Daniel Estrin | New Hampshire Public Radio

Daniel Estrin

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

Since joining NPR in 2017, he has reported from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. He has chronicled the Trump Administration's policies that have shaped the region, and told stories of everyday life for Israelis and Palestinians. He has also uncovered tales of ancient manuscripts, secret agents and forbidden travel.

Estrin has reported from the Middle East for over a decade, including seven years with the Associated Press. His reporting has taken him to Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Russia and Ukraine. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, PRI's The World and other media.

Never before has Israel had such a high need for those schooled in the rarefied art of shofar blowing.

The wail of the biblical shofar — made from the horn of a ram or a certain antelope species — is a hallmark of prayer gatherings on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins this weekend.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel is mandating smaller, socially distanced prayer gatherings — so the country needs many more shofar blowers than in years past.

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The Jewish New Year Rosh Hashana starts Friday evening. The holiday is marked by this ancient summons to repentance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Israel's top public health official resigned Tuesday, claiming leaders ignored her warnings and reopened the country too quickly, driving a new surge of COVID-19 cases that officials are scrambling to contain.

Siegal Sadetzki, the leading epidemiologist heading Israel's coronavirus response and director of the Israeli Health Ministry's Public Health Services, posted her nine-page resignation letter on Facebook on Tuesday, the same day Israel quickly reimposed restrictions shutting down wedding and entertainment venues, bars, clubs, gyms and swimming pools.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

As Israel faces a new surge of coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing to restart a controversial cellphone contact-tracing program put on hold this month. But the spy agency that ran the surveillance doesn't want to do it again.

The last time David Deutsch visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank, it was to ask God to cure him of cancer. Now in remission, the 33-year-old Israeli settler and devout Jew headed back to the shrine this week on a new mission.

"I'm going to pray that Trump cancels the plan," said Deutsch, as he waited to hitch a ride at a West Bank bus stop.

The last time David Deutsch visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank, it was to ask God to cure him of cancer. Now in remission, the 33-year-old Israeli settler and devout Jew headed back to the shrine this week on a new mission.

"I'm going to pray that Trump cancels the plan," said Deutsch, as he waited to hitch a ride at a West Bank bus stop.

Baruch Shpitzer, the reception manager at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel, prides himself on making tourists feel at home in his sprawling 9-story hotel and spa, built into a cliffside and featuring panoramic Old City views.

In March, though, his hospitality skills were put to the test. His reception desk was encased in plexiglass. His new arrivals were sometimes delivered by ambulance. None of them was staying at his hotel by choice.

"We speak to them to get them out from the shock that they're in when they're coming into the hotel," Shpitzer says.

Two weeks after Israel fully reopened schools, a COVID-19 outbreak sweeping through classrooms — including at least 130 cases at a single school — has led officials to close dozens of schools where students and staff were infected. A new policy orders any school where a virus case emerges to close.

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For Gaza's broke grooms, the coronavirus crisis has been the perfect time to get married.

With wedding halls closed and public gatherings forbidden to prevent the spread of the virus, many couples have celebrated their marriage in alleyways and apartments — so grooms can save the fortune they're normally expected to spend on big parties.

Palestinian tradition dictates that the groom pay for the wedding, not the bride or her family.

Israeli researchers have tracked a global trend of anti-Semitic hate speech blaming Jews and Israelis for the coronavirus. But they stress that Jews are not the only target of virus-related conspiracy theories.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to step down as prime minister next year, as he and election rival Benny Gantz have reached a deal for a unity government. The agreement is set to break the deadlock Israel has faced over three elections in the past 12 months.

The right-wing prime minister would stay in office until October 2021 and then hand over the position to centrist Gantz, according to a statement released by the parties.

Updated at 2:14 p.m. ET

The coronavirus did not stop the tradition of the Holy Fire on Saturday, the centuries-old ceremony held annually at the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem the day before Easter on the Eastern Orthodox Christian calendar. But some adjustments were made.

Usually tens of thousands of pilgrims pack the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and surround the Edicule, the inner sanctum that houses the spot where tradition says Jesus was entombed and resurrected.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are confronting the coronavirus crisis using familiar tactics from half a century of Israeli military occupation.

Village councils and political committees, well-schooled in community organizing through years of confronting Israel, have mobilized.

In the shadow of Israeli watchtowers and settlements, they have co-opted an emblem of their occupier and set up improvised checkpoints — to enforce a Palestinian Authority lockdown in areas where Palestinian police are not permitted to patrol.

For centuries, Hindus gathered to burn corpses on funeral pyres along the Ganges River. Jews received condolences at home during a seven-day mourning period. Muslims huddled together to wash the corpses of loved ones in Iraq and across the Arab world.

But global burial rituals are being dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some devout Orthodox Jewish communities have been slow to follow lockdown orders in Israel, helping drive a surge in coronavirus cases that officials are struggling to contain.

Known in Israel as Haredim, or those who tremble in awe before God, ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12% of Israel's population — but they account for as much as 60% of Israel's COVID-19 cases in major hospitals, according to estimates. More than 6,000 Israelis have been infected and at least 31 have died.

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As COVID-19 spreads through Israeli and Palestinian communities, Israelis and Palestinians now have a common enemy to battle — and reason to lean on each other.

The coronavirus has infected more than 2,000 Israelis and killed at least eight, including a man who survived the Holocaust. In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it has infected more than 70 Palestinians and killed a Palestinian woman. At least nine Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are infected with the virus, too. Everyone is under increasingly stringent lockdowns.

A Holocaust survivor is the first reported fatality in Israel from COVID-19.

Israeli media report that 88-year-old Arie Even moved from Hungary to Israel in 1949. He died Friday.

He was one of several residents and staff at a retirement home in Jerusalem to catch the coronavirus, after a social worker reportedly caught the virus from a French visitor at a wedding.

His family said they were saddened not to be able to be with him during his final days. They were asked to stay away in order to not catch the virus.

Hundreds of Israelis were startled Wednesday by an unsolicited text message.

"Hello. According to an epidemiological investigation," it began, addressing each recipient by name. "You were near someone sick with the coronavirus. You must immediately isolate at home [14 days] to protect your relatives and the public. ... This information will be used only for this purpose and will be erased when no longer needed. Sincerely, public health services."

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