Israelis should take advantage of 'staycation' amid COVID-19 pandemic

There is neither a Hebrew word that is its equivalent nor is there such a concept in Hebrew.

El Al Israel Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)
El Al Israel Airlines planes are seen on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020.
Staycation is a concept familiar to American and British English speakers, appearing both in the Cambridge Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which pegs its origins to 1944. Times were tough then, too.
But even English-speaking Israelis require an explanation. There is neither a Hebrew word that is its equivalent nor is there such a concept in Hebrew. Stay home? Mah pitom? (Literally: What suddenly? In this context it means something closer to “No way, José!”).
Israelis are avid travelers. That may have much to do with living in a diminutive New Jersey-sized country that is also along a coastline on one side – but in Israel’s case with some not-too-charming neighbors positioned all around: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad and many more whose idea of neighborliness at times includes terror tunnels, missiles, rockets and incendiary balloons.
When the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty came about, Israeli national wanderlust gained the previously unimaginable and newly possible next-door destination of Cairo, and the 1994 treaty with Jordan made Amman and Petra reachable. Can Abu Dhabi be in the offing?
Since then the travel desire has only increased. It is understandable that post-army soldiers would want to have a much-needed break after their service. Many would fly anywhere seeking any color in nature besides khaki green, thus setting what has become a common ritual for many before buckling down to adult concerns. Once the travel bug bites, it does not let go.
“In 2019, 4.3 million Israelis, nearly half of the country’s 9.1 million citizens, traveled abroad, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Of those who left the country last year, 2.1 million traveled abroad twice or more during 2019,” Calcalist reported in January. By late February, the Health Ministry already required travelers entering and returning to Israel to quarantine. It is no wonder that many expressed a sense of injured entitlement when they realized their travel plans were abruptly halted.
Though skies are now edging toward opening, travel is still not so simple. There are many factors involved and the authorities are revamping the regulations daily. With so much unpredictability, local tourism is more common than ever – and often more spontaneous and last-minute.
The average household is not rushing to spend on travel while the bills pile up during health and economic uncertainties that may stretch for the long haul. With rapidly changing instructions, many are taking their time about charging anything to their credit card. Instead of FOMO (another modern concept: fear of missing out), there is now a fear of cancellations due to hotels potentially needing to lock down suddenly. Some hotels have consequently changed their cancellation policies to accommodate a justifiably nervous public.
On the other hand, people who have been sticking close to home are going a bit stir-crazy. No matter how talented home chefs may be, many are anxious for a change of scenery and cuisine. Indeed, the ambience of dining where one bums around in coffee-stained T-shirts while working remotely gets a tad stale.
The hovering threat of another lockdown for the coming holidays is emanating from behind the doors of the coronavirus cabinet meeting room. Carpe diem: It’s time to get out while the window is still open.
With the cost of getting there significantly reduced, one can reimagine how to vacation. Maybe shake things up with something out of the ordinary. Despite belt-tightening, there is a need for a mental health break from the domestic cycle of meal preparation and laundry. Just a jaunt or two nearby wearing oversized sunglasses, a straw hat with that going-away feel, eau de sunscreen and, of course, your mask – with spares tucked away in your daypack – one can easily imagine being transported somewhere unknown, discovering the familiar anew, and perhaps with a surprising whiff of foreign places.
Jerusalemites are exquisitely well-positioned to reap the wealth of fascinating sites to enjoy the best of what the city offers. Whether taking a day or a week off to play tourist, it is a great time to be a local. Admittedly, our Achilles’ heel is the lack of a beach, but we’ve got other stuff too, as evidenced by the huge numbers who come to see it.
Last year (2019) saw more than 4.5 million tourists visiting the Jewish state. Annual records for tourists arriving in Israel were broken “for the third consecutive year,” as reported by The Jerusalem Post, and a great many of those tourists made their way to Jerusalem.
Best of all, sites that are normally jammed with tourists are now remarkably accessible. The month of May – usually the peak of the high season – saw only 2,300 foreign visitors land in Israel, as reported in the Post. So, fewer lines, less waiting and less stress will likely be welcome changes as you zip around well into September, since the High Holy Days come after mid-month.