In spite of the coronavirus crisis, aliyah does not stop

According to data provided by the Jewish Agency to the Post, 163 olim have arrived in Israel since the beginning of March.

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS land in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter aliyah flight. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
YOUNG PROFESSIONALS land in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter aliyah flight.
(photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
For Rabbi David Bassous, 61, making aliyah represented a life-long dream. After retiring as the rabbi of Congregation Etz Ahaim Sephardic in Highland Park, New Jersey, the time had come to make his dream come true.
As he explained to The Jerusalem Post, in spite of the coronavirus crisis, Bassous arrived in Israel on Wednesday and is currently in self-isolation in his new home.
“It’s hard to be in quarantine. I can’t be on the streets, I can’t go for a walk. But I think Israel is the safest place to be right now,” he said.
Bassous is not an isolated case. Even in this time of difficulty, aliyah does not stop, even though extra precautions need to be taken and immigration proceeds in a “controlled and limited form,” the Jewish Agency said Sunday.
The semi-governmental agency, which is the key organization in assisting immigration to Israel for those eligible under the Law of Return, stated that before leaving their country of origin, all olim have to sign a form committing to self-isolation and providing the suitable location of their choice as required by the authorities to all those entering the country from abroad.
Those who want can choose to postpone moving, which is also what they are required to do if they are not willing to enter quarantine or cannot count on a suitable place to do so.
According to Jewish Agency data, 163 olim have arrived in March so far, in spite of the growing number of restrictive measures and flight cancelations. The organization added that there is no country from which Israel is denying aliyah.
As for Bassous, he even decided to move up his aliyah date by a few days, worrying that flights to Israel would be canceled.
His wife, Clara, had already moved a few weeks earlier and was able to set up the apartment for them, and can now take care of basic needs such as groceries. Bassous said that after he is done with the isolation, he is eager to take care of several errands, including taking the necessary steps to receive possessions shipped from the US and picking up his new identity card, but also just to take a walk in the streets of Jerusalem, where the couple now lives.
On Sunday, Nefesh B’Nefesh, which supports aliyah from North America and the UK, had planned to hold its Mega Aliyah event in New Jersey. But after the coronavirus outbreak intensified in the US, the event switched to online.
Yael Katsman, vice president of public relations and communications at Nefesh B’Nefesh, said that as of Sunday morning 1,250 people had pre-registered to attend, about the same number who had done so for the physical fair.
“Aliyah is continuing. We had two olim who arrived on Wednesday, the first ones who were forced to enter quarantine. We are cooperating very closely with the Jewish Agency and with the Absorption Ministry,” she said, adding that all the relevant entities are working to create different procedures to welcome immigrants in the country.
“There is a group of 24 olim who are scheduled to arrive on Thursday and are going to be remotely processed, which is a first,” Katsman said.
The newcomers are instructed to provide as much information as possible before arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport. Instead of visiting the airport immigration office after landing they will just hand in their passports and other relevant documents and receive back their paperwork in an expedited procedure.
Katsman added that the group will include people of diverse backgrounds and ages – families, retirees and singles – and that only a few elderly people who had originally planned to move decided to postpone.
Moreover, a hotline has been set up for those who enter quarantine to make sure that they are ok and to provide help. Special funding has also been allocated for this purpose.
“We also plan to open up lines for all our existing olim so that they can receive information and help. In general, our office is switching to an online mode and we are all going to work remotely,” Katsman said.
“In this period and until Passover, we are expecting about 60 or 70 olim,” she said, highlighting that it is too early in the year to know if 2020 will register a decrease in the number of immigrants. “The year has only just begun. At the moment, a very positive indicator is that people who had planned to come are still coming regardless of this new reality.”
Those who are deciding to make aliyah at this time or are working through the process are also going to continue to be assisted.
“We are operating as best as we can virtually, we are set up for it,” she concluded.
Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog said now is the time for mutual responsibility and social solidarity in Israel, among the Jewish people and throughout the entire world.
“We will take action to assist the Jewish communities around the world and to operate technological means and special programs in order to continue our ongoing activities in regions where it is not possible to work in the field,” he said.
The Jewish Agency announced that it set up a special Global Situation Room to deal with the emergency 24/7 to support new immigrants and Jewish communities around the world, where hundreds of its emissaries are operating, but also to ensure the continuation of assistance to thousands of seniors living in the organization’s Amigour assisted living facilities, and to help youth currently visiting Israel on Masa programs.
A hotline for immigrants operating in multiple languages is also in the process of being set up.
“Our prime concern is the well-being of the public in Israel and internationally, and it is our duty to assure the well-being and health of every Jewish Agency employee, including our Israeli emissaries stationed around the world, participants in our programs across the globe and in Israel, and the new immigrants making their new home in Israel,” Herzog added.