Fulfilling the dream of moving to Israel now requires a sobering transition: a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Still, that hasn’t tarnished the experience for some.
“We are thrilled to be in Israel and are looking forward to two weeks of relaxation after the craziness of preparing to make aliyah during a pandemic,” said new arrival Ed Susman, using the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel.
Susman, 62, landed at Ben Gurion Airport on March 19 along with his wife Barbara, 58, and will settle in Netanya. The couple previously lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, now a coronavirus hotspot where on Saturday the mayor asked residents to self-quarantine.
“We are home and there is no place we would rather be,” Susman told The Times of Israel via text message after landing.
The Susmans are among a group of 24 new immigrants who arrived March 19 from the East Coast of the United States on a regular ElAl flight to Tel Aviv. Their immigration was sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) in cooperation with the Aliyah and Absorption Ministry, Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Israeli and American arms of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – The Jewish National Fund.
Theirs is one of several flights still planned for 2020, albeit with new guidelines. New immigrants must promptly home isolate for two weeks upon arrival.
Foreign nationals and non-residents have been barred from entry into Israel as of March 18 under a regulation released by the Population and Migration Authority, with rare exception. Spouses and children of Israeli citizens are permitted entry. A digital application is required, as listed online.
Even under these unprecedented circumstances, immigration to the Jewish state continues.
The latest arrivals include 10 families, and individuals ranging in ages from nine months to 73 years. These immigrants from Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania are settling in cities throughout Israel, including Jerusalem, Beersheba, Holon, Modi’in, Netanya, Ra’anana, Safed and Yad Binyamin. Given new government regulations and concerns over the coronavirus, the moving process required some last minute “first aid.”
“Everything has been extremely dynamic, and evolving all the time,” NBN communications director Yael Katsman told The Times of Israel by phone. “Things keep changing. The government issued new restrictions while this group of olim [new immigrants] were literally in transit. We worked out, with the various government ministries involved, to allow today’s group to continue their plans in accordance with the various new criteria.”
Updated guidelines require immigrants to sign a declaration with a verifiable address in place for an immediate 14-day home quarantine. Immigrants must also confirm in writing that they have not have been exposed to a known case of coronavirus. Besides the standard immigration paperwork, the immigrants must also present additional documentation in what has become a rapidly changing set of conditions.
“Our case managers have been working around the clock to make sure each oleh [immigrant] has all the information they need in order to complete the process,” Katsman said.
One upside of the circumstances is the welcome from unseen strangers. “When we first learned that we would likely be put in mandatory quarantine upon arrival, I was a bit freaked out,” Aviva Karoly wrote in a farewell post on Facebook to her brethren in Washington Heights, New York.
Within minutes, however, offers of groceries, toys, books, and anything else a family might need were volunteered by complete strangers. “There are literally piles of supplies stocked outside our door just waiting for us to come home,” said Karoly, who was also on the March 19 flight with her husband, Tzvi, and two young children.
Israeli restrictions have rapidly changed over the past two weeks. At 8 p.m. on March 9, the Health Ministry announced travelers would be required to observe the home quarantine guidelines. The following day, NBN announced online that arrivals from North America would receive “full service” at Ben Gurion Airport upon landing. That includes complimentary transport by taxi to their first destination: quarantine.
“Everyone is trying to be as flexible as they can be under the circumstances and pulling together in order to make things happen and continue to move along,” Katsman said. The Aliyah and Absorption Ministry has also taken steps to digitize the reception process in order reduce exposure among employees and new arrivals.
To explain ongoing procedural changes, the Jewish Agency released a video about emigrating to Israel during the pandemic, including links to guidelines issued by the Health Ministry.
Frequently updated guidelines are listed on the Health Ministry’s website. Further information is also available by calling *5400, the Voice of Health or “Kol-Habriut” hotline. The government also offers online assistance regarding home isolation. Forms for self-isolating and reporting violations are also available.
The Jewish Agency video notes immigrants must report online after settling in. On Sunday, the government released emergency regulations establishing fines of NIS 5,000 ($1,370) for violating isolation and leaving quarantine prematurely, and NIS 3,000 ($822) for failing to report to the Health Ministry about entering quarantine.
“It is truly remarkable to see that aliyah is continuing amidst increasingly complex global circumstances,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, NBN’s co-founder and executive director.
In the next two weeks, NBN plans to receive 20 more immigrants. The organization has also established a dedicated hotline and announced it has budgeted additional funds to enhance support services for new arrivals.
“We are ready to assist them throughout their entire Aliyah process in order for them to settle into their new homes as smoothly and comfortably as possible during these challenging times,” Fass said. “These new olim, more than ever, represent the strong future of the State of Israel.”
According to a Jewish Agency spokesperson, as of now immigration will continue, with procedures evolving in accordance with government guidelines.