Don’t Panic, Pt. 6: Swedish factor

The days are all running together, but apparently we had Passover this week, and the Israeli government took the opportunity to temporarily but fully lock down the nation. I know that this is economically, psychologically, emotionally straining (I think the vernacular is “it’s a sh*tshow”), but for now I’m still okay with these extreme measures. The reason I’m okay is Sweden.

I’m trying to scroll less and take news breaks. I find the site that interests me most is featured on The Times of Israel related to the coronavirus.


9pm, Saturday night

See the Coronvirus Worldmeter? That’s my go-to site.

This week, I saw a little clip about Sweden’s policy of not closing down the nation and allowing people to “use their common sense.” Culturally, Swedes are quite fine with working from home, they aren’t overly social, they don’t have multiple generations living together. It’s not exactly a “herd immunity” argument, but it does suggest that healthy, younger, less-vulnerable people can go about their business as usual while vulnerable people should be isolated.

Sweden is of interest to me because they have a similar population to Israel: Sweden, 10.1 million; Israel, 8.6 million.

**Note: I’m not a statistician or an epidemiologist, and I know the comparisons below are not scientific.**

Israel and Sweden have a similar number of confirmed coronavirus cases. I tend not to follow that number because it’s based on testing capacity. You can see on the site that Israel is testing twice as much as Sweden is.

I follow the number of deaths (no, not because I’m morbid). This number is also a bit flawed. What if someone died but didn’t get tested for coronavirus? If they died of regular flu or pneumonia or didn’t get treatment in the ICU because it was crowded, is it counted in the corona deaths? I don’t think so, but these are the numbers we have.


As of this writing: Israel has a total of 97 deaths. Sweden has a total of 887.

Now one might argue that Scandinavia in general has more deaths. Nope. Finland has 49. Norway has 117. Denmark has 260. Lock down nations all, and their populations range from 5.4 to 5.7 million.

The main “herd immunity” experiment was in the UK (67.8 million people). They have since walked it back and locked down (mostly). They even had their prime minister in the ICU this week. How are they doing? 9,875 total deaths with around 900 per day most of this week.

Israel’s first death was March 20, and the “closed case” statistic is 93% recover, 7% die.

Sweden’s first death was March 11, and the “closed case” statistic is 30% recover, 70% die. I can’t even begin to speculate why there is such a huge difference.

Sweden’s death graph tends to be up and down (it’s reality, not a projection, after all). Most of this week saw 75-114 deaths per day, but only 17 so far today. It remains to be seen if in the long term Sweden’s strategy will work.

Israel was ranked number 1 in COVID-19 safety by Deep Knowledge Group. So even though we are going through something resembling a science fiction/dystopian future movie, I feel pretty good about how Israel is doing.

But I have some complaints.

  1. Families around the nation were forbidden from meeting or traveling to other cities and even shut in their homes on the evening of the Seder, and yet somehow our president and prime minister managed to meet with their adult children. Way to lead by example, guys! At a minimum, they should be fined 5,000 NIS like others have been.
  2. Flights were bringing Israelis home from around the world and passengers were not checked for the virus or put in quarantine. They just took taxis home. Way to be organized, guys! So Netanyahu cancelled all flights to Israel.
  3.  The government is not yet formed, and there is no exit strategy for the lock down. Way to put egos aside for the good of the country, guys!
  4. I keep saying “guys,” not because I’m sloppily generalizing, I’m saying it because it’s mostly men in charge of this sh*tshow.


Even so, there are still glimmers of light in the darkness.

One of my best scrolling experiences this week comes from the Facebook group View from my window. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s beautiful, inspiring, and reminds us that we are all in this together.

Speaking of sh*tshows, this is the meme that made me laugh the hardest this week (from The Language Nerds on Facebook).


Stay healthy! Stay home!

Stay sane! Stay safe! 



I visited the Dachau concentration camp in 1997.  I happened to arrive just as an English tour was starting, so I joined it and got a deeper understanding of everything that happened at Dachau.  At the end of the tour, we had a question/answer session and I don’t remember now if it was a question or if the guide brought it up himself, but we spoke about the fact that Nazism is outlawed in Germany.  Our guide said it was a mistake.

There was a noticeable rustle in the group.  Of course you should outlaw Nazism!! Nazism is an evil, repugnant, horrible ideology!! No one should be allowed to gather and plan a society based on a master race or spew hatred and bigotry!

But our guide calmly explained that forcing neo-Nazis underground did not stop the movement; it only made it harder to track.  You don’t know exactly who the leaders are or who is joining. Their websites are hosted and mirrored all over the world.  If you allow them to exist – which does not in any way condone their platform – then you know who they are, where they are, who the leaders are, what they are doing, and what they are planning.

It was a hard, bitter pill for me.  I remembered that when I was in high school a statistic went around that 25 percent of American high schoolers didn’t believe the Holocaust had even happened.  When I was in university, Holocaust deniers billed as historians were invited to speak on large, respectable campuses. And now I’m supposed to accept that freedom of speech and assembly can and should be given to people filled with vile, baseless hatred?

Twenty years later, the answer is still yes, as long as they don’t incite violence. Not because Nazis have anything to add to society or the common good, but because they are visible.  WE. KNOW. WHO. THEY. ARE.

What is right, not what is legal

You know who doesn’t get to engage in this debate?  The President of the United States.  Why?  Because his job is to stand up for what is right, not quibble about what is legal.  His job is to unite the nation and if the only people who applauded his statements were members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, he is NOT doing the job of the president.  It doesn’t take much brainpower to write a statement that condemns neo-Nazis and racists, denounces violence and hatred, still allows for freedom of expression (no matter how abhorrent), and brings the nation together.

I hope the president would sing a different tune if some “good guys” “with permits” peacefully intone “Jews will not replace us” while walking with torches through the neighborhood that Jared and Ivanka Kushner live in. Does he imagine that his grandchildren would be spared by these “good guys” “defending their heritage” just because he’s their grandfather?

Doesn’t get a pass either

You know who else doesn’t get a pass to keep silent or make weak statements? The Prime Minister of Israel.  Most pundits in Israel think that Netanyahu didn’t make a statement about Charlottesville (until 3 days later, and it was weak and non-specific) because he wanted to stay in the good graces of the president.  I can’t imagine that the office of the prime minister didn’t have a single person in it who could suggest reframing the issue so that Netanyahu could denounce neo-Nazis, racists, and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville while at the same time reaching out to American Jews. If the good graces of the president are wrapped in white cloaks and decorated with burning crosses, shouldn’t we be rethinking the policy?

Neither the president nor the prime minister has shown a shred of leadership this week and it is disgusting, but not really surprising.

So it’s up to us

I wasn’t able to find evidence for this apocryphal story I heard when I was a kid, but there are other places in Idaho and Montana where similar stories can be found.  But I like this version.

In Hayden Lake, Idaho, the Aryan Nation had a 20-acre camp where they trained their new recruits.  They wanted to have a parade down the main street on Adolf Hitler’s birthday.  It might have happened once, maybe even twice. Then one man decided that he didn’t want to see the Aryan Nation marching down the main street of his town. So he got the parade permit for that day and for the whole week.  The law was that they could only have one parade per day and as long as he did something resembling a parade, he got the permit.  So he marched as a one-man band down the street to cheers from the townspeople who supported him.  And then he did it the next year and the next.  And so on.

The factual epilogue to Hayden Lake is that a car drove a little too close to their compound, and they beat the driver and the passenger (a mom and her son).  So the mom and her son took the Aryan Nation to court and won.  The Aryan Nation lost their compound in the $6 million settlement and had to leave the area. The compound was turned into a peace park.

The point of both stories is that it doesn’t have to take violence to defeat neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the KKK.  It takes us banding together to say, “No, not in our town.” Meeting violence with violence begets more violence.  Is there another way first?


Showing up

I’ll leave you with Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem, which remains relevant today.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.