Grapevine: Two sides of the coronavirus coin

While the Bad is quite easy to see, the coronavirus crisis has brought out kindness out of people.

Latet, IFCJ, and Others Join Ranks with IDF in Battle Against Coronavirus  (photo credit: IFCJ - PR OF LATET)
Latet, IFCJ, and Others Join Ranks with IDF in Battle Against Coronavirus
(photo credit: IFCJ - PR OF LATET)
TO PARAPHRASE Charles Dickens, we are living in the best of times and the worst of times. We are witnessing the most extraordinary examples of the milk of human kindness with groups of young people all over the country delivering meals to those who are in isolation, shopping for them and running errands for them.
In addition, families, friends and acquaintances who do not have particularly close relationships and may have even lost touch with each other over the years are rediscovering each other and reconnecting to ask if everything is okay and whether anything is needed. The fact that we are all in the coronavirus crisis together, has by and large hit home. But there are some who still need to get the message such as the Israeli backpackers who were evacuated free of charge from Peru and refused to go into temporary isolation; or people with racial prejudices who blame anyone with Asian features for being responsible for the pandemic, or as has happened in America, the hassidim of Brooklyn, where there is a particularly large number of coronavirus cases.
As far as anyone with Asian features are concerned, one of the victims of virus-based racism is Am-Shalem Singson, 28, a member of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community who came on aliyah from Manipur, India, in 2017. Singson was attacked in mid-March in Tiberias by two men who shouted: “Chinese” and then “Corona! Corona!” The verbal assault was accompanied by kicking and beating. Singson was so seriously hurt that he had to be hospitalized at the Baruch Padeh Medical Center, Poriya, outside Tiberias. He suffered severe injuries to his chest and lungs. Thankfully his condition has improved considerably in the interim. A student at the hesder yeshiva in Ma’alot, Singson told his attackers that he was not Chinese, but a Jew from the Bnei Menashe community who lives in Tiberias with his family.
This did not prompt his attackers to relent.
But even if he was Chinese and not Jewish, there was no excuse for beating him up. It's bad enough when Israelis of Ethiopian background are targets of racial bias, but they at least have learned to stand up for themselves and to hit back. Many members of the Bnei Menashe community are still learning what it means to be Israeli, and racism is among their more negative experiences.
According to Michael Freund, the chairman of Shavei Israel, an organization that finds lost or hidden Jews around the globe, returns them to Judaism, teaches them, brings them to Israel and arranges for their conversion so as to remove any doubts about their religious identities, some 6,500 members of the Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India want to migrate to Israel. Of these, 700 have already received immigration permits and are awaiting final approval from the Israeli government. More than 4,000 members of the Bnei Menashe community have already settled Israel and have been successfully absorbed. But if those who are still waiting to come learn about what happened to Singson, and interpret it as the norm instead of a possibly isolated incident, they may decide to remain in India.
GETTING BACK to the Israelis who were brought home from Peru, the most visible factor in all these efforts to bring citizens home from many parts of the world is El Al. Less visible are Foreign Ministry personnel at home and abroad who are working 24/7 to trace Israelis and to coordinate arrangements for their repatriation. The Foreign Ministry has always proved adept at such operations, but never more so when so many of them have to be carried out more or less simultaneously during a period in which at least half the staff is confined to home. In all his interviews, Foreign Minister Israel Katz never fails to give praise where it's due, and says that the Foreign Ministry staff are woefully under-appreciated. They're also underpaid, but that's another story.
As for Katz himself, he proved when he was transportation minister that he's a bulldozer who gets things done. A series of transportation and tourism ministers over a period of more than two decades kept promising rail links in the country in places where were sorely needed, but there was little or no progress. Under Katz, most of these accumulated promises were kept in a relatively short span of time. Likewise, it is doubtful that so much could have been accomplished by way of bringing home stranded Israelis without Katz using his clout. Without any intention of facetiousness, this would indicate that the next government of Israel should appoint a minister for bulldozing, and there should be no attempt to disguise the title. So many government promises and Knesset decisions are never implemented. If there was a minister for bulldozing – especially Katz – many more promises would be honored.
IN RESPONSE to a call for volunteers that was put out by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, more than 100 university scientists and graduate students have been working in shifts over the past three weeks to test blood samples to see if they contain the coronavirus. The Clinical Virology Lab at Soroka-University Medical Center, managed by Prof. Yonat Shemer-Avni, now tests more than 400 samples per day.
According to Health Ministry directives, only researchers and doctoral students with experience in biology/bio-medicine are permitted to help in the lab. Close to a hundred would-be volunteers qualify. They include departmental heads, faculty members and doctoral students from BGU’s faculties of Health Sciences and Natural Sciences.  The project was initiated by Avishay Edri, a doctoral student in the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics. The volunteers work on weekends. On a day to day basis, Edri researches the Ebola virus, but has also been following what is happening with coronavirus around the world and in Israel.
As the situation became increasingly critical, Edri issued a call for volunteers when he realized that processing of blood samples to pinpoint as many as possible carriers of the virus was slowing due to a personnel shortage. To help things along Edri proposed enlisting BGU volunteers with suitable training to find as many carriers as possible and isolate them.
The initiative is being led by deputy vice president for R&D Prof. Angel Porgador. Among the other volunteers is Dr. Roi Gazit, a researcher in the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, who reported that once there were many hands, testing of samples went much more quickly and efficiently.
MANY PEOPLE past retirement age who don't have a nest egg on which to rely, have no option other than to continue working because there is no way that they could subsist on an old-age pension. Unfortunately, this sector of the population will not benefit from any of the compensation loans and grants that have been approved by the government, because in general, such subsidies do not apply to anyone who already receives a pension from the National Insurance Institute. Labor MK Itzik Shmuli, who was a passionate social activist in the days when he was head of the National Union of Israeli Students, and who continued to fight for social justice after becoming a legislator, says that such a discriminatory policy is grossly unfair with regard to anyone who is working and who has lost their job. Such people should be equally entitled to unemployment pay. During the term of the 23rd Knesset, Shmuli intends to work toward an amendment to the law to ensure that everyone who is laid off receives unemployment pay.
AMONG THOSE who are ensuring that senior citizens have enough to eat is the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which has been caring for many elderly people including hundreds of Holocaust survivors since long before the coronavirus outbreak, while concurrently sponsoring aliyah flights from Russia and Ethiopia.
“While the government’s measures to fight the coronavirus is impacting the whole country, I am glad we are still able to help Israel pull through this crisis in a number of ways,” said ICEJ president Jürgen Bühler.
Thanks to the assistance of the ICEJ, 26 Russian Jews immigrated on a flight from St. Petersburg and immediately went into a two-week self-quarantine period. This flight marked the 30th anniversary of the ICEJ’s sponsorship of Jewish families making aliyah from the former Soviet Union.
The ICEJ also sponsored the flights of 72 Ethiopian Jew, who flew from Addis Ababa to Israel and were taken to the Beit Alfa absorption center and quarantined for 14 days. Over the next week and beyond, the ICEJ will be funding Passover gift baskets with food, games, learning materials and other items for these and other recently arrived Ethiopian Jewish families as part of their integration process during the upcoming holiday season.
Meantime, the ICEJ has seven Christian staff and volunteers in Haifa who have been helping to pack and deliver food boxes to hundreds of senior citizens in the city, including many Holocaust survivors who are confined to their homes as a health precaution. The ICEJ team was also specially tasked with providing food and daily care, including medical checks, for the 70 residents at its Haifa Home for Holocaust survivors, who must stay in their rooms as well. These efforts, done in partnership with Yad Ezer L’Haver, have been praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Christian Embassy is also working with Latet and Ezrat Avot to pack and deliver food boxes to the front doors of hundreds of senior citizens who are confined to their homes to avoid the virus.