Will the synagogues be open for Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah? and 4.5 million citizens’ details insufficiently protected, comptroller says and Tucker: Our leaders are making a mockery of their own quarantines and As U.S. states start to reopen, Fed official sees little sign of economic resurgence and Coronavirus crisis sends United States unemployment rate to 14.7%
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement. Now also a Blogger on the Times of Israel. Look for my column
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Will the Synagogues be open for Shavout and Rosh Hashana?
Will the Synagogues be open for Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: Synagogues could reopen for High Holy Days
Dir. of National Inst. of Infectious Diseases says US synagogues may be able to be open in the fall, but only if certain conditions are met.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told American rabbis last week that synagogues in the US may be able to be open for the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall, but only if certain conditions are met in terms of testing, contact tracing, and social distancing.
Speaking during a conference call organized by the Orthodox Union, Fauci expressed optimism that religious activities could be renewed before the end of the year.
He noted, however, that synagogues would not be able to operate in the same way as prior to the pandemic.
Fauci said that it would be a "good idea" to hold Minyan prayer services once every five days, as opposed to every day, pointing out that he did assume to understand what this would mean "from a spiritual standpoint."
He also said he expects the virus to still be around in the fall, perhaps as part of a "second wave" of infection. For that reason, there will still need to be restrictions on mass gatherings and people will have to practice social distancing, he added.
The re-opening of synagogues over the next months could be gradual, continued Fauci, who suggested that synagogues in areas that were hit hard by the virus may need to return to operation later than those in other parts of the country.
He added that members of the population who are more vulnerable to the virus, such as elderly people and people with underlying health conditions, could be the last to join services.
The vast majority of synagogues in the US have been closed since mid-March when restrictions on large gatherings began to be implemented in states across the country. Many synagogues have been offering online services and holding virtual prayers instead of in-synagogue services.
Finally, Fauci asked those on the call to "include me" in their prayers, as he attempts to lead the country's response to the virus.
Shavuot is about two weeks away. Traditionally there were all-night learning sessions in the synagogue. That is out this year, except for the reform and conservative who usually don't do the all-night learning anyway. So what for the Orthodox, one solution is all night learning the day before Shavuot. After all, it is virtual anyway. If you want to stay up all night, stay up the night before.
Rosh Hashanah by Zoom?
Some synagogues are already preparing for the possibility that they could be empty during the High Holidays
— For rabbis, the end of Passover marks the beginning of a new season: planning for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays in the fall when Jews pack synagogue sanctuaries.
This is also the time of year when the synagogues collect their dues for the year. Let's be real. People pay their dues, because they want a seat for the high holidays. If you are not going to get a seat, will you pay your dues? Maybe this year, but I don't think it will last. Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus has become the first department store chain to declare bankruptcy during the coronavirus pandemic. Its fall is foreboding to other chains, whose financial distress predates the health crisis, such as J.C. Penney. It is also foreboding to synagogues. Many will lose their regular customer base.
This year, that planning includes grappling with the reality that in-person services might still be impossible, depending on the course the coronavirus pandemic takes between now and then. If there is no seat, what are you paying your dues for?
American and Israel synagogues have been conducting services virtually — or not at all — for more than a month. When they closed their doors, many expected that several weeks or, at most, a few months would elapse before the pandemic was under control enough for in-person religious services to resume.
But as the weeks wear on, it is becoming increasingly clear that the resumption of normal activity remains a far-off proposition. Even as a few United States begin allowing some businesses to reopen, social distancing guidelines remain in place, and some city officials and public health experts have warned that large gatherings are unlikely to be safe until some time in 2021.
That leaves Rosh Hashanah, which this year begins Sept. 18, as a major question mark.
"We're making the assumption that by September it's not going to be OK to have a thousand people together in one room, so we're taking that as a starting point," said Rabbi Barry Leff of Herzl-Ner Tamid, a Conservative synagogue just outside Seattle on Mercer Island, Washington.
Leff says that in the coming months, the congregation, which has 750 member families, will be planning for a number of possibilities. That includes thinking about how many people would fit in the synagogue's sanctuary — which can regularly hold up to 1,000 — if social distancing measures are enforced. It also means thinking about who would get to attend if the state lifts its stay-at-home order and allows smaller gatherings of people.
"If they say 'Fine, you can have 50 people,' how do you pick which 50 people get to be the ones that get to be there? Or do you set up a rotation, where people can sign up for an hourlong time slot? It can get very complicated pretty quickly," he said.
It's too early to say for sure what things will look like in September, said Stephen Buka, a professor of epidemiology at Brown University. Whether gathering in person will be advisable depends on a number of factors, including how the country's testing infrastructure develops and if coronavirus infections rise again as temperatures cool.
"Right now, the requirement is that everything is virtual, and I think that wouldn't necessarily be needed in July, and it's too hard to say what will be needed in September," he said.
Buka says that even if High Holiday services could be held in person, they wouldn't be the same as in previous years. Social distancing measures would likely be needed and at-risk groups could be cautioned from going.
"I think a very likely scenario to predict at this point is that if you're over 70, don't congregate, stay home and that if families with young children want to come and be socially distanced that could very well be a reasonable compromise," he said.
The rapidly changing recommendations and policies around preventing the spread of the coronavirus, which so far has killed at least 70,000 people in the United States, has some rabbis waiting to plan for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
But many other synagogues have started planning for multiple contingencies.
Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, holds eight services on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, and 3,000 people typically spend some time in the synagogue's three spaces. "The busiest airport in America is what our building looks like," said Rabbi Amy Schwartzman.
With that experience seeming increasingly unlikely, Schwartzman and the four other clergy members at Rodef Shalom are holding a scenario planning meeting this week to explore other possibilities — including the fact that the synagogue may have no in-person worship at all due to the coronavirus.
"We know that in the worst-case scenario we could provide the congregation with an online worship experience for all the holidays," she said.
Again, just like on Passover, that won't work for the Orthodox, because electronic media is not allowed.
Analysts say steep jump in unemployment and layoffs caused by the pandemic will be hard to reverse quickly.
Iran Renames Currency as US Sanctions Cripple Economy
The Iranian regime has approved a bill by the country's central bank to rename the national currency and devalue it, reports the state-run IRNA news agency.
According to the bill, the rial will be replaced with a new currency called the toman, which will be equal to 10,000 rials. The legislation now has to be approved by the Guardian Council, a clerical body similar to a constitutional court.
The central bank has been tasked with laying the groundwork for introducing the toman within two years after the law comes into force. It is understood that the rial will remain in circulation alongside the new currency for two years, during which the government will collect the old coins and banknotes and replace them with new ones.
The central bank first floated the idea in 2008, but it gained real traction a decade later after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed stringent economic sanctions on Iran.
The sanctions crippled Iran's trade and oil exports, and caused the rial to drop from around 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 deal to around 42,000 now.
Tucker: Our leaders are making a mockery of their own quarantines
Video shows various politicians flaunting the Quarantine
They have no intention of abiding by the restrictions they impose on their citizens.
Maine had few cases of unemployment but 15% unemployment and will take years to recover
As U.S. states start to reopen, Fed official sees little sign of economic resurgence
As U.S. states start to reopen, Fed official sees little sign of economic resurgence
Though states have begun to reopen their economies, it is not clear consumers are ready to venture back to the marketplace, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic said on Thursday, citing conversations with business officials in his region and his staff's study of cellphone tracking data.
"What we are seeing thus far is a mix. For some retailers it has been a bit stronger than expected. Others have seen relatively little response," as states like Georgia relax coronavirus closures, Bostic told reporters after a webcast to the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. "Preliminary data we have, looking at cell phone numbers, suggest that movement has not gone up appreciably. Whether having an open economic policy is going to translate into economic activity — we are going to learn this in the next couple of weeks," he said.
In citing cell phone numbers, Bostic was referring to data that maps the location of individual cellphones to retail stores, an indication of people leaving their homes to shop. The data is not necessarily a reflection of retail sales. Bostic said his assessment of tentative economic revival in his district was buttressed by conversations with business officials.
The Atlanta fed chief's comments reflect the crossroads Federal Reserve officials, in general, confront roughly two months into an economic crisis fueled by the global coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on movement and commerce imposed to prevent its spread.
The response has caused a historic crash in economic activity, with millions thrown into at least temporary unemployment and economic growth in the April to June period expected to plunge. But there is no fully fleshed out a national plan for how the economic reopening should proceed, what health metrics should be met along the way, and how polices could or should differ across regions. Some central bank officials worry this patchwork situation could dim the strength of the recovery.
Why unemployment benefits for the self-employed may be less than expected self-employed workers trying to collect unemployment checks may get less pay than they think.
The $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package enacted in March extended unemployment benefits to previously ineligible workers, such as self-employed individuals whose income evaporated as a result of the pandemic. However, states must use the net (rather than gross) income that self-employed workers report on their tax returns to calculate their weekly jobless pay, according to a Labor Department directive issued April 27. States use the gross income to determine benefits for other workers.
Using the net-income formula could result in a big difference in unemployment pay for some self-employed people. More than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past seven weeks, according to the Labor Department.
Net income reflects total profit after costs and expenses that self-employed workers may deduct from their taxes, such as those associated with a vehicle, travel, business insurance or office supplies. Deducting these costs, which could amount to a lot of money, reduces net income and, by extension, their overall tax burden. But it could also reduce unemployment benefits. ″[It] definitely presents additional hurdles for drivers," said Mike Long, a spokesman for SEIU Local 721, a labor union representing more than 95,000 public-sector workers in southern California. [CNBC]
4.5 million citizens' details insufficiently protected, comptroller says
The report said that the databases are "defined as a database with a high danger" of being misused or hacked.By YONAH JEREMY BOB
The details of about 4.5 million citizens, including facial pictures, are not sufficiently protected from misuse or outside hacking, the State Comptroller report said on Monday.The problems highlighted by the comptroller related to the Transportation Ministry database for drivers licenses as well as the private sector database for smart bus cards
The report said that the databases are "defined as a database with a high danger" of being misused or hacked.Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said that neither database had sufficient protections for privacy or from outside hackers and that those in charge did not even have comprehensive information with which to assess the protections.Of the 4.5 million smart bus cards, he noted that it was especially problematic that the identities and facial shots of over a million children were potentially exposed.Englman recommended that the Transportation Ministry immediately catch up on these issues for the drivers license database and that the state authority for biometric smart cards start to perform oversight of the private sector's smart bus cards program.The comptroller was even harsher with the ministry, noting that the Justice Ministry warned it already 14 years ago to address some of the ongoing concerns
The report also referred to a lack of legislation and of addressing security concerns regarding information held on 55,000 foreign workers and voice prints of 5,500 prisoners.A separate recommendation in the report with major potential implications was that the government investigate the possibility of consolidating drivers licenses into the smart card program for efficiency purposes.Next, Englman criticized over 30 government agencies for failing to streamline their employees toward use of smart cards for access to their offices as opposed to old-fashioned and decentralized methods of access.Interestingly, the report did not look at the security of the state's biometric database, which has been hacked in the past.Petitions to the High Court of Justice had even held up that database for years until November 2016 due to security concerns.There is also an ongoing probe by the state's Privacy Authority into Elector, a company used by the Likud during the elections, which allegedly accidentally leaked private information of 6.5 million voters online.The probe has dragged on for months, but does not appear to have been part of the comptroller's report.The Interior Ministry responded to the report saying that its own database "is a crucial and professional source of knowledge, which provides more than a decade of experience in the biometric arena, and which is managed and secured with the highest protections for privacy."The ministry praised efforts by the comptroller to reduce threats to privacy and redundancies in the databases kept by the Transportation Ministry, the private sector and other authorities.The Transportation Ministry responded that it follows the regulations and recommendations of the Israel National Cyber Directorate regarding information security, and that it invests efforts to reduce the potential harm to privacy rights.It added that it is working with the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority to consolidate the databases into one location.Attorney Yehonatan Klinger of the Movement for Digital Rights responded to the report, saying that it confirmed their worst fears.For years, Klinger said they had warned that establishing a biometric database would leave personal data unguarded.Now, he said that even if the national biometric database is secure (and even that is open to question), it is irrelevant because every citizens' information can be grabbed from the drivers license or bus smart card databases. "This situation is like locking the door and then leaving all of the windows wide open."He added that the Privacy Authority in Israel was established with extremely weak, non-binding powers and is usually excluded from key, decisive meetings.