On this seder night lockdown, millions of Israeli Jews will sit down to celebrate Passover in an entirely new format. This most family-oriented of festivals will be the holiday of isolation and social-distancing; the festival of freedom become the festival of closure; the festival of spring now the festival of staying home. It’s hard to think of a greater contrast than the one between the Passover tradition and the way the festival will be observed this year. Israel is withdrawing into itself, separated and disconnected, each family on its own.
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This is a rare opportunity for reflection. The pandemic is still raging, and likely has not yet reached its peak. Now is not the time for summaries or reckonings. Their time will come, once the pandemic subsides. Until it does, we must be grateful to everyone who is battling the crisis with selfless devotion and to pay attention to the points of light amid the great loss and suffering. They have the power to change the face of Israel or conversely to be forgotten as if they never happened.
The first lesson to be learned is that the state must change its priorities. The pandemic has taught Israel that the peace and security of its inhabitants do not depend solely on the force of arms. There are perils that even the most advanced weapons and espionage cannot conquer. One of the world’s most heavily armed nations has found itself vulnerable and insufficiently protected.
The lesson must hit home: Respirators are no less essential to national security than are submarines, intensive care units no less critical than fighter squadrons. The agenda of the state, which has spent billions of shekels on its military but recklessly neglected its medical system, must change.
The second lesson is that matters which until recently seemed all-important fall away in the face of a pandemic. Nationalism, ethnic identity and religion become less relevant. The coronavirus has brought a new equality to Israel: Everyone is vulnerable to the same danger, to nearly the same degree, and everything goes topsy-turvy.
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Hatred for Haredim becomes, at least to some extent, a sense of solidarity with their suffering. Hatred for Arabs turns to gratitude for their contribution to the health care system as nurses, physicians, pharmacists and hospital employees, and Palestinians in the territories become, if only briefly, partners in a shared fate, exposed to the same danger. It’s a good time to ask what is it that we have been fighting over for generations.
Not only work, studies, lifestyles and leisure activities changed overnight, but also our personal priorities. All at once we understand that money is not the answer to everything and that the insane culture of consumption is not a panacea.
On this night of affliction, we can only wish that it will be the last of its kind, and that next Passover the world will be different. We are also permitted to hope that at least some of the lessons of the coronavirus crisis will remain with us after the pandemic passes.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.