When Independence Day felt like Yom Kippur
For the first time in Israel’s 72-year history, Independence Day was celebrated under a complete lockdown due to restrictions imposed by the government in light of the coronavirus.
The holiday is traditionally the country’s most raucous day with fireworks shows, outdoor concerts and parties across the nation on the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut, followed the next day by barbecues in local parks all over the country.
This Independence Day felt at times more like Yom Kippur — the national fasting day where traffic and commerce comes to a complete halt. Some municipalities hosted fireworks shows that were televised or viewed from homes, if possible, however most cities decided the shows would be inappropriate.
Israel banned public attendance at memorial events and closed military cemeteries, preventing families from visiting loved ones’ graves, on Memorial Day, which immediately precedes Independence Day. Memorial Day is a somber observance of the Israel’s more than 23,800 soldiers and 4,000 terror victims who have been killed.
By Wednesday afternoon, however, many Israelis took to their balconies to blast music, wave flags and turn on their grills for the traditional barbecue. The Israel Air Force dedicated its annual fly-by to health workers with planes flying over hospitals and medical centers on Wednesday.
Despite this shutdown, Israel is slowly getting back to a pre-corona routine. Most stores and salons were allowed to reopen this week (except during the Independence Day 28-hour lockdown when even supermarkets were closed) and schools up until third grade will be partially opened on Sunday.
These measures, however, are too late to prevent the economic ramifications which have rendered more than 25 percent of the country unemployed.
One shop owner from the Jerusalem’s world-famous outdoor market, Mahane Yehuda, committed suicide amid financial woes while the open-air market remains closed. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said he was “shocked and pained by the sad news” and called on the government to “immediately reopen the market.”
Caption: Jerusalem’s world-famous outdoor market, Mahane Yehuda remains closed, while most other businesses have reopened.
“The livelihood of thousands of families is in danger. Any delay could cost lives,” he said.
On the other hand, the measures seemed to have worked, as Israel’s deaths per millions is one of the lowest in the world form countries that had significant infection. Israel is 24.2. Belgium leads the way with 656 and the U.S. is 10th with 186. The infections over the last week in Israel is remarkably down.
Itzik Shmuli, a Knesset Member slated to become the new welfare minister, called the news an “emergency wake-up call.”
Mahane Yehuda shop owners have been protesting the government’s reticence in opening the food market while supermarkets have been open the entire time and most stores nationwide were allowed to reopen on Sunday.
Tali Friedman, who represents the shop owners, said it was illogical, unfair and “cannot go on.”
Mayor Lion said he “won’t let up until the market is reopened.”
Ashdod falafel store owner Yuval Carmi, who brought us to tears last week with his account of the shutdown’s toll on his business, has become the icon for small business owners who are concerned about their economic viability.