Coronavirus: Israel's airport closure keeps olim from doing business

Israeli citizens stuck in foreign countries filed a petition to the High Court, saying that their right to return home is a basic right that must be restored immediately.

(L-R): Jonathan Rosenblum, Jodi Samuels, and Jordy Alter. (photo credit: Courtesy)
(L-R): Jonathan Rosenblum, Jodi Samuels, and Jordy Alter.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel’s airport closure has made business travel unbearable for many olim (immigrants) who continue to do business abroad.
Ben-Gurion Airport is closed until at least February 7, and likely longer, as the government seeks to keep coronavirus mutations out of the country and pushes ahead with its countrywide vaccination campaign to achieve herd immunity.
The unusually strict measure comes when it was hoped that vaccinations could hasten the end of a series of painful pandemic restrictions.
On Wednesday, Israeli citizens stuck in foreign countries filed a petition to the High Court, saying that their right to return home is basic and must be restored immediately. But people are upset on both sides of the ocean.
“For the past 15 years, I have traveled back and forth between Beit Shemesh and my dental practice in New Jersey every two weeks, without any issues,” said Jordy Alter. “Even during the pandemic, I was able to continue doing so until now. I made some longer trips of four to six weeks during the summer, and I’ve done quarantine seven times, following all the rules as they kept changing. I got my vaccines, and I was looking forward to flying without any more interruptions, until everything changed.
“I was planning to fly back this Saturday night after Shabbat, but it is now totally unclear whether that flight will leave. United officially canceled all flights this week except that one, and I spent two hours on the phone with the company trying to find out whether that flight will actually leave. No one in the company has any idea.
“In the meantime, I’ve booked a flight Thursday morning through Frankfurt via Israir, which is the only connecting flight available, but I’ll have to wait until Friday for the connecting flight, since I couldn’t schedule my flight until my corona test came out negative. I hope I’ll make it in time for Shabbat.
“This is all due to a lack of communication. The government isn’t revealing its decisions until the last minute, and no one knows what is going on. I know a lot of doctors and lawyers whose livelihoods depend on this, and we are stranded. We have spent the past 11 months following all the rules every time they changed, and will continue following the rules, but this is very frustrating.”
Jonathan Rosenblum, CEO of Rithem Life Sciences and a foot and ankle specialist living in Beit Shemesh, expressed similar frustration. He is stuck in New York now, and unsure when he’ll be able to return home.
“I was supposed to leave this past week, but when I saw that the government would be closing the skies, I moved my schedule up a week,” he said. “I fly all over America to see clients, and had meetings in New Orleans, Dallas and other cities that I couldn’t miss.
“I need to get back as soon as possible. I have patients in Israel waiting for me to see their infected legs. I also have my first grandchild on the way very soon, and with Purim coming up, there is a lot of stress for me to get back. They keep extending the closure, and no one has any idea how long this will go on.
“All my work here is tainted by the closure. I’m stressed all the time, and everyone I meet with wants to talk about it. I got the vaccines, and I’m holding my green passport in my hand, but the government is working with fear, not facts.”
Jodi Samuels expressed similar frustration, although for her, the current closure is simply an extension of travel problems she has faced since the summer.
“I published my new book in July, but I have had to cancel every live event. I was planning a big tour around US cities, as well as visits to Australia and South Africa, but I couldn’t do any of them due to Israel’s travel policies. The government has changed its policies so many times, I never felt like I could be confident that if I left, I’d be let back in.
“Book launch events on Zoom are nothing like in real life. Many people attending the event log out after a few minutes, and there is no option to meet and sign autographed copies afterward. I canceled a trip in December, and I thought that I’d be able to travel in February once I had my shots, but now I have no idea what to expect.”