(Business Traveller)

Déjà vu

My experience making Aliya during COVID-19

Growing up in an aliyah-oriented family, I always expected the inevitable: moving to Israel. But, along with the rest of the world, I had not anticipated COVID-19. I could not have foreseen my family making the five-thousand mile move from New Jersey across the Atlantic amidst a pandemic. Yet, here I am. 

Throughout the past eight months since the closure of my high school in New Jersey, I have experienced the saving grace nature of remote learning, the stir-crazed induced anxiety of being forced indoors, and now, have begun to recognize the disparities and similarities of life during COVID-19 in Israel to that in the United States. 

Israel’s citizens have seen it all. From garnering praise for the way in which it had dealt with the greatest health crisis the world has known in recent years to experiencing a plunging graph of infections and then, life getting back to the ‘new normal’ to lockdown once again. They made great sacrifices during the lockdown, and it almost seemed as though Israel had extricated itself from the health crisis and could turn its attention to dealing with the economic crisis that came in its wake. And that was when the second wave gripped the nation. 

While many other countries, including the United States, have seemingly begun to stabilize, with fewer cases per capita than Israel, Israel is suffering from a second wave, with more cases than at the height of the first wave. Despite the unique capsule system created to curb the numbers of infected students and those who would be forced into self-isolation by separating classes, by the third week of school, most schools in the country were shut down and forced to return to school over Zoom. My community agonized over its coronavirus status according to Israel’s Coronavirus Cabinet’s “stoplight” system, which classifies cities, towns, and local authorities as red, orange, yellow, or green depending on their COVID numbers. Implemented as a tool to help authorities decide what measures to take in order to stem outbreaks, our color would determine which localized public health restrictions would be instituted. Then, as the number of daily new coronavirus cases passed 4,000 for the first time, the entire nation was shut down —and under lockdown once again. 

What’s worse than a complete lockdown and isolation for two months? Getting up and moving to a new country just to do it all over again. It has not been easy. Since my family moved to a predominantly English-speaking community in Beit Shemesh and I currently attend a school in Jerusalem known for its services for new immigrants, I did not experience as much of a culture shock as I dreaded. The kids in my community are incredibly friendly and welcoming, however, my school closed after only two weeks of an already compromised in-person to Zoom school week ratio. So, it has been difficult to make friends and find my footing. A language barrier to accompany my physical barrier. Thankfully though, thus far, these have been my only minor complications related to the move during COVID-19. 

However, my personal experience in lockdown is insignificant; this virus is universal and doesn’t discriminate at the borders. The risk of infection is high, but it is everywhere. The number of cases began to climb the charts once again in my hometown as well, but not as steeply as we are experiencing in Israel. 

Thus, the question regarding why begs an answer. How did the nation suffering from a year-long political crisis due to its failure to form a government and its resulting public unrest become the world’s model and fall so starkly so soon? How have the mighty fallen and what precautions, if any, are other countries supposed to implement in order to prevent a relapse such as this? 

Economist Emily Oster argued in a piece ran in the Atlantic in July, “Perhaps Israel is faring less well than European countries because it opened with fewer social-distancing measures.” She added, “One difference between Israel and countries such as France and Sweden is that Israel opened all its schools at once, and others started with younger children.” 

Now, add political turmoil and the rage that ensues following a Prime Minister’s controversial trial. Social justice in the age of coronavirus is another discussion within itself, but case in point, demonstrators’ gatherings do not help curb the virus. Similarly, the same is true for the United States. With mass protests against racism condoned and encouraged by Public Health Officials despite the risks caused by a disregard for social distancing, the confounding and inconsistent message is spread that social justice matters more than social distancing. 

However, speculation aside, a second wave due to reopening the world hits hard anywhere. The entire world longs for normality, but the fact is that they can’t have it. The “new normal” cannot consist of two meters of social distancing deteriorating to one or half and masks resting below the nose or on the chin. Human nature and a tired culture cannot prevail during COVID-19. That is Israel’s coronavirus legacy.


Ora Gutfreund is a sophomore at Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, N.J. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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