Israel’s vaccination rollout has New Yorkers unmasked with envy

“I’m most annoyed that my parents can’t get the vaccine,” said Sheer Lichtash, 21, a student at New York University and dual citizen of Israel and the US.

Doses of vaccinations against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, in east Jerusalem December 23, 2020.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Doses of vaccinations against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, in east Jerusalem December 23, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
NEW YORK – The swift novel coronavirus vaccination rollout in Israel has left many American Jews and Israelis living in the US – where coronavirus is soaring and only 1% of the population has been vaccinated – feeling frustrated and thinking about returning home.
“I’m most annoyed that my parents can’t get the vaccine,” said Sheer Lichtash, 21, a student at New York University and dual citizen of Israel and the US. “My dad is over 65 and high-risk. Meanwhile, my friends in Israel in their 20s have already been vaccinated. It’s going so slow here.”
Lichtash said she’s considered flying to Israel to get the vaccine. “It is something that’s crossed my mind, but I know there would be a risk.”
While Israel has had its challenges handling the pandemic, it still has a notably lower mortality rate from the disease than many countries around the world where Israelis live, notably the US, which has had over 1,000 deaths per every million of the population, as opposed to Israel, with 370 deaths per million.
Areas where many Israelis live, including New York, have been hit particularly hard. For example, there have been over 7,700 deaths in Brooklyn alone since the pandemic began, many of them in the Jewish community.
New York City has a population of about nine million, roughly the same as Israel.
When the first vaccinations were given in New York last month to frontline hospital employees, health officials said the end of the pandemic was in sight. But the pace of administering vaccinations has gone more slowly than predicted.
The operation halted on Christmas Day, when more planes landed at Kennedy Airport than vaccine doses were administered in the city.
While hospitalizations in New York City rose for the fourth consecutive month, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters last week that the city planned to have administered doses to one million people by the end of January. He has indicated that the state is acting as a bottleneck by not authorizing the city to open up vaccinations to categories of people outside of health-care workers
.
“If we’re given the authorization, we can move very quickly,” de Blasio said. “We need the state guidance in terms of the categories of people, and the more that expands, the faster we can go.”
Meanwhile, Israel began vaccinating its healthcare workers and those over the age of 60 on December 20 after receiving early shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine. Two and a half weeks later, 1.7 million have received the vaccine, making Israel the country with the fastest COVID-19 vaccination drive per capita in the world.
For some, Israel is looking more attractive than ever as a place to live, both to Israelis who have been living abroad and American Jews who are thinking of moving to Israel.
“Israel is winning for sure,” Inna Mashiach, 37, told The Jerusalem Post. Mashiach and her husband left Israel eight years ago to open the Brooklyn restaurant Reunion. Back in Israel, her parents and her in-laws have been vaccinated.
“The problem is the health system in the States,” she said. “In Israel, there are public clinics but here it’s private. It seems like it’s a business that’s waiting to be sold. The public health system is where Israel really shines.”
But Mashiach said she won’t fly back to Israel to get the vaccine. “It’s too difficult with young children and I can’t leave the restaurant,” she said. “Plus, the risk of traveling outweighs the benefits of vaccination, even though I’m young.”
Ruth Peled, an Israeli travel agent based in Manhattan, echoed Mashiach’s apprehension to travel during the pandemic.
“All of the Israelis in New York are talking about whether they should do it. But I don’t know anyone who actually has. It’s too risky. It’s a long trip and you don’t know what the people on the flight have been exposed to. My husband is close to 75 and it’s not worth the risk,” said Peled, 68.
She noted that an Israeli returning from abroad to get vaccinated would first need to quarantine for 10-14 days plus wait for the second vaccine dose. “So minimum you would need a place to stay for five weeks,” Peled said.
The process is further complicated by health fund regulations. Israeli citizens who have lived abroad for years and have not kept up with their Israeli social security payments, as many have not, are required to pay NIS 12,000, roughly $3,770, to rejoin the health funds upon return.
Peled expressed frustration that young politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have received the vaccine before New Yorkers over age 70. “I’m part of an online chat for Upper East Side residents,” she said. “We’re all discussing this and wondering why people who are not first responders are getting it before those of us that are more vulnerable.”
Peled’s five siblings in Israel have all been vaccinated.
“I’m anxious,” she said. “I’m longing to travel and visit my granddaughter. But all we can do is wait patiently.”