The Big StoryToday brings two milestones in the United States’ painful experience with COVID-19. Now that 70% of the states’ adult populations have received at least one dose of the novel coronavirus vaccine, California and New York are lifting almost all of their remaining capacity and physical-distancing restrictions, and they’re doing it on more or less the same day the country recorded its 600,000th pandemic death. It isn’t entirely accurate to say that two of the United States’ largest and most important states are entirely back to what would once have been considered normal: In New York City, Broadway and most indoor performances won’t return until the fall; in California, there’s already controversy over the reach of the state’s digital vaccine passport app. In both states, a cumbersome and invasive process of proving one’s vaccination status is likely to become a condition for what used to be fairly ordinary activities. Mandatory masking of unvaccinated children at schools and summer camps and in other public contexts is still a contentious issue, including in New York and California. Whether the upcoming school year happens as normal is anyone’s guess. Still, the end to often-absurd COVID-19 protocols that greatly enhanced the state’s power over individuals and small businesses—one-third of which have closed nationwide since the start of the crisis, incidentally—as well as things such as a full Yankee Stadium, are just around the corner. The pandemic certainly isn’t “over.” But in much of the country, including places that, like New York, suffered some of the highest death rates in the nation, it’s getting there. Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/nyregion/coronavirus-restrictions.html, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-600k-deaths-us-1ef14a0b998e6ce99281edf6e996dfbe and https://www.sfchronicle.com/local/article/Newsom-says-vaccine-verification-is-coming-in-16250324.phpThe RestPresident Joe Biden is meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva today. They are expected to discuss Russian-sponsored cyberattacks on U.S. targets, the Ukraine conflict, and a range of other topics in a meeting that media generally anticipated to be “tense,” “high-stakes,” and “hours” long. Democrats especially have treated Russia as a leading threat to U.S. democracy for most of the past five years, meaning the new president is expected to show a tough face to a man who has bedeviled his last four predecessors in the White House and has been called a “killer” by Biden himself. There will be more details in the coming days, but it’s probably not a great sign that the two leaders gave separate news conferences after their meeting wrapped up. Read more: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/16/putin-biden-summit-in-geneva-2021.html and https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/06/16/biden-putin-live-updates/The Middle East failed to plunge into chaos after a delayed nationalist “flag march” was allowed to proceed in Jerusalem along a modified route. Hamas launched incendiary balloons into Israel from Gaza, causing 20 fires and provoking an Israeli airstrike on the coastal enclave. In general, Jerusalem stayed quiet, and the supposed first crisis of Naftali Bennett’s government never materialized. Read more: https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/despite-threats-neither-hamas-nor-israel-want-war-671174It’s official: Goldman Sachs executive and former Obama-era Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides will be Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Israel. Once again, the U.S. envoy to Jerusalem will be a political nominee and not someone drawn from the State Department’s existing pool of diplomats, continuing a trend that began with Dan Shapiro’s appointment in 2011. Nides is personally close with both Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and the move may indicate that the new administration isn’t looking to confront the Israelis in public when disagreements arise. Read more: https://jewishinsider.com/2021/06/thomas-nides-ambassador-israel-biden/Some news from nearly a week ago that’s still worth mentioning: Workflow software company monday.com notched the biggest IPO in Israeli history last Thursday, debuting on the Nasdaq at a $6.8 billion valuation. Read more: https://www.calcalistech.com/ctech/articles/0,7340,L-3909803,00.htmlThe United States’ largest Protestant denomination has a new leader: Mazal tov and b’hatzlacha to Ed Litton, the Alabama pastor elected to head the Southern Baptist Convention. He prevailed in a contentious vote in Nashville in which a mainstream front-runner lost to a challenger from the movement’s right wing, setting up Litton, a “moderate” who, per The New York Times, “has largely avoided the culture wars,” as the compromise candidate and eventual winner. Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/us/southern-baptist-convention-president-ed-litton.htmlTaiwan observed the largest mainland Chinese incursion of its airspace ever documented yesterday when 28 military aircraft entered the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone. A Chinese attack on the autonomous, democratic island, which Beijing claims as part of its sovereign territory, is high on anyone’s list of geopolitical nightmare scenarios. Read more: https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/15/asia/taiwan-china-warplanes-largest-adiz-incursion-intl-hnk-ml/index.htmlChina will launch a crew of three astronauts Thursday for a three-month mission to continue construction of the country’s space station, a project that’s an especially vivid illustration of Beijing’s longing for superpower status. Read more: https://apnews.com/article/china-technology-business-science-15643befa1056aa5b8181ca83b98248cThe Taliban has seized 32 districts since the announcement of a U.S. withdrawal timeline on May 1. The extremists now have a presence in half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, ruling over an area that’s home to more than 6 million people and counting. Read more: https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2021/06/taliban-takes-control-of-30-districts-in-past-six-weeks.phpMore than 230,000 people have been driven from their home in conflict-torn Darfur since the start of 2021, a place that was once a major activist cause in the United States, especially among Jews. With international peacekeepers set to leave the violence-plagued region where 1.5 million people are still in displaced-persons camps, and Sudan in the midst of a fragile political transition, Darfuris are wondering why foreign media and aid groups no longer seem to care about them. Read more: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/2021/6/15/darfur-diary-from-global-cause-to-forgotten-crisis?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=socialBad day for basketball fans: At just about the worst possible moment in the two teams’ respective playoff series, Suns point guard Chris Paul has entered COVID-19 protocol while Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is out indefinitely with a knee injury—and that’s in addition to the ankle issues that sidelined Kyrie Irving in the Nets’ comeback win against the Bucks last night. A Hawks-Jazz NBA final inches closer to reality.It’s Bloomsday! Enjoy with relish the inner organs of beasts and fouls, or go commit various lewd acts on an isolated beach, or maybe cheat on your emotionally distant husband—or better still, just grab a book and pop into the pub for a pint. Read more: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4300/4300-h/4300-h.htm\nThe Back PagesReading about the painful experience of a Catholic chaplain navigating the new social justice bureaucracy at a prestigious college has Tablet senior writer Liel Leibovitz thinking: What’s the point of religion, anyway?There are so many things not worth reading these days. But here is one that is worth your time—though perhaps not for the reason you may at first think. It’s an account by Anna Keating, previously a part-time Catholic chaplain in a small but prestigious liberal arts college:Arriving as a chaplain at a progressive secular college with traditional views of what a liberal arts education in the humanities was about, I thought it meant exploring different ways of being, and weighing different narratives by bringing them into conversation with one another. I saw religion as another identity to be explored and therefore essential to a student’s experience and self-definition …The liberalism we all grew up with relegated religion to the private sphere. And though this was an overly restrictive way of thinking about religion, at least it tolerated religious minorities unless they broke laws or infringed on the rights of others. A small group of Catholic students at a liberal arts school meeting for Mass on Sunday nights in an otherwise unused chapel wasn’t a problem. Such kids might be considered weird, but they weren’t hurting anybody. The same went for gathering on Friday nights for Shabbat. Modern liberalism even tended to celebrate such displays of religion as reflections of individual choice and freedom of religion and expression.Reality, however, soon came knocking. The college’s top priority, Keating’s supervisor told her, was “antiracism,” which meant that the Catholic—and Jewish—chaplaincies presented a big problem. “Because of the colleges’ commitment to antiracism and equity,” wrote the supervisor, “the question finally becomes, Is chaplaincy sustainable? Our Jewish community has the support of its alumni donors. How do we manage that? And Roman Catholic students and others interested in Catholicism can apply for grants from an endowed fund for Roman Catholic Studies. And in order to be antiracist we have to have equal resources for Hindu students, Muslim students, Buddhist students, or we need to do away with Spiritual Life groups all together.”This steely Manicheanism shocked Keating. And we, in turn, are meant to be shocked too—by the ruthless rejection of religion. But I actually think it is Keating who got this wrong, and I’d like, with some gentleness, to explain why. Because you can—and must—feel Keating’s pain, the pain of a decent human being doing her best to hold space with other human beings who greatly benefit from her wisdom and experience. But if you want to really understand what happened to her, and what could happen to you, you need to understand that the problem here wasn’t that the university deliberately misunderstood Keating’s religion. It’s that Keating herself held up a version of it destined to fail.In her understanding, religion is something relegated to the private sphere, a reflection of individual choice and freedom of expression. In other words, being Catholic—or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist—is just like deciding to go vegan, or being bi-curious, or getting really into Post Malone. It’s just another product in the marketplace of ideas, a lifestyle luxury item you can try on in the privacy of your own home. But if you define religion in this way, you shouldn’t be at all surprised when the folks who manage the marketplace of ideas come in and say something like, “Hey, listen, this mall is dedicated to radical individuality, which you yourself agreed to when you walked in. And if that’s the case, we sort of would like every store to have equal resources, which is always true of stores at a mall.”\nAs Sohrab Ahmari points out in his new book, you can either understand religion as humans have from the dawn of time until more or less last Thursday—as something communal, essential, immutable, difficult, demanding, and absolute—or you can say it’s a personal choice. Put another way: If you decide to see religion as a pleasant commodity to be enjoyed at one’s leisure, it is you who have made religion a commodity that must simply compete with all the others. And it is silly to be shocked when other hobbies and trends win out.Keating chose Option B, inadvertently agreeing that society is made up of atomized individuals who, untethered to anything like tribe or family or tradition, have come together to remove any obstacles, real or perceived, to their own personal liberties. What she didn’t consider: What could be more threatening to this delicate equilibrium than a standout religious community insisting on difference and securing its own resources to preserve and promote it?