Naftali Bennett and his entire cabinet – from Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton who fights with everyone, to health chief Nitzan Horowitz who espouses the tolerant line – adhere to the “anything but a lockdown” approach.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked expressed this in the clearest way when she said last week that the government “made a decision that wasn’t simple but strategic: to live with the coronavirus, with the understanding that there are vaccines. To accept serious cases of the disease and also to accept deaths, because this is a pandemic, and in a pandemic people die.”
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Shaked apologized for this. It’s pretty amazing that a person has to apologize for telling the truth.
This approach doesn’t reflect a denial of reality or of the disease. If anything, it’s much more attuned to reality than the approach of those who a year and a half in the swamp still think that more and more restrictions are an effective solution.
COVID-19 isn’t a child’s game. It’s an unpleasant, even dangerous disease. The widening spread of infection is depressing, and it’s doubtful whether the third dose, the desperate solution they’re pushing now, will moderate it significantly. The new school year, including preschools and the lower grades where the children can’t be vaccinated yet, will almost certainly help spread the pandemic and increase the number of seriously ill patients.
But the school year must open, just as life must go on. The number of days Israel’s students have stayed home in the last year and a half is among the highest in the world. Every parent of every child at any age knows the price. Depression, anxiety attacks, rage, irritability, restlessness, bed-wetting and various behavioral regressions are all part of the problems children develop when they don’t have a stable environment with their age group.
Even in these languid days, the unstructured last days of August, parents and children are maneuvering through the restrictions that require frequent tests as a condition to go almost anywhere. To continue this suffering by closing schools and preschools would be a fatal blow bordering on inhumanity.
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In March 2020, when the pandemic erupted in much of the world, I asked my parents not to leave home, I didn’t let my daughter play with more than two or three of the same friends, and I made sure to throw out the garbage with gloves on. My father, an old man, wearily told me: You can’t live like this.
I thought he was wrong and wasn’t taking the danger seriously, that he was suppressing the urgency of the situation and didn’t have the rigid discipline for getting through the lockdown for as long as it took. A year and a half and several scars later, all linked to the pandemic’s indirect implications, I realize what he meant – and even more that he was right.
In maturity you learn to live with a breakdown, whether a disease, a painful shortage of a resource, a constant discomfort. You also learn that, usually, it’s not temporary or unique to you. (In simple language, you’re not the only one who’s screwed.)
You learn that this breakdown, in various degrees, preferably as tolerable as possible, is part of the human experience. A year and a half after the eruption of this terrible curse, we have to live with this breakdown and renounce the childish hope to purge, defeat or imprison it in a jar.
Don’t be afraid, Bennett. Go with your correct instinct. Open the school year as usual. Spare our children and the rest of us additional suffering. It’s more dangerous to us than the coronavirus.