Lockdown, quarantine, cancelled flights: Can we get to Israel?

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In recent months, Telfed received numerous calls from concerned community members anxious to learn whether Aliyah would be possible.

While Telfed’s office remained open, the Israel Centre (our Aliyah partners in South Africa), switched to remote working. Their efforts in helping Olim reach Israel, no small feat during the lockdown, ensured a resumption of Aliyah after a 2-month hiatus.

In a recent meeting with Telfed’s Directorate, Liat Arran, Director of the Israel Centre in South Africa, said that while “there has been greater interest in Aliyah since the start of the pandemic, the reasons for making Aliyah from South Africa are wide-ranging and include fulfilling a lifelong dream of living in Israel, joining family members and concerns for the future and economic prospects.” One of the challenges the Israel Centre has had to work around has been limited flights. Olim have only been able to join repatriation flights at the eleventh hour – a deterrent for some. Australian Olim faced similar challenges, not quite sure how to actually get to Israel as airports closed and flights cancelled.

According to Shay Felber, Director General of the Jewish Agency’s Integration and Aliyah Unit, COVID-19 has resulted in “a major increase in interest in making Aliyah, particularly from the USA, France and Argentina.” The main reasons for this are: the increase in antisemitism; how governments responded to the crisis; Israel’s advanced, public medical system; and economic concerns within diaspora communities. Economic uncertainty is pushing Australians and South Africans to consider Aliyah, although Zionism remains the leading pull factor for Australian Olim. “Israel has the experience and ability to absorb large waves of immigration during a crisis,” said Shay. “Together with the Ministry of Absorption, the Jewish Agency is working on a multi-year plan for the absorption of 250 000 new Olim over the next five years.” Growing periphery communities (in the Negev and the Galilee) is central to this strategy.

Liat offers cautionary advice: “Given the exchange rate and the financial difficulties facing many immigrants, adjustments to one’s new standard of living compared to South Africa can be traumatic. Israel is dealing with a higher than usual unemployment rate, and those who arrive without employment must understand that they will need sufficient savings as a safety net.”

“During the Corona Crisis, new Olim must prepare for unprecedented bureaucratic processes,” warns Daniela Shapira, Telfed’s Aliyah and Klita Advisor. “Upon their arrival, new Olim will first have to go into quarantine for 14 days and will not be able to visit any government offices. This affects receiving a Teudat Zehut ID, opening a bank account, finalising health insurance, applying for Sal Klita payments etc.” Daniela continues: “It is important to be in touch with us when you arrive so we can help you plan your first steps more effectively.”

Shay, Liat and Daniela all stress the importance of planning. “And,” reminded Liat, “this is a long, long journey that needs to be taken step by step. It takes time to feel at home.”

Future Olim in South Africa and Australia can reach out to Telfed to receive information and guidance about the job market, housing, schooling, army, communities, special needs, and other information. Daniela’s advice to new Olim is to be flexible, “keeping in mind that the current situation is dynamic and the guidelines and procedures for Aliyah are, therefore, constantly changing.”

Telfed www.telfed.org.il

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