Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to restrictions on social gatherings and limited international flights, Jews in the diaspora have continued to find methods to send their deceased relatives to Israel for burial. This includes paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for private flights, according to a report from The Forward.
With Israel under lockdown, and few international flights available, the cost for Jewish communities to buy their deceased relatives tickets to the holy land has skyrocketed. Costs have been further affected by hard-hit Jewish communities in Europe and the United States, which has encouraged a rise in prices.
Between mid-March and mid-April, 151 bodies of Jews were flown to Israel on commercial or private jets a significant increase over the same period in the previous year, according to data from Israel’s Ministry of Religious Services. Cemeteries in Israel have struggled to keep up with the demand as well, forcing the bereaved to conduct funerals at different hours of the day while following Israel's guidelines on social distancing.
“We’ve been doing funerals at 2:00 a.m,” said Menachem Lubinsky, co-chairman of the International Committee for Har Hazeitim, which oversees Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery.
On the cost of bereaved families transferring their loved ones for burial in Israel, Lubinsky said that recently that three or four families pooled together “something like $660,000” to pay for a private jet.
Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US, caskets were shipped to Israel via United Airlines or EL Al, but the former suspended its casket service at the end of March, while El Al cut back flights to and from the United States. Further complicating the situation is the Israeli government's requirement that anyone entering the country must self-quarantine for 14 days.
In order to to mitigate the prices of directly transferring a body for burial in Israel, some American Jews have also resorted to flying their loved ones to Europe and then transferring them to commercial airliners.