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Israel Tightens Lockdown as COVID Infections Skyrocket

By VOA News

Israel is tightening a strict lockdown beginning Friday as the number of COVID cases continues to skyrocket. There are close to 7,000 new cases a day, and total infections have passed 200,000, all in a country of just nine million people. Hospitals are turning away infected patients and the Israeli army is building a large field hospital for new cases. Israel has become the first country in the world to order a second lockdown, after infection rates have spiked in the past few weeks. Israel now has one of the highest rates of new infections per capita, with more than one in eight Israelis who take a coronavirus test getting a positive result. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said there was no choice but a complete lockdown to get the numbers down. He said that if Israel does not take serious steps immediately, the country will be on the brink of disaster. The order is for the entire country, except for essential services like supermarkets and pharmacies, to shut down completely for at least two weeks. Schools were moved online a few weeks ago after the number of cases among students and teachers climbed. On Sunday and Monday, the lockdown will affect prayers on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar when people fast and atone for their sins. Small groups will be allowed to pray together both inside synagogues and outside, with some doctors saying even this is a mistake. The new rules also limit anti–Netanyahu demonstrations which had been gaining strength over the past few months. Officials have also considered shutting down Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. The lockdown will exact a heavy economic price, and analysts expect the unemployment rate - which had been improving - to rise as more businesses close down permanently. Hagai Levine, a professor of epidemiology and an advisor to Israel's coronavirus czar, says Israel handled the first wave of the virus very well, but made some mistakes after that. "At the beginning Israel responded and the public went with the plan, there were no exceptions, there was a complete lockdown and the public responded," said Levine. "What happened is that once the rates went lower, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the public go and have a good time. He said this is like an accordion when the rates are low, you can behave almost normally, when the rates are high, lockdown for everything. This is a wrong concept. Dealing with the current pandemic is like a marathon and in a marathon you need to keep pace all the time, you can run a bit differently but you need to keep moving on. You cannot stop completely." Levine warns that Israel needs a detailed plan about how to slowly open up after the next lockdown. He also said that any long-term plan will only work if the public has trust in the government. For now, polls suggest that is in doubt.

The Man Who Brought the Swastika to Germany, and How the Nazis Stole It

By Lorraine Boissoneault (Smithsonian Magazine)

When archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann traveled to Ithaca, Greece in 1868, one goal was foremost in his mind: discovering the ancient city of Troy using Homer's Iliad. The epic poem was widely believed to be no more than a myth, but Schliemann was convinced otherwise. For him, it was a map to the hidden location of ancient cities. It wasn't until 1871 that Schliemann achieved his dream. The discovery catapulted him to fame, and with his fame came a burst of interest in all that he uncovered. The intrepid archaeologist found his Homeric city, but he also found something else: the swastika, a symbol that would be manipulated to shape world history. Schliemann found his epic city—and the swastika—on the Aegean cost of Turkey. There, he continued the excavations started by British archaeologist Frank Calvert at a site known as Hisarlik mound. Schliemann's methods were brutal—he used crowbars and battering rams to excavate—but effective. He quickly realized the site held seven different layers from societies going back thousands of years. Schliemann had found Troy—and the remains of civilizations coming before and after it. And on shards of pottery and sculpture throughout the layers, he found at least 1,800 variations on the same symbol: spindle-whorls, or swastikas. He would go on to see the swastika everywhere, from Tibet to Paraguay to the Gold Coast of Africa. And as Schliemann's exploits grew more famous, and archaeological discoveries became a way of creating a narrative of national identity, the swastika grew more prominent. It exploded in popularity as a symbol of good fortune, appearing on Coca-Cola products, Boy Scouts' and Girls' Club materials and even American military uniforms, reports the BBC. But as it rose to fame, the swastika became tied into a much more volatile movement: a wave of nationalism spreading across Germany. Initially, "Aryan" was a term used to delineate the Indo-European language group, not a racial classification. Scholars in the burgeoning field of linguistics had noticed similarities among the German, Romance and Sanskrit languages. The rising interest in eugenics and racial hygiene, however, led some to corrupt Aryan into a descriptor for an ancient, master racial identity with a clear throughline to contemporary Germany. As the Washington Post reported in a story about the rise of Nazism several years before the start of World War II, "[Aryanism]… was an intellectual dispute between bewhiskered scholars as to the existence of a pure and undefiled Aryan race at one stage of the earth's history." In the 19th century, French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau and others made the connection between the mythical Aryans and the Germans, who were the superior descendants of the early people, now destined to lead the world towards greater advancement by conquering their neighbors. The findings of Schliemann's dig in Turkey, then, suddenly had a deeper, ideological meaning. For the nationalists, the "purely Aryan symbol" Schliemann uncovered was no longer an archaeological mystery—it was a stand-in for their superiority. German nationalist groups like the Reichshammerbund (a 1912 anti-Semitic group) and the Bavarian Freikorps (paramilitarists who wanted to overthrow the Weimar Republic in Germany) used the swastika to reflect their "newly discovered" identity as the master race. It didn't matter that it traditionally meant good fortune, or that it was found everywhere from monuments to the Greek goddess Artemis to representations of Brahma and Buddha and at Native American sites, or that no one was truly certain of its origins. As the swastika became more and more intertwined with German nationalism, Adolf Hitler's influence grew—and he adopted the hooked cross as the Nazi party symbol in 1920. "He was attracted to it because it was already being used in other nationalist, racialist groups," says Steven Heller, author of `The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption?' and `Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State.' I think he also understood instinctually that there had to be a symbol as powerful as the hammer and sickle, which was their nearest enemy." To further enshrine the swastika as a symbol of Nazi power, Joseph Goebbels (Hitler's minister of propaganda) issued a decree on May 19, 1933 that prevented unauthorized commercial use of the hooked cross. The symbol also featured prominently Leni Riefenstahl's propagandist film Triumph of the Will, writes historian Malcolm Quinn. "When Hitler is absent… his place is taken by the swastika, which, like the image of the Führer, becomes a switching station for personal and national identities." The symbol was on uniforms, flags and even as a marching formation at rallies. Efforts to ban the display of the swastika and other Nazi iconography in the post-war years—including current German criminal laws that prohibit the public use of the swastika and the Nazi salute—seem to have only further enshrined the evil regime it was co-opted by. Today the symbol remains a weapon of white supremacist groups around the world. In recent months, its prevalence has spiked around the U.S., with swastikas appearing around New York City, Portland, Pennsylvania, California and elsewhere. It seems the harder authority figures attempt to quash it out, the greater its power to intimidate Lorraine Boissoneault is a contributing writer to covering history and archaeology.

The New York Town of Swastika Votes to Keep its Name

A small town in upstate New York voted to keep the name Swastika, saying that the town founders named it after the Sanskrit word and not the hate symbol associated with Nazis. The Town of Black Brook town board, which has domain over the hamlet, voted unanimously to not change the name, Jon Douglass, supervisor for the Town of Black Brook, told CNN. Swastika was named by the town's original settlers in the 1800s and is based off the Sanskrit word meaning "well-being," according to Douglass. "We regret that individuals, for out of the area, that lack the knowledge of the history of our community become offended when they see the name," Douglass said. "To the members of our community, that the board represents, it is the name that their ancestors chose." The vote follows a national reckoning with what the symbol means in modern America. In April 2019, a neighborhood in a Colorado town outside Denver voted to change its name from Swastika Acres to Old Cherry Hills. The area had once been home to the Denver Land Swastika Company, a company that chose its name before Nazis adopted the swastika symbol. The term swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word "svastika," which means "good fortune," according to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. The symbol first appeared about 7,000 years ago, and is considered a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other belief systems. It sometimes adorns the walls of houses or temples. The symbol became popular in Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th century, in part as Europeans learned about ancient civilizations through the work of archaeological excavations. The Nazi Party adopted the hooked cross as its symbol in 1920 during a time when other far-right nationalist movements in Europe were beginning to use it, the museum says.

Israel's Netanyahu brings his Dirty Laundry to Washington. Literally.

By the Washington Post

Most politicians go to great lengths to conceal their dirty laundry. And then there's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the years, the Israeli leader has developed a reputation among the staff at the U.S. president's guesthouse for bringing special cargo on his trips to Washington: bags and suitcases full of dirty laundry, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The clothes are cleaned for the prime minister free of charge by the U.S. staff, a perk that is available to all foreign leaders but sparingly taken advantage of given the short stays of busy heads of state. "The Netanyahus are the only ones who bring actual suitcases of dirty laundry for us to clean," said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the details of a foreign leader's visits. "After multiple trips, it became clear this was intentional." Israeli officials denied that Netanyahu overuses his American hosts' laundry services, calling the allegations "absurd," but they acknowledged that he has been the target of laundry-related accusations in the past. In 2016, Netanyahu sued his own office and Israel's attorney general in an effort to prevent the release of his laundry bills under the country's freedom of information act. The judge sided with Netanyahu, and the details of his laundry bills remain secret pending an appeal in the Supreme Court. The Israeli Embassy in Washington issued a statement saying the laundry accusation was an attempt to overshadow the success of the normalization agreement that Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed at the White House last week. "These groundless and absurd allegations are aimed at belittling Prime Minister Netanyahu's monumental achievement in Tuesday's historic peace summit brokered by President Trump at the White House," the embassy said in a statement. The embassy added that Netanyahu's laundry needs were relatively modest during his most recent trip. "On this visit, for example, there was no dry cleaning, only a couple shirts were laundered for the public meeting, and the Prime Minister's suit and Mrs. Netanyahu's dress were ironed also for the public meeting. Oh yes, a pair of pajamas that the Prime Minister wore on the 12 hour flight from Israel to Washington was also laundered," the embassy statement said. Another U.S. official said Netanyahu's recent visit did not include multiple suitcases of dirty laundry, unlike several instances in the past. The officials who confirmed the past uses of laundry bags included both political and career officials spanning the Trump and Obama administrations. Natan Sachs, an Israel expert at the Brookings Institution, said "the Netanyahus — who travel together even on diplomatic trips — are notorious in Israel for their reportedly extravagant habits." Sachs noted that the signing of the agreement with Bahrain and the UAE was a "legacy" moment for Netanyahu, which he had worked toward for years. "The contrast of the historic achievement and the petty acts is remarkable, even tragic," he said.

70-Year-Old Gets Circumcised, Converts and Marries - in 1 Month


Last Wednesday, September 16, Ronen Plot, mayor of Nof Hagalil, posted about a special man who underwent circumcision, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and wedding - all in a period of one month. "Opening the year on an optimistic note and wishing Yaakov Baranov of Nof Hagalil, who, at the age of 70, completed the three most important ceremonies in the life of a Jew within a one-month period - circumcision, Bar Mitzvah and wedding," the mayor wrote. "Despite the coronavirus and his advanced age, Yaakov insisted on undergoing a circumcision about two weeks ago and on Wednesday of this week completed the conversion process, donning a tefillin. Immediately after recovering from the operation, he re-wed the love of his life Galina according to Jewish Law. "I met Galina while living in Moldova. I was a singer and she was an instructor for voice development. We fell in love and had a civil marriage. She was Jewish and I was partially—from my father's side," he recalls. The topic of conversion to Judaism remained in the background throughout their mutual life together. While the two maintained a Jewish household, and their elder daughter even took up religious Judaism, they felt something was amiss. "All these years I was afraid to ask Yaakov to undergo conversion because of the circumcision. I was afraid he'd get hurt during the operation and eventually made up with the fact that it wouldn't take place," says Galina. But about a year ago, Yaakov surprised everyone when he turned up at the Haifa rabbinic court. Ilana Raz, who accompanies converts on their way to Judaism, recalls how despite his advanced age, he didn't give up on a single Torah lesson and passed all the conversion tests with shining success. The two have been together for 47 years during which they have brought two children and eight grandchildren to the world. "They say it's never too late for love. It's not," concludes Yaakov.

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