Back From the Brink

(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In understandable that Israel is preoccupied with the short-term effects of the coronavirus — on health, the economy, the upcoming Yamim Tovim. But thought must also be given to the long term. What is Israel going to look like the day after?

For instance, first graders lost half a year of school (remote learning is a waste of time for young children). When are they, and their fellow schoolmates in second and third grade, going to be able to make up for the lost time and knowledge? We’re talking about reading, writing and arithmetic — basic life skills. And it’s far from certain that schools will be able to reopen in September.

And while high-functioning families with resources can emerge from all the lockdowns and quarantines and school/camp closures in good shape, what about low-functioning families? How many children have been hurt emotionally and maybe even physically in homes that are under extreme stress? How many marriages couldn’t survive the unnatural disruption of routine and the tightening of already-tight budgets?

Spiritually, who can measure the effects on bachurim who have been unable to go to yeshivah? The Gemara in Chagiga (9b) discusses the meaning of the passuk, “That which is crooked cannot be made straight” (In other words, the damage is irreparable.) Says Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, it refers to a talmid chacham who stops his learning.

What will be with the airlines and the wedding halls? And what about the 70,000 small businesses that are predicted to close? They’re not going to reopen so quickly.

And what will happen to the banks and housing industry when thousands can’t pay their mortgage? Remember, most experts are saying this won’t be over until the middle of 2021, at best.

One reason to consider the long-term effects is that, in so doing, we can take steps now that prevent problems tomorrow.

This is especially true as regards relations between the chareidi public and the rest of Israel. The fact that the government is trigger-happy when it comes to imposing lockdowns on the chareidim is bad enough; it is discriminatory and implies that chareidim act irresponsibly and are, in effect, the spreaders of the disease, in line with blood libels of earlier generations.

Even worse is the police brutality shown toward the community.

But the long-term effects are potentially even more devastating. A poll taken recently by the Israeli Congress of Bar-Ilan University and the Plugta Initiative, cited by Makor Rishon, showed that half of all Israelis have changed their attitude toward chareidim for the worse in the wake of corona.

Among chareidim, 78% reported a rise in demonstrations of hatred toward them.

Such frightening figures must serve as a wake-up call for the government, the police and even for the media, which has been notoriously biased in its coverage of the chareidi world. If we want to wake up after the corona nightmare to an Israel that is united, and allows for coexistence, then we must change course now.

It isn’t too late to pull back from the brink.