradition teaches that the gates of prayer are always open to each of us. We need to go through them more than ever this year. May we meet the challenge; our leaders, alas, will not be there to show the way or help us.

Jerusalem 25.9.20                                                                                                               Dow Marmur

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