Group of people in protective masks are being tested standing on the street outdoors

By Larry Gordon

At my grandson Nison’s bar mitzvah celebration, some people wore masks when they entered a room and then either moved the mask under their chin or took it off completely and placed the mask in a pocket.

With the Omicron variant of the two-year-old coronavirus scourge on the uptick, experts are trying—with large doses of futility—to figure out what is going on and the proper way to proceed.

In fact, on the continuing saga of masks, at the bar mitzvah we also noticed some people dining Governor Gavin Newsom-style, by lifting the mask to place food in their mouth and then readjusting the mask over their mouth while chewing and swallowing.

The point of that exercise is that the more you are covered up, the more you are reducing the likelihood of spreading the virus. One of the questions posed recently was why it is that once there is a new variant like Omicron introduced into the vernacular, no one gets the old variants like Delta or Alpha anymore. How does that work?

Then there are a number of people with the plain old-fashioned flu, and some even coming down with pneumonia. It is probably best to wear masks to reduce the susceptibility to these maladies, but no one ever said anything about that until recently.

With our communities braced to deal with the onset of the latest variant, there was absolute confusion about how to proceed. One note that I received from a shul listed the number of areas designated in the shul for masked or unmasked men and women. One part of the main shul was for masked men, the other masks-optional, and still a third for no mask at all. And similar areas were set aside in the women’s section of the shul.

The current coronavirus policies closely resemble the old kids’ party game of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” In that game, a child wearing a blindfold tries to find the proper location on a drawing of a donkey on which to attach a tail. Our current experts are also walking around blindly, making assertions about the best way to battle corona. Policies change often, sometimes daily or weekly. They call that science.

I spoke with a doctor the other day who sees corona patients all day long in his busy practice. We know, and the doctor agrees, that we have been misled regarding the process of the vaccine. From the start, we were told that getting vaccinated would stop the spread of the virus. We now know that was a lie. The vaccine has minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

What the vaccine has been proven to do, perhaps even more importantly, is to minimize symptoms and the extent to which people who contract the virus take ill or die. The question is why it was necessary to mislead us for so long.

After two years we have learned that maybe it is not only unavoidable but OK to come down with the virus so long as you are protected against becoming seriously ill. That does not mean one should go out and look to contract the virus; it has proven that it knows how to find you just fine.

Just a couple of days ago, the Centers for Disease Control—the famed CDC—switched timeframes again on the matter of quarantine after exposure to someone who has tested positive for the virus. Now instead of ten days, the CDC says that if you are vaccinated you can remain in isolation for just five days. Additionally, the CDC suggests that after those five days of isolation, if you are asymptomatic or your symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), you should wear a mask for another five days. But wait a minute—isn’t it advisable to wear a mask all the time? Or is it not?

According to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the adjustment in the quarantine times is mostly about the impact of long periods of time in isolation and away from work on multiple industries like airlines and the supply chain. What about the science?

The way Israel has acted all this time is a story unto itself. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not exactly exuding confidence, as policies on how to handle corona in Israel are changing almost daily. (Is that science too?)

In effect, there are currently two Israels. There is life inside Israel, which is relatively routine despite the constant COVID changes, and then there is the Israel that we on the outside need to deal with.

Over the last week, Jewish communal leadership has begun to take a stand suggesting that Israel has to adjust policies as they impact on Diaspora Jews, especially those with family members living in Israel.

South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said recently that Israel restricting entry to the country for Diaspora Jews is a “moral disgrace.” He said that Israel has to reverse the ban or risk long-term damage to the country’s relationship with Diaspora Jews.

William Daroff, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, told The Jerusalem Post last week: “Israel has very justifiable reasons for closing and limiting entry through its borders. But what has been missing is empathy.” He said, “There just does not seem to be recognition of what we are feeling in the Diaspora from the disconnection forced upon us by the virus. This may be a well-meaning, epidemiological, and educated decision, but it has created a gulf and fissures, and it is problematic.” Daroff said that, at least from the outside, Israel’s policies “lack transparency and sometimes seem irrational and disjointed.”

Israel’s former Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon has added his voice to the discussion in a piece on the Jewish News Service and in a phone conversation we had on Tuesday. Danon is presently the chairman of World Likud after serving at the UN for five years.

“The situation as it affects Jews outside Israel is currently unacceptable,” he said. Mr. Danon added that the policies need to be changed and that people who have family or own homes in Israel or have the need to travel for business have to be handled differently. Danon said that he and others are applying pressure and he is hopeful there will be changes in the very near future.

Israel’s Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai also commented on the current challenging matter: “We’re approaching a breaking point in Israel–Diaspora relations,” Shai said. “We have the means to protect the health of Israel’s citizens, even without closing the country’s borders to entry and exit for the world’s Jews. The time has come to take into account the extensive damage that is liable to be caused to our ties to Diaspora Jewry.”

There are other aspects to this two-year corona ordeal that, for some reason, the government is not focusing on but should be. And those are: therapeutics as treatment for the virus, as well as dealing with scientific findings on the value of natural immunity, which tens of millions of people have, the facts of which are being neglected by policy-making leadership both here in the U.S. and Israel.

Masks and vaccines are important, but it’s high time for the rest of the story.

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