To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it’s been the worst of times and the best of times. The worst of course is the death toll resulting from the coronavirus, the number of people who have lost their businesses or their jobs, the dire economic situation, the dysfunctional government and the violence that tends to erupt at anti-Netanyahu demonstrations.
The best is the fantastic way that Israel’s doctors and nurses have been coping with the crisis; the intensified level of volunteerism; the philanthropy, which though it may have waned, has not ceased; improved relations with the Arab world; greater global cooperation between medical scientists who are trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine; and despite El Al’s huge financial deficit, several inaugural direct flights by El Al to destinations not previously on its routes.
These were not regular commercial flights. The most publicized was the first-ever El Al flight to the United Arab Emirates at the end of August, which paved the way for regular commercial flights. The others were emergency flights to bring home stranded Israelis from different parts of the globe or to take stranded groups of foreign students and tourists back to their home countries.
The most recent such flight was this week when Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial said farewell to 260 Filipino agricultural students who had been stranded in Israel due to the pandemic. When they first came to Israel, it never occurred to them that they would be taking a historic flight back to Manila. It was El Al’s first direct flight from Tel Aviv to the capital of the Philippines. The flight was coordinated by the Philippine Embassy together with MASHAV, the Israel Agency for International Development and Cooperation, and arrived in Manila on October 14.
It was the first of two charter flights taking home a total of 600 Filipino students whose agricultural internship in the Granot Agrostudies program concluded in September. The program is run under the auspices of MASHAV. The students, who come from 30 Philippine state universities and colleges began their year-long internship in October 2019. Due to the pandemic and the most recent lockdown, their journey home was delayed until this week. They were all congratulated by Imperial for successfully completing the program which combines practical experience with academic study. Imperial told them they were joining a pool of 5,000 graduates, and that he was happy for them now that they could be reunited with their families.
■ THERE’S AN old Jewish saying that if someone gives, take. That’s what happened this week with Avi Samay, the proprietor of a shoe store on Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street. Samay barely managed to keep his business afloat after the first lockdown, but the second lockdown wiped him out financially. To make matters worse, the owner of the building in which Samay’s store was located would not give him any leeway on the rent, and told him that if he couldn’t pay up, he had to get out. When Samay commented that under the present economic circumstances, the owner would have a hard time renting the premises to anyone else, his argument fell on deaf ears.
Stuck with a full load of merchandise, Samay threw most of his stock into the street, where it quickly attracted a frenzy of grabbers who cared little about size and style so long as they were getting something for nothing. Samay’s act of desperation attracted media attention, and he quickly earned his moment of fame on both traditional and social media. The behavior of the newly shod was, in a word, shoddy. Asked in interviews whether anyone had offered to pay him, Samay, who is now looking for a job, replied that only one or two people had offered to pay.
■ NOT EVERY landlord is as uncompromising as Samay’s. Dan Felitz, the CEO of Dizengoff Center, which remained open during lockdown because of the stores that were in the category of essential products, decided that management fees would be waived for proprietors of stores that were closed.
■ THERE ARE numerous organizations that provide food for the poor all year round, but which have been under additional pressure during the pandemic, as the number of people living below the poverty line continues to increase, while traditional food resources such as restaurants and hotels have decreased. Private people who are not necessarily affiliated with any such charitable organizations, are also providing food for the poor.
An example was given by Shifra Lopian in a message she posted in Secret Jerusalem on Facebook, indicating that she is one of a group of women who cook extra food for Shabbat to give to struggling families in need. She asked to be contacted by anyone who knows of such families. By Wednesday night of this week, she received several complimentary replies about what a great initiative it was, but of the 27 comments, less than a handful of women offered to join the project.
■ MEANWHILE, THE hopes of so many people who have been laid off from work, or have been furloughed without pay, have once again been dashed by the “corona cabinet.” While deciding the fate of the nation – many of whose citizens have missed out on grants and pensions due to a variety of bureaucratic obstacles – its members have all been receiving their salaries, which are in excess of NIS 40,000 per month, while thousands of Israelis can’t afford to pay for basic foods and rely on charity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did make a concession a few months back when he reduced the size of the corona cabinet from 16 to 10.
In addition to Netanyahu, the Corona cabinet includes Defense Minister and alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Israel Katz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, Economy Minister Amir Peretz, Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay, Interior Minister Arye Deri, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev. To her credit, Regev made a lot of noise about restoring public transportation to fully operational status, and likewise demanded to see more flights in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport. It looks as if she succeeded.
■ THEY EITHER came from or still live in the United States, England, Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Romania and Denmark. Some are also native-born Israelis, while some of the immigrants have lived in Israel longer than in the countries of their birth.
They come from a variety of backgrounds and have worked in a number of professions. What they all have in common is that they are published poets, writing in English, whose works appear in the Voices Israel Anthology 2020. Several of them are also novelists and some have won prizes both in Israel and abroad. Voices had its genesis with a letter written by Leslie Summers and published in The Jerusalem Post in July 1971. The founding members included Summers, Reuben Rose, Moshe Ben-Zvi and Jacob Katwan. Since then the organization has flourished and continues to expand. The current president is Susan Olsburgh, who is one of the more recent immigrants, having arrived from England nine years ago. Two of her poems appear in the anthology. Some of the other poets have been associated with Voices Israel since the early 1970s.
Poets do not necessarily live in ivory towers. They like to socialize, read their works to each other, hold workshops and listen to distinguished guest poets. Because members come from all over Israel, monthly meetings are held in different locations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa, Western Galilee, Upper Galilee, Beersheba, Ashkelon and Beit Shemesh. They are also held in London, but strangely not in New York, although the majority of members were born in the Big Apple, and there are other American-born poets from several parts of the US, primarily Los Angeles.
The anthology contains thumbnail biographies of all the poets whose works have been included, as well as a special section devoted to the prize winners and poets who received an Honorable mention in the annual Reuben Rose Poetry Competition. Rose, in addition to being a founding member, was a former editor of Voices Israel. He believed in encouraging new poets and in helping as many people as possible to learn to appreciate the language of poetry. Following his death in 1989, an annual poetry competition was established in his memory.
The first prize winner is Judy Belsky for her moving poem about her son who died in a car accident. The second prize winner is Rumi Morkin, the pen name of Miriam Webber, whose poem tells the story of how her husband, a talented artist, lost his persona and his creativity to Alzheimer’s. The third prize went to Jane Seitel, who lives in the US, for her poem “The Torah Pointer,” which was not made of silver or mahogany, but of simple oak. The second verse is perhaps the most meaningful, beginning: “The Torah Pointer belonged to no one, belonged to everyone, had taught each boy to read the scroll for generations – the oils of so many hands seasoning it until the wood glistened.”
■ SOS!! ANYONE who has a loved one with a life-threatening illness that requires medication that is not in the health basket knows the agony of trying to raise the funds to pay for it. Generally speaking, the medication is not in the health basket precisely because it’s so expensive.
A child oncology patient requires Tagrisso (osimertinib) 80 mg. The family says their health clinic will not provide the drug. They are not asking for money. All they want is the medication. If it has been prescribed for anyone in Israel who no longer needs it, it would be of great help to this child.
Anyone who has this medication and is able to part with what they have left is kindly asked to call Gila at (052) 433-6471, Orit at (050) 758-2048, Elhanan at (054) 543-1890, or Tzipi at (052) 323-0156, who will travel to anywhere in the country to take delivery.