OPINION: Why Pesach unity in Israel could be a huge liability

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OPINION: Why Pesach unity in Israel could be a huge liability

British journalist living in Israel, Nathan Jeffay, says Passover may tempt millions to spend seder with their families and increase the spread of coronavirus

Nathan Jeffay
Seder night was  very different for families in Israel and across the world
Seder night was very different for families in Israel and across the world

Seder week normally showcases Israel at its best. But this year, the country’s great unifying moment has the potential to be a huge liability.

There’s nothing like the exhilaration of Passover Eve, knowing you’re in a country where millions of people are preparing to honor our shared heritage together. The foods will be different from household to household, the tunes will vary, and the level of religiosity will span a huge spectrum. But the sense of unity is overwhelming.

This year, it translates in to one big worry. The vast majority of a country’s population has the urge to be getting together with their wider families. Most will resist, but will compliance to stay-at-home orders be high enough?

The fight against coronavirus is at a critical juncture, and if even a sizable minority of the population holds get-togethers, it will prove a major setback that costs lives.

I’m trying to be optimistic. We’re all familiar with the chaotic side of Israel, where queuing etiquette is nonexistent and everyone always seems to know best, but in a real emergency, Israelis are actually good at following instructions. The key question that will determine behavior on Seder Night is whether the nation feels the real sense of danger, or whether we are starting to get complacent.

There are some initiatives to give an outlet to citizens’ desire to mark Seder Night together. One, for example, asks us to go out to our balconies at 8.30 pm on Wednesday and sing Ma Nishtana together.

It’s a nice idea, but clearly one that has been planned by people without young children. In reality, the moment kids are called upon to recite the Four Questions, one child will inevitably be starting a tantrum, another will need the toilet, and a third will be drinking the saltwater. The notion of a synchronized seder segment seems rather optimistic.

Despite everything, Israelis have lots to be grateful for. The country has been ranked first in the Covid-19 Health Safety Countries Ranking on the Deep Knowledge Group website. Testing is widespread and constantly expanding. Hospitals are, at least for now, coping well.

 And in an unexpected twist, relations with the Palestinians are unusually calm. Normally, holiday season comes with serious concerns about the security situation. But dynamics have changed radically.  

A recent cartoon in Al-Quds Al-Arabi says it all. Israeli security forces and Palestinian protestors arent clashing, but rather standing together, fighting a common enemy with bottles of alcohol gel. Even the United Nations has praised unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing the epidemic” between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. 

Israel has sent testing kits to the West Bank, and even to Hamas-controlled Gaza. An arm of the IDF has provided training for Palestinian health teams. And there are constant consultations through a special “mechanism” that has been established.

When my son asked me if everyone will stop fighting during the crisis I quipped that they would probably continue — the only difference being that terrorists will pull their triggers and launch their rockets with immaculately-disinfected hands. I hope that the current sense of shared mission continues, and that I turn out to have been wrong.


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