Hebrew Language Blog

Coronavirus in Israel: Part 1 Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in Uncategorized

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At the beginning of February, before the coronavirus arrived in Israel, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: נַעֲשֶׂה הַכֹּל כְּדֵי לׅשְׁמוֺר עַל אֶזְרְחֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (we’ll do everything to protect Israel’s citizens).

Three days earlier, the minister of health (שַׂר הַבְּרִיאוּת) banned the entry of flights from China to Israel as a precaution. A 14-day home isolation rule was instituted for people returning from China regardless of symptoms. הַמַּטָּרָה הׅיא לׅמְנוֺעַ הַדְבָּקָה בְּנְגׅיף הַקּוֺרוֺנָה וְלׅמְנוֺעַ אֶת הׅתְפַּשְׁטוּתוֺ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל  (the goal is to prevent the infection and the spread of the coronavirus in Israel), explained the Director General of Ministry of Health. As the virus (נְגׅיף) spread throughout the world the isolation rule has been extended to other countries. On February 17, East Asian countries were the first to be included in the list: Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau. Japan and South Korea were added a few days later.

A new campaign of the Ministry of Health (מִשְׂרַד הַבְּרִיאוּת) advised people how to reduce the odds of infection (הַדְבָּקָה):

Panic arose in Israel over the worldwide spread of the new disease (מַחֲלָה). The unprecedented two weeks home isolation for people whose only sin is flying abroad caused tension among the population. Health ministry inspectors, checking whether people were complying with the home isolation, encountered an unpleasant situation. They came to check on a young Israeli man called Shalom, who had returned from Thailand. They were wearing gloves (כְּפָפוֺת), masks, eye protectors and disposable gowns over their clothes, and asked him to identify himself. Shalom cursed them, spat at them, and sneezed at them. The woman by his side told the inspectors: אַתֶּם בָּאׅים לְפֺּה מְכוּסׅים כְּאִלּוּ אֲנַחְנוּ מְצוֺרָעׅים (you come here all covered up like we are lepers). Shalom was later fined by 5,000 NIS for interfering with a public servant.

He was not the only one to feel like a leper. Fifteen Israelis were on the British cruise ship Diamond Princess when several of its passengers were diagnosed with COVID-19. The luxury cruise became a floating prison. The Israeli group reports daily to the Israeli media about their quarantine (הֶסְגֵּר) aboard what became known in Israel as the corona ship (סְפִינַת הַקּוֺרוֺנָה). Four Israelis remained in Japan after testing positive for the virus, and eleven returned home to enter another 14-day isolation at an Israeli medical center. A small plane carried them home and landed in a remote area of the airport where the travelers were immediately put on vans to be taken to a special quarantine unit with top medical tech designed to take care of them. מִתְיָחְסִים אֵלֵינוּ כְּמוֺ מְצוֺרָעׅים, אֲבָל אֲנַחְנוּ מְבׅינׅים שֶׁזֶּה הַמְּחׅיר כְּדֵי שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יִהֲיוּ רְגוּעׅים (we are treated like lepers, but we understand that this is the price we need to pay so people in Israel could calm down), said one of them.

Tests conducted in the country revealed that two among newly returned cruise passengers were exposed to the virus. It was Israel’s first confirmed coronavirus cases on its land. But it was another patient, the third confirmed case of coronavirus in Israel, who spread on (הֵפִיץ) the disease. The shop owner Meir Cohen returned from a business trip to Italy on February 23. He attended his toy store the following days, interacting with customers and employees, before he was diagnosed four days later. Meir was so afraid the fact he caught corona will deter people from coming to his store he did everything to promise them safety. He replaced all of his staff and hired new people. He disinfected (חִטֵּא) the entire store. He even lied about his visits to the store. At his epidemiological investigation he claimed to visit the store only once and for merely one hour, since he got back from Italy. But customers reported differently. Meir, eventually, admitted he visited his store every day for several hours since returning. The ministry of health filed a police complaint against him.

Four people contracted the virus: Meir’s wife, two employees, and a customer. The wife joined Meir in the quarantine unit at the medical center. The employees – a soldier and a high school student – and the customer – a deputy school principal – were ordered into self-quarantine. In addition, the deputy’s class of 27 students; 77 people who sat next to the young employee in a soccer game; everyone who was in contact with the boy at school; and all those who frequented the shop, which was unusually busy as people prepared for Purim holiday; were ordered into home isolation (בִּידוּד בֵּיתִי).

That 14-day home isolation rule was extended to Italy the day Meir was tested positive. Twelve people have been infected and 5,630 people were in self-quarantine during the general election held in Israel on March 2. Israelis under home-quarantine were permitted to go out only for voting. If they didn’t appear with symptoms they were allowed to vote, in one of the sixteen special polling stations set up for them. In these stations, which received the name the corona polls (קַלְפּׅיּוֺת הַקּוֺרוֺנָה), paramedics covered head-to-toe with protective suits welcomed the voters, who were instructed to wear masks (מַסֵּכוֺת), to disinfect their hands, and to put on gloves before voting.

This is how the isolated voted at the corona polls:

On March 9, with 50 confirmed cases in Israel, the Ministry of Health declared: home isolation for people who return to Israel from anywhere in the world. One of the home-isolated was a famous Israeli singer named Lior Narkis. All of his concerts for the next two weeks were cancelled. Another famous singer’s life was influenced by the new instructions (הַנְחָיוֺת), too. The star singer Eyal Golan got married on March 12. It was supposed to be the event of the year. 1,200 guests were invited to a lavish wedding celebration with special decorations and live performances. But the day before, Netanyahu announced a new restriction (הַגְבָּלָה) on gatherings. Gatherings, he declared, should be as limited as possible and no more than 100 people. The guest list was, hence, reduced to 100 people, and the couple set up with a smaller party.

The coronavirus even takes a toll on religious life. On March 4, with 15 confirmed cases in Israel, rabbis advised against the ritual kissing of Torahs or mezuzot. בְּיָמׅים אֵלּוּ, אָנוּ עֵדׅים לְהׅתְפַּשְׁטוּת מַחֲלָה קָשָׁה, אֵין סָפֵק שֶׁאֵין לְנַשֵּׁק מְזוּזוֺת וְאֵין לָגַעַת בָּהֶם כְּלָל, (in these days, we witness a spread of a terrible disease, there is no doubt that one should not kiss mezuzot or even touch them) wrote the chief rabbi of Israel. Worshippers have been asked not to kiss the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Drastic new restrictions were announced by Netanyahu on March 14, when the number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 193. All educational institutions were shut down. More than two million students are to stay at home until after the Passover break in mid-April. Gatherings (הׅתְקַהֲלוּת) of more than ten people are banned. All commercial activity has been halted. Malls, restaurants, hotel dining rooms, pubs, dance clubs, gyms, pools, beaches, water and amusement parks, zoos, beauty and massage salons, event and conference venues, and heritage sites are all shut down.

Mako website conducted a daily count of the confirmed cases, the recovered, the deaths, and the isolated.

Screen shot from Mako.co.il from March 16

Text vocabulary

To protect = לׅשְׁמוֺר

Minister of Health = שַׂר הַבְּרִיאוּת

Ministry of Health (a ministry in the Israeli government responsible for formulating health policies) = מִשְׂרַד הַבְּרִיאוּת

Virus = נְגִיף

Disease = מַחֲלָה

Leper = מְצֹרָע

Quarantine = הֶסְגֵּר

Isolation = בִּידוּד

Home isolation = בִּידוּד בֵּיתִי

Mask = מַסֵּכָה

Gloves = כְּפָפוֺת

To spread = לְהָפׅיץ

Infection = הַדְבָּקָה

To disinfect = לְחַטֵּא

Instructions = הַנְחָיוֺת

Restriction = הַגְבָּלָה

Gathering = הׅתְקַהֲלוּת

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  1. Francisco:

    Why in the phrase (בְּיָמׅים אֵלּוּ, אָנוּ עֵדׅים לְהׅתְפַּשְׁטוּת מַחֲלָה קָשָׁה, אֵין סָפֵק שֶׁאֵין לְנַשֵּׁק מְזוּזוֺת וְאֵין לָגַעַת בָּהֶם כְּלָל) is it used (בָּהֶם) instead of (בָּהֶן) if (מְזוּזוֹת) is feminine?

    • Ayana:

      @Francisco Thank you so much for your comment!
      You are absolutely right: the word מְזוּזָה is feminine. When referring to its plural form (מְזוּזוֺת), so should the demonstrative pronoun appear in its feminine form. The speaker should had say:
      אֵין סָפֵק שֶׁאֵין לְנַשֵּׁק מְזוּזוֺת וְאֵין לָגַעַת בָּהֶן כְּלָל
      But he did not.. You can read the letter of the chief rabbi of Israel in the next article.
      I don’t know the reason for the rabbi’s mistake, but natives do make mistakes. I already wrote about 5 common mistakes even natives do. I should write a sequel 🙂