We as teens in America are rarely faced with the fear and unsettling knowledge that we need to stay in our homes. Israeli teens, on the other hand, are no strangers to the concept of uncertain times. Many have been trained to take cover from missiles and sleep in bomb shelters. However, in the case of fighting COVID-19, we are all in unchartered territory.
Israel took extreme measures to attack the coronavirus early on. On Jan. 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu banned travel from China, Italy and Singapore. The Israel Health Ministry instructed border control agents to refuse entry to anyone without an Israeli passport. All returning Israelis were required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Five weeks later, on March 4, Netanyahu added more countries to the ban: Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. As the virus spread throughout Israel, the prime minister continued to crack down on corona by shutting the courts, schools, and other places of gathering. The government recommended that citizens remain at home and practice social distancing. Large gatherings were prohibited.
On Thursday, March 19, Netanyahu passed an official law requiring citizens to remain in their homes, with the exception of going out for vital needs. These include employees of “essential services” going to work, stocking up on food and medicine, taking a short walk with 1-2 people or a few other reasons.
Many of Netanyahu’s actions are similar to those being put into effect in America, specifically on the East and West Coasts. Israeli and American teenagers are modifying their lives to survive this corona pandemic. Teenagers on both sides of the globe are learning to cope and work productively at home. While they do appreciate the time with family, it is difficult to be cooped up at home for a month straight.
Students around the world are joining classes virtually. According to Ora Fischman, a 17-year-old from Modiin, “Online classes are difficult and much less productive than a regular class. It is harder to participate and less interactive.” Charles S., a 16-year-old from New York, would agree. “While I appreciate all that the teachers are doing, online classes can never be the same as learning in a classroom,” he said.
Another similarity between the two countries is the new testing system. In America, Advance Placement (AP) Exams are offered to juniors and seniors who want to show dedication in a specific subject and want to receive credits for college. Because of the corona situation, the College Board has shortened AP exams from 2-4 hours to only 45-minute tests which will be taken online. Additionally, they have taken sections of material off the tests. High school senior Sophia K. from New York said, “I appreciate that the College Board is trying to help us, but I am nervous about the exams because a shorter test means that each question is worth more points.” Additionally, in the United States, the SAT and ACT tests for juniors were canceled in March and April. As of now, they will still be offered in June, July, August and September. This is causing significant stress for high school juniors who were planning to finish taking these tests in March or April.
Similarly, in Israel, high school students are required to take the standardized Bogrut tests at the end of their junior and senior years in order to apply to university. The Israeli government has recently decided to send out a list of exactly what will be on the test because they understand that learning at home is new and much less productive than learning in class. Adi Arenas, a 17-year-old from Zichron Yaakov, said, “My teachers can now place emphasis on exactly what will be on the tests. This takes away some stress about these exams.”
One major difference between the two countries is the drastic measures of the Prime Minister of Israel. In the past weeks, Netanyahu started to allow Israel’s Internal Security Agency (the Shin Bet) to tap into cell phone data and track the location and movements of those in quarantine. Since 2002, the Shin Bet has secretly been collecting telephone data to protect the nation against terrorism. For the first time, Netanyahu has permitted the agency to use said data in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The agency has specifically been keeping a close eye on those who have the virus, those who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, and those who returned from abroad in the past 14 days.
While some support the strict policies of Netanyahu and applaud him for protecting the Israeli community, others are protesting that Netanyahu’s actions are anti-democratic. On March 19, hundreds gathered on a main highway in Jerusalem, waving black flags and protesting this action.
As an American teen, the idea of having my cell phone tapped makes me a little uncomfortable. However, Arenas has a different perspective on the situation. She said, “We are a small country, so we all need to look out for each other. The coronavirus can kill people in endangered groups (either those with illnesses or the elderly), so while it is a little anti-democratic, I think that, given the situation, the government tracking people in quarantine is understandable.” Fischman agreed, but she did recognize the challenges that come with not leaving her home for a month. She said, “It is necessary to track people who should be in quarantine. If the whole country follows the rules, this situation will end faster, and many lives can be saved. It could be challenging, though, to follow all the strict procedures of the government.”
Another major difference between the American and Israeli teens is the newness of this situation. Israeli students are taught from a young age how to stay safe during terrorist attacks. Arenas said, “There are definitely some similarities [between the corona pandemic and terrorist attacks], like the fact that everyone’s in lockdown at home. But, at the same time, in the case of corona, we are staying home in order to prevent a disaster, whereas, in times of terrorism, the situation is less in our control and much scarier.”
The current situation around the world is both unprecedented and terrifying. Each country is trying its best to stop the spread of corona and keep as many people as possible healthy, while also not restricting people more than necessary. It is important to realize that while we may be separated, we are not so different from one another.
Our prayers for a speedy recovery are with anyone who is suffering during this time.Nike