Israel eases COVID-19 restrictions

Green passes are ‘a light unto the nations’

As Texas and the rest of America ramp up coronavirus vaccinations, Israel has already reopened most of its economy. The impressive results follow a highly successful and carefully coordinated campaign to vaccinate high numbers of Israelis not stricken by the disease.

“We are coming to life,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently wrote on his Facebook page. Israel began its vaccination campaign in December and has already vaccinated more than 3.7 million of its population that numbers approximately 9 million. To date, at least 5 million Israelis have received at least one injection of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Two doses are recommended by health officials for maximum effectiveness against the virus.

Upon receipt of the second dose, Israelis are issued a green pass or passport that identifies them as having been vaccinated. Passes are also issued to Israelis who have had the coronavirus and recovered from it.

By last week, Israel moved closer to a return to normalcy by opening restaurants, bars and cafés to holders of a “green pass.” While Israel’s leadership frequently fails to agree on how to carry out crucial policies, Prime Minister Netanyahu led the nation in a coordinated effort to vaccinate the population as rapidly as possible.

Now, large numbers of students who have been kept from Israel’s classrooms are returning to structured learning environments. Hotels, sporting events and synagogues are also in the process of reopening. Public events, school attendance and religious gatherings will be limited to green pass holders.

The evening of Saturday, March 27, marks the first night of Passover. Millions of Jews in the world will adapt their Seders to limitations imposed by the coronavirus. Many will virtually celebrate the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Countless Jewish families will draw strength from retelling the saga of our people’s delivery from bondage. They will recall Moses’ courage in confronting Pharaoh, will recite the Four Questions, will eat matzo and will remember the 10 plagues that ravaged Egypt.

In Israel this year, families whose members have green passes will gather together to celebrate Seders. In Texas, America and across the world, Jews can look to Israel with renewed hope that next year we will all celebrate Passover, free of the restrictions of the coronavirus.

The teaching of the Haggadah is that “next year in Jerusalem may all men be free.”

Let us look to Israel this year to affirm that this year in Jerusalem, Jewish families free of the coronavirus are gathering together to celebrate our common birthright of freedom and deliverance from bondage.

Bondage comes in many forms. Our people experienced bondage under the evil yoke of slavery and the taskmasters’ whips. Jews have survived the scourge of torture and the savagery of the Spanish Inquisition. We prevailed against the systematic pogroms ordered by Russia’s czars. In England, in the Middle Ages, Jews were literally the physical property of the king. In 1898, the Dreyfus Affair in France resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, who was falsely accused of delivering French military secrets to the Germans. Despite imprisonment, Dreyfus was ultimately exonerated. Hitler and his fascist cohorts systematically slaughtered more than 6 million Jews during their reign of terror. In 1948, the birth of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people blossomed into a modern-day miracle.

After a year of suffering, Jews and people across the world are beginning to see real hope that this modern-day plague will end, that vitality and health will be restored and that all of us will again fully enjoy our lives in good health with soulful purpose.

The Tanakh recounts in Isaiah 49:6 that Israel and the Jewish people are to be “a light unto the nations.” May Israel’s experience in fighting the coronavirus be a beacon of hope for all nations. A relatively small nation, Eretz Yisrael has beat back the deadly plague. May other nations follow her lead.

This year, may Jews in Israel openly enjoy and celebrate Seders. May Jews across the world sanctify Passover with due regard for the perils of the coronavirus.

And, next year, may Jews all over the world return to our Seder tables and experience the full measure of Passover in health, well-being and freedom.

A version of this editorial appeared in the March 18, 2021, issue of the Jewish Herald-Voice in Houston. Reprinted with permission.

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