APRIL 27, 2020 21:04

We are in the midst of one of the most unique periods on the Israeli calendar – the consecutive, deeply emotional Remembrance Day and Independence Day. And this year, these 48 hours are of a kind the country has never experienced before, under a complete closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bereaved families are commemorating Remembrance Day without going on the traditional pilgrimage to their loved ones’ graves and receiving visits and strength from their army friends. Likewise, when the transition begins tonight from the solemnity of Remembrance Day – when we weigh all the human sacrifice that went into establishing and defending the world’s only Jewish state – to the celebration of Independence Day, when we rejoice not only in our existence but in our vitality, it will be unlike any other that came before it.

Instead of gathering in parks tonight and Wednesday to watch fireworks, listen and dance to music and honor Israel’s 72nd birthday, people are going to be sequestered in their homes with their nuclear families, watching the annual televised ceremony of torch lighters (filmed earlier in the week without an audience) and lighting up the grill for just a handful of participants. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be celebration and pride in abundance. During the current crisis, Israelis have proved their mettle in so many different ways. Like all the peoples of the world, we’ve been forced to recalibrate, drastically change our lifestyles and forego much of what we take for granted in our daily lives.

What have we learned from the past two months? One lesson is that we can get by with a lot less: transportation and gas, impulse buying, going out to restaurants and the movies, commuting to work…. The list can go on and on. We’ve also learned that there are things that we cannot do without: the connection to other people and to the land. If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that beyond the loss of the material pleasures we have come to take for granted, it’s the absence of the basic human needs that made the biggest impact. The images last week of families climbing a Jewish Agency-provided crane at a Kiryat Yam senior facility to say hello to their aging parents couldn’t help but melt the most hardened heart. That essential need to physically see loved ones and make eye contact and say “I love you” has been the greatest challenge of the corona era. Likewise, the inability to go into nature – the vast and majestic national parks, coastline and hiking trails that Israel is proud to call its own – has curtailed one of the main avenues that provide a visceral connection that makes us feel Israeli.

Despite these daunting challenges, Israelis have by and large proved themselves exceptional at coping with the extreme situation and adhering to the strict regulations that have been imposed. And although we, as a newspaper, have been critical of government policy and efforts in combating the deadly pandemic, it must be acknowledged that this has been uncharted territory that ministries and government officials have been thrust into. And their exhaustive, well-intended efforts must be applauded, while at the same time scrutinized. Even more deserving of our thanks and gratitude are the thousands of healthcare workers who have placed themselves and their families on the front lines of danger to treat the thousands of corona patients in the nation’s hospitals and emergency rooms. The same goes for law enforcement officials and IDF soldiers who have worked tirelessly to help those in need.

The question is, what kind of Israel will emerge from the coronavirus challenge? One unexpected outcome of this crisis is that we have become a more caring people. Will we fall back into the old patterns of conspicuous consumption and tall fences between neighbors? Or will we use the lessons of the past two months to help forge a more cohesive and compassionate society, which has seen signs of emerging?

At age 72, Israel can be proud of so much. And thanks to corona, those most simple attributes that form the basis of what makes Israel a great country have come to the forefront. Let’s hope they stay with us.