When the Pandemic Fades, Will Synagogues Return to Normal?

During the 1918 influenza epidemic, Los Angeles shut down all public gatherings, including religious services, for two months. The Friday night after the ban was lifted, the pews overflowed at Sinai Temple, where congregants were enthusiastic to pray as a community once again—and to listen to the newly hired cantor. David Wolpe, the synagogue’s current rabbi, wonders if the post-coronavirus reopening will have the same effect:

Judaism is a tradition built on community. Religion, said the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, is what a man does with his solitude. Not in Judaism. Some important prayers, including the kaddish for the dead, are to be recited only when at least ten people are present. In Hebrew, a synagogue is called not a “house of worship,” but a “house of gathering.”

Now when all the dinners and tributes and graduations are canceled, we mark them on Zoom—a frozen dinner in place of a feast. Rabbis around the world with whom I have spoken question the durability of ancient practices. How deep will congregants’ commitment to their synagogues be after months of this? . . . Each morning, we watch services on a screen instead of gathering in the synagogue. When the pandemic wanes, will we trade our sweatpants for suits and join together again? In a society where commitment to institutions is waning and “joining” is no longer the social norm, synagogue attendance was already on the decline. Will this pandemic accelerate the trend or (hope against hope) revive the need to gather in prayer and celebration?

My inclination is to believe that human nature is immutable, that when we take off our masks, we will rush, smiling, back into one another’s arms as people did a century ago. . . . But for all the certain proclamations about what the world will be like, we are none of us prophets, and so we wait to see whether the human hunger for community will override the lingering fear of illness and the frictionlessness of watching from a distance.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Coronavirus, Judaism, Synagogue

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy