Coming home to Israel during the coronavirus pandemic

‘GETTING THROUGH corona is not easy no matter where you are, but it’s certainly much easier at home.’

Travel during corona (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Travel during corona
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Ilit Gilad is a lawyer who relocated to Singapore with her husband Gil, a cyber specialist, when he received a job offer that was too good to refuse. 
“It was such a fantastic opportunity and I really wanted this job, so we packed up the kids and moved overseas,” recalls Gilad. 
But then the COVID-19 outbreak hit, and the family decided to return home to Israel. 
“At the start of the year, we were at a crossroads: Should we stay in Singapore for another four amazing years, which at the time we thought would be just like the wonderful year we’d just experienced, or should we go back home to Israel?” Gilad continues. “But then COVID-19 hit.”
ILIT GILAD and famiily returned to Oranit from Singapore. (Photos: Courtesy those mentioned)ILIT GILAD and famiily returned to Oranit from Singapore. (Photos: Courtesy those mentioned)
How did that affect your decision?
“In Singapore, the authorities are much stricter with respect to health regulations than in Israel. Our son was about to begin his IDF service, and we didn’t want him to have to be a lone soldier during the corona pandemic. That wasn’t something we were willing to do. Also, a few of our friends’ parents had caught the virus and we realized that being so far away from our elderly parents during such a critical time would be extremely stressful. Getting through corona is not easy no matter where you are, but it would certainly be much easier if we were home. So we moved back into our house in Oranit.”
Are you happy with your decision?
“Yes, I think it was the best decision we’ve ever made. Usually, the hardest part about moving with your family overseas is coming home, but in our case, the coronavirus was a pretty strong motivator. Our daughter, thank goodness, acclimated pretty quickly to virtual school learning online, and our move home was pretty relaxed. Because of the social distancing restrictions, we weren’t overwhelmed with friends and family coming over to see us upon our return, but they did welcome us warmly and make our return smoother.”
Gilad’s friend, Ron Snir, also returned to Israel from Singapore. In Snir’s case, though, she had been overseas for seven years. 
“In 2013, I was sent to Singapore as an economic attaché from Israel’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. I worked at the Israeli embassy for four years,” Snir says. “Afterwards, we stayed for another three years for my husband’s work and I found another job. We were really happy there. We were always saying that we wanted to move back to Israel someday, but we didn’t make any effort to start that process until COVID-19 hit and our plans changed overnight.”
“Well, lockdown in Israel was child’s play compared with the way lockdown is enforced in Singapore, where security personnel follow after you everywhere you go to make sure that you only buy essential items in the grocery store. If you step outside your home even for a moment when your mask isn’t completely covering your nose, you are fined $10,000. If you’re a foreigner, like we are, you’re immediately expelled permanently from the country. We definitely felt like we were living in a police state and we saw the really negative aspects of living in the type of democracy that is really more of a dictatorship. Add to this the feelings of loneliness since we were so far away from home. So, during the first lockdown, we decided we didn’t want to spend any more time living in Singapore during corona. We wanted to move back to Israel and look for jobs there. Luckily, I quickly found a job working for a start-up called Zoom in in Tel Aviv.”
MAOR VATURI: ‘We realized how awful it was being so far from our parents,’ in Brooklyn. (Imperva)MAOR VATURI: ‘We realized how awful it was being so far from our parents,’ in Brooklyn. (Imperva)
MAOR VATURI, a senior project manager at a cyber security company called Imperva, relocated to California to work in the company’s US headquarters. 
“My wife and I got married there, and although it took her a bit of time to get used to living in the US, we moved to Brooklyn six months ago since she found a job there,” Vaturi explains. “In general, we were really comfortable in the US, but then my wife gave birth and COVID-19 broke out, so we decided to go back home.”
What made you decide to come back to Israel?
“The first wave of the virus in New York was really scary, and the entire city came to a standstill. We were really lonely. We couldn’t come to Israel for a visit, and no one from Israel could come to see us either. Because of the social distancing restrictions, we couldn’t get together with friends, and in general life was unpleasant. Then, when our child was born, we realized how awful it was being so far from our parents. Even if they had wanted to come help us, they couldn’t, since the skies were closed. It’s hard enough being first-time parents, but to do this when you don’t have any support from family nearby is nearly impossible. So, we decided – albeit not wholeheartedly – to take the plunge and move back to Israel. We haven’t regretted our decision for even one moment.”
EYAL BERGER, a filmmaker, moved to the US four years ago with his wife, Karni Betzalel. 
FILMMAKER EYAL BERGER and wife Karni Betzalel left New York when their lease expired.FILMMAKER EYAL BERGER and wife Karni Betzalel left New York when their lease expired.
“For years we’d been fantasizing about moving overseas,” says Berger. “Then, one day while we were on vacation in London, we decided to just do it. Karni wanted to study acting in New York and I already had US citizenship, so we took advantage of this, and off we went. While Karni was in school, I began trying to ‘find myself.’ I started a side business walking people’s dogs. At some point, Karni got really homesick and wanted to return to Israel, but I was having a great time in New York. I loved the vibe there, so I kept trying to convince her to stay longer.”
And then corona hit.
“At the time, I had completed a few scripts for movies, and a few potential investors from Houston and New York had expressed interest, as well as a few funds in Israel. I had flown to Israel in February a year ago to hold auditions, right when corona was starting out. By the time I flew back to New York, everything there was already getting crazy, and I was beginning to realize that this wasn’t going to sort itself out in a few months. It felt like it was going to last a long time. Suddenly, I found myself alone, and all of the great things I loved about New York were no longer available anyway, which kind of made the city lose its charm. We couldn’t meet up with people, or even work together with other people. So, when our lease expired, we came back to Israel. There was no longer any benefit to staying in New York, since I couldn’t network anyway, which is so important for my line of work. It was really hard coming back to Israel, but the move made sense.”
MARIA SERGEYEV: ‘I was so lonely in Canada after COVID-19 hit.’MARIA SERGEYEV: ‘I was so lonely in Canada after COVID-19 hit.’
IN 2015, Maria Sergeyev moved to Canada with her father. Then, this past September, in part due to the coronavirus, she decided to return to Israel. 
“Most of my extended family is in Israel. Other than my father, I didn’t have any relatives in Canada,” explains Sergeyev. “I was so lonely there after COVID-19 hit. One day I asked myself, ‘What am I doing here when all of my family was back in Israel?’ I felt like I didn’t have any emotional support there. It’s not been easy acclimating back into Israeli society, but it was the right decision.”
“The number of Israelis considering returning home to Israel due to the coronavirus is growing every day,” claims Sheri Mahlev Goren, the founder of the ‘Back 2 Israel’ initiative. “So many Israeli families that had been living overseas for years decided to move back to Israel due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some people had been planning to come here just for a few months, but when they realized that their kids’ schooling would anyway be online, they decided to stay. They’re having all their stuff packed up and dealing with all the bureaucracy remotely from Israel. I also know of lots of Israeli families who really want to return to Israel, but cannot yet due to bureaucratic issues. 
“In general, there’s a much greater sense of community and solidarity here in Israel, which makes it a nicer place to be during a pandemic.” 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.