How We Are (One)
I do not write to preach but to share our experiences in the hope that it may be enlightening, perhaps comforting, if not helpful. I also write because we are blessed by many who have reached out, as friends from all over the world, specifically to ask how we are because we are in Israel. Especially among Christians and Jews, the love and support for Israel transcends personal challenges. We are seeing that now and it is a blessing.
Everyone is dealing with the current global crisis in one way or another. For everyone, the situation is personal. Some are more impacted than others, and some have better capacity to deal with such challenges than others.
Unfortunately, also thanks to our neighbors, we have had our share of war and other threats nationally that have given us the unwanted experience of hunkering down and fulfilling the injunction, all Israel of is responsible for one another. For instance, when I (and it felt like half of Jerusalem) emerged from the tranquility of Shabbat (the Sabbath, a complete day of rest when we shut off and shut out the entire world), and heard that stores might be closed, I went out with two kids to the closest grocery store and stocked up. As we were shopping, I was keeping in mind that it may come to a situation that we may literally need to provide help to our neighbors, so I bought a little more than otherwise, just in case.
So, how are we? Well, just as everywhere, nothing is usual or normal. Personally, we are all doing well, and healthy, as far as we know. We’re not in complete isolation but it’s close. as we are being told not to go out unless its absolutely necessary, and if so, only for limited times with any gatherings limited to 10 people.
One daughter is a physical therapist. While schools and many businesses are closed, or people working remotely, she’s still working “normally.” Like all medical professionals, it puts her at higher risk which is concerning especially coming home to our 18-month-old grandson.
Our daughters who are a teacher and student respectively are working at home. Its nice to have them around and helping to cook. But with a 14-year-old boy home from school and getting under their skin, there’s a little more stress which is probably not unusual from other people’s homes anywhere else.
Two of our children are in the midst of national service that remains uninterrupted. One daughter is working with at risk kids. Because the facility remains open to help kids who have nowhere else to be, she’s going back and forth trying to help keep the kids’ lives as normal as possible, but of course putting herself at risk.
Our son just finished his paratrooper basic training. It was one of the proudest and most emotional days of my life, and probably the last large public gathering for a while. He’s being kept in the army for at least a month to avoid any exposure to sick people outside, and risk bringing the virus back into the army.
It’s funny that our kids don’t want us to go to the store or out in public (while we still can) because we’re older (always nice to hear), and they’re afraid we might get sick.
A large part of the risk where we live comes from our Arab neighbors in the Palestinian Authority who have a much higher rate of infection. Bethlehem, right next to our town, has largely been closed. Nevertheless, it seems that many are still coming to Israeli stores where they work and shop.
We just bought a new apartment that’s under construction. The work site is completely closed because the Palestinian Arab workers are not allowed in for health reasons. This is not the only business that’s getting shut or slowing down. At least it’s refreshing that Arab workers are not being banned because they’re trying to blow us up.
There is a big national cloud over the upcoming celebration of Passover. This is uniquely food-centric.
We rid ourselves of all leavened products and stock our pantries and refrigerators with food that’s kosher for Passover. Some are concerned that there won’t be food, or the ability to go shopping, and preparing as usual. Part of preparation is a spring cleaning on steroids which is easy to do in isolation and, pun intended, is going viral.
Professionally, we are experiencing challenges like many others. Run for Zion, the program I have prepared for over 18 months, was supposed to take place this week, but we had to cancel because tourism has been ground to a halt. The tourism industry here has taken a great hit with groups canceling as far out as June, and businesses closing or remaining open with a skeletal staff.
Now we’re trying to reschedule which is hard because people are not thinking about international travel, not even a year away. Also, major companies and small businesses in the tourism industry are operating on a crisis basis and making huge layoffs and its hard to make plans.
It has not just impacted tourism of course. Israeli high tech has been hurt as investors even in some of the most promising technologies are licking their wounds because of losses in the stock market. Layoffs are abundant.
When the current situation became more of a crisis, I prayed about what we could do, as an organization whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel in ways that are new, unique and meaningful. We want to help people in Israel and bless those who are most impacted. Quickly, I realized that the problem is global and widespread, therefore our solution needed to be in a way that could help people internationally, while still blessing Israel. It’s a work in progress as we vet out the best and most viable opportunities, but we want to make a difference.
With lots more people having more time and less income, and hopefully willing to do something out of the box form which they can derive a personal benefit as well as blessing Israel, we’re doing something innovative that will be a blessing from Israel that can help many. Please feel free to join us or share with those who can use the help.
Hopefully, this will all be temporary and short lived. For now, Israel is getting by as much as anyone can, just with our unique challenges. May we all stay safe and healthy and be back to normal as soon as possible.
How We Are (Two)
Very early my time one day this week, and very late in the US, I got a text from a close pastor friend in the US asking:
“What message do you believe God is speaking to Israel and my Jewish family in the midst of the CV situation?”
I replied. “I don’t pretend to be able to get into God’s head on this.”
“What are you perceiving?” my pastor friend probed.
“It does give us the opportunity to be reflective and look into ourselves.”
“There’s always a message,”my pastor friend added. “Some say He’s Jehovah Sneaky like that.”
“Yes, I don’t doubt that, but I don’t know what it is. I’m not sure it’s focused on Jews specifically or on all humanity. Like Noah.”
In a very pastoral way, my friend commented, “That’s what I was looking for. Noah… you went straight to a portion of scripture that comes to your mind when analyzing what’s going on.”
Well, none of this makes me a prophet, but I do try to look at things through a biblical prism, and when I don’t understand something I try to search within. These days, I am lacking understanding. I’m grateful, that despite nearly 1000 people getting infected and one death in Israel as of this writing, and despite living in a community with a proportionally high rate of infection, my family is safe and healthy, albeit on top of one another.
We are lucky, and grateful for all we have. But there are challenges.
With tourism halted, Jerusalem is isolated. Lamentations come to mind: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.” No, we’re not mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. It will come back. But its scary and sad to see it so deserted. And there is suffering behind the closed doors. Unemployment has suddenly skyrocketed to 16% with a new 500,000 people out or work. Through my work with the Genesis 123 Foundation we are trying to come up with unique and innovative ways to be of greatest help. We have been asked specifically to help with those most at risk including orphans and at risk youth and elderly Holocaust survivors. We are garnering an international group of Prayer Warriors.
For the first time in anyone’s memory, the Jaffa Gate was sealed, and the Great Synagogue was closed. Only Old City residents are allowed to enter, reminiscent of the last siege of Jerusalem in 1948 when the Jewish community was isolated and in peril.
Its not a war but it feels like it. Israel knows from wars. During wartime, there are daily reports of battles, rockets, terror attacks, and casualties. Sometimes hourly. Now, we wake up to new restrictions, and reports of casualties, not completely knowing whether it is new information, or old news.
Protecting us from the threats of our neighbors, our son the paratrooper expects to be in the army for at least a month without being able to come home; not for Shabbat and not for the Passover seder. In order to keep the soldiers safe, in order to be able to keep the country safe, and away from people who are infected, he said that the army is suggesting it might be as long as three months.
With Passover coming, some are worrying that the food supply, means to deliver it, or even just the permission to go shopping, will be interrupted. Extended families are now accepting the reality that they may not be together for the holiday. There’s been a particular focus on protecting the elderly, not having them exposed to others who might be infected and not knowing it yet. That has meant not having grandparents visiting or babysitting. For a country that’s so family-centric, that’s not easy. I love that it’s a national priority that we have to keep grandma and grandpa safe and healthy. But then I realized that I fall into that category even though I don’t think of myself as old, and can’t imagine being separated from our grandson.
Prayer and introspection have been fervent, but interrupted. In Judaism, it’s preferred to pray together as a community, with a minyan (a quorum of at least 10). For now, in most of Israel, synagogues are closed. There are no prayer quorums. This undermines one of the very elements that makes Jews and Israel so close, albeit with lots of conflicts (just like an extended family). We live and pray together all the time. For that reason, virtual prayer events are being organized, and the Genesis 123 Foundation Prayer Warriors are so important.
On a positive note, all transportation, restaurants, stores, and more have been shut down entirely for the weekend. This includes Shabbat, the Day of Rest. It’s a social tension that not all of Israelis are religiously observant and commerce takes place on Shabbat in the Jewish state. To a degree, at least for the moment, all Israel is observing the Sabbath at least in public. Jewish tradition is that when all Jews observe Shabbat together, the Messiah will come. Maybe we’re getting closer.
According to the current rules, Israelis must remain at home, with exceptions made for buying food and medical supplies, getting medical care, aiding elderly or ill people, donating blood, attending court hearings, getting help from welfare services, attending the Knesset or a ritual bath. Lifecycle events such as weddings and funerals may have no more than 10 people. Demonstrations are allowed, mindful of social distancing, leading to some asking if a protest prayer service is OK.
We are permitted exercise outdoors, with no more than two people, and to go out for short walks near home. Only two people can drive in a car together, unless they are members of the same family. This impedes another pillar of society and transportation. “Tremping,” or hitchhiking, is still common in much of Israel. Now, not knowing who might be infected, cars stop for strangers much less often.
Despite most international travel stopped, and the risk of families being split up with some stuck overseas, two incredible things that are unique to Israel are still happening. First, Jews continue to make Aliyah, immigrating and starting their new lives at home, but in quarantine. Additionally, Israel sent multiple planes to central America to “rescue” stranded Israelis who were stuck because of the shutdown of commercial air travel.
Perhaps this sense of togetherness, of community, is part of the reason this past week it was also reported that Israel is and remains one of the happiest countries in the world.
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Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six and became a grandfather in 2018. Throughout his life and career, he has been blessed by the calling to fellowship with Christian supporters of Israel and serve as a bridge between Jews and Christians. He shares insights and experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, writing for prominent Christian and conservative web sites and appearing on many Christian TV and radio programs. He is the president of Run for Zion and the Genesis 123 Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via www.runforzion.com.