Coronavirus travel lockdown: Let our families into Israel! - comment

Each person has their story to tell their children and grandchildren about how they lived through the pandemic and lockdown.

Passengers at the Departure hall at the Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 14, 2020.  (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Passengers at the Departure hall at the Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 14, 2020.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

It’s been more than two years since corona became front-page news and began spreading across the globe, taking hundreds of thousands of lives and causing upheavals the world over.

Hardly a soul on the planet has not in some way been affected by this tragic pandemic. Each person has a story to tell their children and grandchildren about how they lived through it.

This is not only my story, but the story of hundreds if not thousands of immigrants who got married alone, who were pregnant alone, and who gave birth alone because the government shut out their families during the most important moments of their lives.

This is the story of how successive governments of Israel have made me and many immigrants feel like third-class citizens, in a country that we came to willingly and eagerly and for which we left all of our family and friends.

This may be long but bear with me as I bare my soul to you, readers.

A cat is seen walking across the Jaffa Street light rail tracks in Jerusalem amid the tightened coronavirus lockdown. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)A cat is seen walking across the Jaffa Street light rail tracks in Jerusalem amid the tightened coronavirus lockdown. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

I left Canada for Israel in 2011, after I realized that in Israel I could sprout my wings and truly understand the freedom and strength that living in this country could offer me.

While my family was always on the other end of the text message or FaceTime call, I spent many of those years since I made aliyah alone. I grew alone. I went through war alone. I went through heartbreak alone. I went through crises alone.

But, I was addicted to this country, especially knowing that the comfort of home and the warm embrace of my parents and sisters was only a plane ride or two away.

Israel was my country, and Tel Aviv was my city.

It was in Israel where I met my husband, and we were just about to get married when corona struck. I was looking forward to having my entire family – including my extended family that had never been to Israel – meet this man and this country that I had fallen in love with.

Everyone had bought their tickets, I had picked out my dream wedding dress, and found the most incredible venue overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It was something I had hoped to share with my family, at that time still just an easy plane ride away.

Then in a blink of an eye, everything changed.

CORONA BROUGHT everything to a halt. The 450-person cliff-side sunset wedding I was getting excited about was canceled at the last moment.

It was like crashing into the back of a truck at full speed.

As the black cloud of a lockdown seemed to get nearer and nearer, we made the decision to nevertheless get married. The next day, we got married in my father-in-law’s synagogue, under my father-in-law’s tallit, with only 15 guests. I wore my mother’s wedding dress, but my family was stuck in lockdown in Canada and the United States, and had to join via Zoom.

The funny thing was, the rabbi who was supposed to marry us was diagnosed with corona that morning, and as we scrambled to get the wedding in order, we also had to scramble to find another rabbi.

Now, I’m not an emotional person, but I was heartbroken that evening. I never dreamed that I would get married alone. A year later, I still do not consider the ceremony a “wedding.” It was a religious ceremony, nothing more.

I GOT pregnant shortly after that and spent my entire pregnancy in some sort of lockdown – either one imposed by the government of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or one that was self-imposed.

Throughout the nine months, all I thought about was the loneliness. Not once did I feel lonely in all those years of being alone in Israel. I always had the option of flights to the True North, but those were no longer an option.

With my parents and sisters in high-risk groups, I was sure that they would not be able to make it to Israel for the birth. By luck, I was able to get an exemption for my sister to be here with me for the birth and brit milah of my son.

I was lucky. And, man, did I need my sister! Not only did she help with everything a new mother needs help with, but she helped me get out of my self-imposed lockdown. I needed to have a family member with me to be the shoulder I could lean on.

Every new mother can tell you that you need your family with you after giving birth, not only for the physical aspects of the postpartum period but for the mental aspects as well. Now I have my husband and his wonderful family. I’m really lucky with them. Trust me, they are incredible. But in-laws are not the same as your own flesh and blood.

And what about my son?

Again, corona. I can’t just hop in the car, drive down the highway and pull into my parent’s driveway. There’s no more easy one or two flights that can bring me, my husband and my son to my family.

Yes, there are the daily FaceTime calls, especially those from my adorable nephew and niece who call non-stop asking to speak to their cousin. The daily text messages and pictures being shared between us are also heartwarming.

But we are oceans apart. And I feel every single one of those 8,781 kilometers that separate us.

A grandchild is supposed to be brought up surrounded by family, his loving Israeli family, his savta and saba and his cousins with whom he will get in trouble. But he needs those hugs from his Bubby and Opa. My father always asks if he will recognize him once they meet, or if he will be confused because he’s no longer behind a screen.

THIS NEW chapter – one that needs that warm, familial embrace, the smell from my mother’s cooking (God, her brisket is to die for), my father’s stories (his voice is the most calming and reassuring out there) – is paused.

Israel opened her skies for what seemed like a short pause before the Omicron variant led the Bennett government to close them down again.

My mother was supposed to fly to Israel in mid-December, some two weeks after they closed the skies, to celebrate my son’s birthday. She even retired after close to five decades of practicing pediatrics in order to come and be with us. She fought to get her third vaccine in order to come to be with us.

The government exceptions committee will not even look at my mother if we send in a request. We are not celebrating a wedding or a bar mitzvah. What’s worse, if I had been expecting to give birth, her request would be denied.

That’s because parents of immigrants who are due to give birth are no longer exempt from these requirements.

How absurd is that? Exemptions are given for large events that can actually spread corona, like weddings, but not for births.

My situation is not unique. I’ve read so many posts on social media by expectant mothers who are begging for their parents to be allowed into the country. The stories are heartbreaking.

I’m sure that many would say I am lucky. I got married and had a child during this awful period we are living through. They are right, I am lucky. But I am also hurting.

I am hurting because I see Israelis, including the wife of our prime minister, jet off for vacations.

Meanwhile, soon-to-be-mothers who left their families to move to Israel will begin this new chapter in their lives alone. They will not have their mothers to lean on when they need them most.

Unlike last year when I was expecting, Israel and the entire world have learned a lot about the coronavirus, including that we should expect new variants to arise regularly. But with a vaccine, we are highly protected.

If vaccinated Israelis can travel abroad, why can’t vaccinated foreigners come for humanitarian reasons like the birth of a grandchild?

I love Israel, I really do. But I do not love feeling like a third-class citizen. Every ex-pat, actually every human being, feels that need for their family.

Naftali and Gilat Bennett and every other politician in Israel should know that.

Please: Let our families in.