Israel’s Puff of White Smoke

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When the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church meets for the solemn task of selecting a new pope, much of the world looks toward an ancient Vatican chimney. If black or gray smoke emerges, no candidate has been chosen to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. When at last the puff of smoke is white, the long-anticipated announcement is made: Habemus papam, we have a pope.

The State of Israel has been going through similar anticipation, waiting through three contentious elections that failed to achieve a stable majority. The center-right party of incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the center-left bloc led by the Blue and White Party of former Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz have taken  turns falling just short of the 61 votes needed for a majority in Israel’s 120-member Knesset.  

With the coronavirus raging around the world, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin strongly urged Bibi and Benny to forge a government of national unity, similar to the one formed in 1967 on the eve of the Six-Day War. Back then, Israel’s rival factions faced an existential threat from Arab neighbors who threatened to destroy Israel and “push the Jews into the sea.”

This time, as Passover 5780 approaches, Israel united against a deadly modern plague, COVID-19, which is sweeping our planet like the Angel of Death. Like the United States, Italy, Spain, France and Iran, Israel has been hit very hard by the coronavirus. In its wake, Netanyahu and Gantz finally agreed last week to put patriotism over politics and form a government.

A very advanced Israeli medical and scientific community has been working around the clock to develop a vaccine and a cure for the deadly virus. We hope they can make the same kind of progress that politicians made, recognizing that Israeli coalitions can be like a delicate soufflé: They may look robust, but they could collapse when the oven door closes. Or, in this case, when the crisis surrounding the pandemic ends. 

When that day arrives – soon, please – we hope the spirit of harmony endures and the unity government persists and thrives to accomplish the serious work that needs to be done. 

It took 10 plagues in ancient Egypt to persuade pharaoh to let our people go. As we gather for our unprecedented virtual seders this Passover, let us all unite as one people, determined to be victorious over tyranny, disease, war and baseless hatred.