People of the Pod

LISTEN: Quarantine in Israel — drastic? Or just what the doctors ordered

Episode #27: International relations expert Dr. Yonatan Freeman talks coronavirus preparedness * Ross Kriel, president of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, gets personal

This week, Israel shut down educational institutions and imposed a blanket 14-day self-quarantine on everyone arriving from outside the country in order to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

People of the Pod, a collaboration between the American Jewish Committee and The Times of Israel, discussed the country’s drastic efforts with Dr. Yonatan Freeman, an international relations expert and lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

According to Freeman, the broad implementation of quarantines is offset by our safety net systems. For example, unlike in many European countries, sick employees are not forcing themselves to workplaces for fear of missing a paycheck.

An outbreak similar to what is seen in Italy will hopefully be prevented as it would be a very drastic situation that can create a lot of havoc, said Freeman. He is optimistic since “Israel has always taken the correct steps,” he said, and has historically prevented outbreaks.

Said Freeman, emergency preparedness is the strongest proactive response: Early into the outbreak, Israeli scientists collected samples from throughout the large epicenters to begin work on studying the virus, he said.

Additionally, the fact that most citizens already served in the military means there is a sort of discipline that comes out in the populace. “That is an advantage [in order] to be prepared and act when the time comes,” said Freeman.

Yonatan Freeman, international relations and national security expert, Political Science Department, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Jenny Pepperman)

Next on the program, Ross Kriel, president of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, joins us from Dubai to shed light on the small, but thriving Jewish community in the United Arab Emirates. The Times of Israel uncovered the existence of this community in December 2018 with Ops and Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag’s article, “For the first time, Dubai’s Jewish community steps hesitantly out of the shadows.”

Said Kriel, one of the unique aspects of the Jewish community is that it is not a remnant of an old, dying community but is “something new,” filled with motivated businesspeople.

There are other communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Bahai and Christians who are already taking advantage of the country’s religious tolerance, he said. Since the late 1990s, the country realized that the country needed to build an economy “based on human talent” and so opened its borders.

A member of the Dubai Synagogue holds a Torah scroll donated by New York businessman Eli Epstein, with an inscribed dedication to his friend, Dubai business leader Mohamed Alabbar. November 2018 (Photo: Israel Calera)

Kriel, an Orthodox Jew, moved to Dubai in a “crazy decision,” and works for a global French company. He met the “embryonic Jewish community” in 2010-2011 and decided with his wife to “have a great adventure.” Two weeks after their arrival they hosted services for the Jewish New Year, “and never looked back.”

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Being a Dubai Jew means being global in your outlook, he said. There’s every tradition and language of the Jewish people represented there, “and that’s the beauty of the community,” said Kriel.

Also this week, the world observed International Women’s Day. The Times of Israel Podcast spoke with Yael Eckstein, the new, young head of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

The organization was founded in 1983 by her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, but since his sudden death a year ago, Yael has picked up the reins. Yechiel was a charismatic visionary — an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who faced down suspicion in his own community to bring Jews and Christian closer.

And while the foundation brings in over $125 million a year, for Yael it’s not the sum that counts, rather the support for Israel that she believes is growing in the Christian community. This support has, she says, led to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the US.

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