14 days: Coronavirus, coalitions, and remembrance

A compilation of Israel's news, both good and bad, in the last two weeks.

Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (center) (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (center)
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Israel’s 104th fatality from coronavirus was former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, who died at Shaare Zedek Medical Center on April 12 at the age of 79, and was buried the next day in a funeral livestreamed from Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul Cemetery. Bakshi-Doron served as chief rabbi from 1993 to 2003, after being chief rabbi of Bat Yam and Haifa. Bakshi-Doron and his late wife, Esther, had 10 children, one of whom, Rabbi Ben-Zion Bakshi-Doron, eulogized him as “a man of the people of Israel” who would be remembered for his great humility. The current Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said that “the rabbinic world, the Torah world and the world of halacha (Jewish law) had lost one of its primary pillars.”       
After Blue and White leader Benny Gantz failed to reach a deal with Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form an emergency unity government despite marathon negotiations, President Reuven Rivlin informed Gantz, who also serves as Knesset Speaker, on April 16 that he was entrusting the Knesset with the task of forming a government within three weeks. “I hope that the Knesset members will be able to form a majority in such a way that a government can be formed as soon as possible  and to prevent a fourth round of elections,” Rivlin wrote in a letter to Gantz. Both Netanyahu and Gantz indicated that they were close to reaching a deal on a unity government to avoid new elections on August 4.
Israel began to gradually reopen its economy on April 19 following cabinet approval of new directives allowing for greater freedom of movement for its citizens and an increase in business activities. “I have consulted on steps to open the economy with health officials, cabinet ministers and the governor of the Bank of Israel, as well as experts on viruses from Israel and abroad,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli firms were permitted to bring 30% of their employees into the office – up from 15% – and the hi-tech sector, key industries and small businesses were given more flexibility. Prayer was allowed in open areas (including the Western Wall) for up to 19 people, at a distance of up to 500 meters from one’s place of residence while keeping at least two meters between people.
As Eastern Orthodox churches marked Easter’s Holy Fire ceremony, Israel permitted 10 delegations to take “Holy Fire” symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion International Airport on April 18. It was carried by diplomats stationed in Israel via police-escorted motorcades to the airport and due to the corona outbreak, the crews of 10 aircraft were required to remain on board. The 10 planes then flew the flames on special flights to Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Romania.
People from around the world uploaded messages on a special memorial site established by the March of the Living organization ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 21. The site (nevermeansnever.motl.org) was inaugurated by President Reuven Rivlin after this year’s march was cancelled due to the corona epidemic. The virtual plaques were written in memory of Holocaust victims and in honor of some 400,000 survivors estimated to be alive today, and include messages stressing the need to fight antisemitism and racism across the globe.
The level of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) rose 10 centimeters (2.4 inches) over Passover to the highest it’s been since 2004. After a weekend of heavy rains and an increased flow in the streams feeding the Kinneret, the lake reached only 20 centimeters under its maximum level of 209 meters. If the lake exceeded its so-called upper red line, the Degania Dam was expected be opened and the water diverted to the Jordan River in early May for the first time since 2013.
Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev announced that Rebbetzin Lori Palatnik (pictured), the founding director of Momentum, would light “the Diaspora torch” in this year’s 72nd Independence Day torchlighting ceremony on April 28, which will be held without an audience due to the coronavirus outbreak. More than 20,000 young mothers from the Diaspora have taken part in the Momentum Israel journey, which Regev said served to strengthen Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish state. Other torchlighters include Prof. Galia Rahav, head of Infectious Disease at Sheba Medical Center, Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of Yad Lebanim, which supports bereaved families of fallen IDF soldiers, musician Idan Raichel and entertainer Tzipi Shavit.