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Government coronavirus restrictions severely impact olim

CM 12/08/2021

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‘It just seems that there’s no humanity,” said Mandi Brandiss, whose mother living in Australia requested an entry permit into Israel five times to assist her own mother, Mandi’s 95-year-old grandmother, after surgery, and was denied five times.
“You make aliyah because Israel is your country, but without knowing the language and without having a home. But when you get married, you at least want to have your parents there,” said Javah Levy, whose parents living in Spain were denied entry permits into Israel for Javah’s wedding.
“I have no family here. During the whole pandemic I was here completely alone. I was looking forward to this date for so long and to be together with my family in the Jewish state, and that was taken away,” said Yael Wool, who last week postponed her wedding, which was scheduled for later this month, because too many of her close family members were not able to obtain entry permits.
These three comments by three olim [immigrants], made over the course of the last five months, represent the extreme disappointment and frustration of thousands of olim over the last year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic.Already a month ago, with coronavirus infections rising once again in Israel and abroad, the government reimposed strict entry permit conditions on numerous countries with large Jewish populations and large numbers of citizens who had immigrated to the Jewish state, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and South Africa, adding the UK to that list two weeks ago.

Once again, olim from many countries around the world would face renewed difficulties having their closest relatives come and see them, some for the first time since the pandemic began.
But inside Israel, the “green pass” system designed to limit infection was not instituted for gatherings of less than 100 people, and even then barely enforced.
Asked why internal restrictions were not being implemented and enforced faster, one adviser close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it was to scare people into getting a third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The pandemic has had a severe effect on many olim, large numbers of whom have little or no close family in Israel at a time when such familial support is needed most. It has been especially hard for those celebrating weddings, births, bar and bat mitzvahs and other celebrations who could not have their close family at their sides for the most joyous occasions of their lives.
SOME PROMINENT olim are, however, arguing that the coronavirus crisis is merely a symptom of a larger problem in which government officials, ministers, MKs and the public at large are not empathetic to the needs of immigrants and unaware of the difficulties they face.
Problems with professional and academic accreditation, the treatment of lone soldiers, lack of English-language assistance especially for very new immigrants, mental health concerns, appropriate out-of-school frameworks for children, and more are just some of the struggles that many olim continue to experience but have not been adequately addressed.
“Israel remains a country which loves aliyah but doesn’t necessarily love olim,” said Michal Cotler-Wunsh, a former MK in the previous Knesset who came to Israel from Canada.
“COVID has highlighted and exacerbated the situation for olim,” she continued, noting that problems faced by earlier waves of aliyah in the country’s infancy, albeit far worse than those experienced today, left lasting scars on the country.
“The lack of consideration for olim hurts the country in the long run and it builds up long-term resentments” said Cotler-Wunsh.
She said that the country needs a “complete shift in understanding” and that it must be understood that when the government makes decisions, it has to look at all possible consequences of those decisions, including the impact on immigrants.
“The perspective must be that consideration for olim is a right, not a kindness; there has to be a paradigm shift in the understanding of the government towards immigrants,” she said.
What is critical, said Cotler-Wunsh, is that olim get a place at the decision-making table in order to make their voices heard and influence decisions before they are made.
This is something with which Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who made aliyah from the UK, heartily agrees with.
“There are not enough olim in the corridors of power,” she said simply.
“It’s a very disappointing thing that it takes so much convincing and cajoling for the needs of olim to be taken into account, instead of it being the first thing people think about as a country of immigrants,” said Hassan-Nahoum.
She added, however, that the Anglophone community in particular, with olim from English-speaking countries, has something of a built-in disadvantage in that such olim are “a bit more soft-spoken” and are less inclined to be as assertive as a country like Israel requires.
“Often Israelis are more abrasive than the average soft-spoken English-speaking immigrant. It’s a tough society, and those who shout loudest get the attention,” said Hassan-Nahoum.
But, she said, the problems olim have faced during the COVID-19 crisis may constitute a watershed moment, and she said she sees greater activism and organization by olim, including specifically English-speaking olim, due to the problems the pandemic has caused.
Dov Lipman, another former MK, has been assisting olim and their family members entering the country since the pandemic began, and has now created an organization, Yad L’Olim, to assist immigrants seeking to have their relatives visit them, and to deal with other concerns facing olim.
Lipman said he and his organization have dealt with thousands of cases in which the relatives of olim have sought desperately to get into the country for a celebration, to give support and assistance to their relatives in Israel, or simply to visit immediate family members they have not been able see for a year and a half.
“The current state of affairs is causing tremendous sadness. As a whole, I don’t think people in Israel understand how challenging it is to be away from family,” he said.
“And then not being able to have them be part of your lives at these important moments in life is so difficult.
Lipman said that when he sits with MKs and government officials, they often express indifference to the needs of olim at this time, until he explains the situation and they begin to understand the nature of the problem.
“When I sit with MKs and other officials and lay out the issues, they want to help. Having a voice, working with the members of Knesset, committees and ministers, is really important to advancing the interests of olim,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to effect change around the world in innumerable aspects of human life and behavior, with Israel no exception.
Immigrants in the Jewish state have felt the effects of the global health crisis keenly, and continue to face the ongoing impact of the absence of close family as a result of it.
Cotler-Wunsh asserted that the unique characteristics of different groups of immigrants is a fundamental part of the country’s character but one that has never been properly appreciated.
“It’s not a melting pot; it’s a mosaic. But the contribution and influence of different waves of immigration has never been acknowledged for the dignity of difference, for what they bring with them,” she said.
“We were always 12 tribes, and we could never manage in war or peace without all having proper representation.”
Perhaps the difficulties felt over the past 18 months will become a catalyst to redress the problems olim have faced during this time.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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