Under lockdown, Israel faces bitter start to Jewish new year
JERUSALEM — Eating apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashana is a Jewish tradition to symbolize a sweet start of the new year. But in Israel, bitterness prevails on the eve of the holiday as the country faces a second nationwide lockdown to stem a raging coronavirus outbreak.
Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu’s government has imposed a three-week lockdown, beginning Friday afternoon— just hours before Rosh Hashana starts. Israel’s first lockdown, in March and April, put a damper on Passover, the Jewish spring holiday marking the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
Now, the Jewish High Holidays look to be similarly subdued.
Israel has seen new daily cases of COVID-19 skyrocket in recent weeks, climbing to more than 5,000Wednesday — one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world. Since the pandemic began this year, it has recorded more than 175,000 cases, including 1,169 deaths, as of
Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Religious and secular Israelis alike mark Rosh Hashana with festive holiday feasts with family and friends. They pack synagogues, often spending hours in prayer, especially during the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which falls later this month.
But this year, traditional family gatherings will be muted, synagogue prayers will be limited to small groups and travel restrictions will leave many roads deserted. Some of the liberal streams of Judaism, particularly in the United States, are turning to technology to help connect people.
In Israel, movementduring the lockdown will be restricted to within 550 yards of one’s home. Gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors, and 20 outside, restricting thenumber of faithful who can attend synagogue services. Bars, restaurants and cultural venues will be shut, but many ritual baths and other religious facilities will remain open.
Israelis have been frustrated since the gains made with the first lockdown were erased within weeks, with authorities unable to stem the spike that followed. Weekly protests have drawn thousands to Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, with demonstrators demanding his resignation.
Thelockdownruleshave deepened the rift between secular and religious Jews in Israel. A proposal to lock down only on communities with high outbreaks — mainly ultra- Orthodox areas where initial restrictions were ignored, allowing infections to surge — was scrapped, apparently following pressure from ultra-Orthodox leaders, beforeNetanyahu announced the nationwide lockdown.
Many Jewish worshippers elsewhere in theworld will have to forgo synagogue services due to social distancing rules, hold prayers and hear the traditional sounding of the shofar — a ceremonial ram’s horn— on street corners or at home.
The Chabad-Lubavitch movementofHasidic Judaism has recruited thousands of volunteers to blow the shofar at public squares and street corners worldwide.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews build an outdoor synagogue Thursday in Bnei Brak, Israel, ahead of a three-week coronavirus lockdown. The second nationwide lockdown begins Friday.