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Israelis are preparing to celebrate the holiest days under lock and key

JERUSALEM – When the Israelites prepare to celebrate the holiest days in the Jewish calendar under a new lock, the organization of prayers turns out to be a mathematical intellectual rather than a spiritual exercise.

Rabbis have to place supporters in clusters of 20 to 50, separated by dividers, determining the number and size of groups based on complex calculations involving the local level of infection and how many entrances and square feet their synagogues have. Masks will be needed and many places will have to be left empty.

With the coronavirus scandal, Israel will be one of the few places in the world where the second blockade will take place, which will take effect on Friday, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The government has published a list of restrictions, along with many exceptions that many criticize as a formula for confusion and non-compliance.

The atmosphere on the eve of the holidays was more desperate than joyful.

“These are not the holidays we had hoped for,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president of Oh Torah Stone, an Israeli educational group with emissaries around the world. “The fragility of life awaits us, but I see people rising on occasion.”

The three-week national castle was timed to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Sukkot festival, hoping to do less economic damage as business slows around the holidays anyway. It was also aimed at preventing large family meals that could become Petri dishes for the virus.

For many Jews, the loss will be emotional rather than economic if we take from them the gatherings and rituals they have always relied on to tighten family and social ties.

In the spring, Israel successfully curbed the spread of the virus, but recently the level of infection has risen to one of the worst in the world. Over the past week, the country has had more than 300 confirmed new cases per 100,000 people – more than twice as high in Spain, the worst-hit European country, and four times as many as in the United States.

Schools closed on Thursday, just two weeks after they reopened. Starting on Friday, people should usually be at a distance of 1,000 meters – about 1,100 yards – from the house.

But travel restrictions are so excepted — work, train, demonstrate, buy essentials, and perform a variety of religious obligations — that many Israelis question logic and motivation.

Dizzying changes in policy continued on Thursday evening. Warning health officials that a relatively weak blockade is unlikely to significantly reduce the level of infection, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there may be “no choice but to be stricter.”

At the same time, the parliamentary committee called for easing of restrictions on movement, doubling the radius from 500 meters to 1000. The Cabinet approved the change during the night from Thursday to Friday.

“All the zigzags are incomprehensible,” said Karin Azizyan, 45, a housewife from Emunim, a village in central Israel. “They don’t believe in government.”

Even before the government gave its orders this week, the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, where prime ministers and presidents prayed, announced that for the first time in more than half a century it was closing its doors on Holy High Day.

“Our decision reflects our overwhelming concern to protect each congressman and their families in a time of great uncertainty and changes in government guidelines,” the board of trustees wrote in a letter to congressmen.

“I have tears in my eyes,” said Zally Jaffe, president of the Great Synagogue. He said the synagogue operated continuously throughout Israel’s wars, recalling how he ran away from home in 1991 to open for morning prayers when everything became clear after the Iraqi rocket attack.

But government policy was not very encouraging, he said, asking, “Is it based on science, politics or economics?”

Many disobedient Jews attend the synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and Lent. But the release from the blockade has caused outrage among secular Israelis, as many are seen as serving religious observers as a result of pressure from religious parties in the governing coalition.

Jewish women are allowed to enter the market more than 1,000 meters to take a dip in the ritual bath, but the pools will be closed. Observant Jews will be able to travel to purchase supplies needed to observe Sukkot – citrus fruits and other plants, as well as materials to build a temporary shelter. Unlike synagogues, cultural institutions, museums, gyms and hotels will not work.

“Many secular Israelis have a deep-seated and well-argued feeling that this blockade is a ‘lock for the secular,'” commentator Shoshan Chen wrote in a column on Ynet.

Among the provisions that people have questioned is that it allows Israelis to fly to Greece and several other countries, but not to Eilat, Israel’s resort on the Red Sea.

The head of the Israeli hotel chain said he would change the name of the city to a more Greek one, which sounds like “Eilatos”, if it helps, because the kitchen workers were forced to throw away the food they had already prepared for the holidays.

Public confidence in government decision-making began to crumble at Easter, during the spring blockade, when Mr Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin broke the rules by accepting family members outside their immediate family.

Mr Rivlin apologized again for failing in an emotional televised speech to the nation on Wednesday night, and said he also atoned for the leadership’s failure to contain the pandemic.

“You trusted us, and we let you down,” he said. “I want to tell the Israeli government – its leaders, ministers and advisers – that people’s trust exceeds value. We must do everything we can to restore personal, medical and economic trust in our fellow citizens. “

In an effort to allow more people to feel the festive spirit, some Jewish organizations are working on creative solutions.

The rabbinical organization Tsohar and Or Tora Stone have expanded the Shofar in the Park project, which began several years ago, and which brings the ritual explosion of a ram’s horn into the public sphere. Now they are also taking him inside apartment buildings where people will be locked up.

In addition, Ohr Torah Stone has released an abbreviated online version of the Machzor Prayer Book to provide shorter and safer services, whether indoors or outdoors, in smaller public facilities for up to 20 people. . Thousands of copies have been downloaded for mass printing and distribution.

“Jewish law gives priority to labor protection,” said Rabbi Brander. “It gives us the ability to maneuver during calls.”

Merav Ateji, 44, a teacher from Nice, a small community off the southern tip of Israel’s Mediterranean coast, took two of her five sons to the beach before the new restrictions took effect.

“It’s a suffocating feeling,” she said of the impending castle, “but there’s no choice.”

The young couple Gur Lavi, 24, and Orian Mazar, 23, who live in various cities in central Israel, traveled to Jerusalem together over the weekend before spending at least the next three weeks staying at their families’ homes.

Mamilla, an open-air shopping mall near the Old City of Jerusalem, is usually teeming with foreign tourists. But exclusive souvenir shops and boutiques were almost deserted in the days before the holidays.

However, several Israelis still did not buy holiday clothes. A popular chain of clothing stores still advertised “school” offers.

Shimi Elimeleh, manager of one of the chain’s stores, said: “Unlike Easter, when everyone was sitting in their pajamas, this time people want to dress even for their own family to experience the festival.”

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