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Good Thing Billionaires Are Immune to the Coronavirus

Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar
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Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi at the Variety PROPS Awards in London, June 20, 2015.
Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi at the Variety PROPS Awards in London, June 20, 2015.Credit: Andy Paradise
Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar

I suddenly remembered my grandfather that time he slept in my green child-size bed. This memory happened during the Wednesday evening news, when they talked about the quarantine exemption awarded to billionaire Teddy Sagi. Images of Sagi and Itamar Grotto, the deputy director general of the Health Ministry, filled the news sites.

The focus was the public’s lack of confidence in the ministry, and the double standards in treating common people as opposed to leaders and celebrities. Everyone remembered the scandalous Passover seders held by the prime minister and the president, who each had a child over despite the coronavirus restrictions. Woe to a generation with such leaders.

But I thought about my grandfather, Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Neria, of blessed memory. When I saw Sagi and Grotto, I was reminded of my grandfather sleeping in my small Jerusalem room, with a teddy bear for a pillow. My grandfather founded and headed the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh near Hadera. He's known as the father of the knitted-kippa generation – that is, an influential religious Zionist – a Knesset member, a winner of the Israel Prize and much more.

I remember like yesterday how he would come to important meetings in Jerusalem and stay overnight at our house. Nearly every organization that invited him offered him a hotel room with all expenses paid. He refused, not wanting to receive benefits from the public purse.

Instead of a comfortable bed in a hotel he got my green child-size bed, and I slept on a mattress on the floor. Since we didn’t have enough pillows, he covered my big brown teddy bear with a pillowcase, praising me for my sacrifice. Early next morning he left our house, went to his meetings and returned home by bus.

So why did I remember him on Wednesday? Because while everyone was focusing on Grotto and the exemption he granted, I was focusing on the person asking for it. I asked myself why Sagi thought he could have what we couldn’t.

I believe that Sagi, as well as the prime minister and the president, think their blood is redder because they’re more important. Maybe they think the coronavirus won’t touch them, that the virus might be frightened when facing such power, money and honorifics.

I’m thinking about a person who politely appeals to the authorities, asking to be treated differently. I ask myself what goes through such a person’s mind.

Maybe people who believe they’ll receive an exemption are our reflection, a mirror of Israeli society, of the idea that “I deserve it and everyone else can go to hell.” Maybe it’s a reflection of a society that leaves people behind, respecting deceit while making snide comments about the system.

When my partner and I are stuck in traffic, I wish out loud that people passing me on the right, driving on the shoulder, be met at the next intersection by ticket-wielding traffic police. My more merciful partner always judges them kindly, suggesting they’re carrying a woman in labor or are just in a hurry.

“Are they more in a rush than I am? Who do they think they are?” I wonder. I think that just like Sagi, what goes through their minds is that they deserve something better than others do.

That’s why I suddenly remembered my grandfather who, despite everything he achieved, never for a moment thought he deserved something others didn’t.

Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar teaches communications at Sapir Academic College and is a guest researcher at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University.

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