Making Aliyah during COVID-19

Mike and Glynnis Sklar

On 15 June 2020 at 4.55am, we began our long-awaited dream of making Aliyah but nothing could have prepared us for the fortnight leading up to our journey. 

The last Aliyah flight took off on 23 March, so we had resigned ourselves to having to wait at least until September to fulfil our dream. 

On 2 June, we were added to a Whatsapp group: ‘Have visa — waiting for flight’ and the rollercoaster began. We needed permission from the Department of Home Affairs to leave South Africa and permission from the Israeli government to enter Israel. 

Under the Level 3 Lockdown, SA Passport holders could travel internationally “to take up residence in another country on condition of having a valid passport, an air ticket and permission to enter the destination country.” When we eventually received our tickets and instructions for travel, we were over the moon. 

We arrived at the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria on the Sunday morning where the Olim were processed separately, before boarding our bus to the airport. Normally a vibrant place, buzzing with people, OR Tambo Airport was in near total darkness. No advertising boards flashing, no flight information, no announcements and no duty-free shops. It felt quite eerie.

We were so excited to finally be on the plane but the atmosphere was somewhat sombre. There was plenty space, even for social distancing and we all wore face masks. There was no inflight entertainment. The lights remained off for most of the flight. Communication from the cockpit and crew was limited to the essentials.

The second leg of the flight was just as interesting. We were on a smaller aircraft, with more passengers which meant no chance of social distancing. Wearing a mask was compulsory but that was where the COVID-19 protocols ended.

Landing at Ben Gurion Airport was both exciting and surreal. An IDF officer explained the procedures before we could disembark. The airport was deserted but at least the lights were on! 

We were met by representatives of the Ministry of Aliyah and Klita, and whisked through all the security checks, which included having our temperature taken. Our Aliyah was processed and 2 hours later, after filling in a compulsory online quarantine declaration and collecting our luggage, we were escorted to a taxi and driven to our chosen quarantine destination.

Making Aliyah is an amazing experience. Traveling as we did under COVID-19 regulations was totally surreal. There was no-one to see us off in Johannesburg, no family to welcome us at the airport but we feel so grateful to have made this journey.

The most ‘normal’ part our story is that Baruch HaShem we are home — in our Jewish homeland — and we could not be happier to begin the next chapter of our lives.

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