Bring Them Home

Whenever and wherever Jews find themselves in trouble – survivors of the most heinous anti-Semitism; hostages on a distant tarmac; injured trekkers in the Himalayas; backpackers lost in the Amazon; naïve youth and prisoners of conscience incarcerated on foreign soil; long-lost brethren clinging to the faith in sun-baked shanties – Israel comes to their rescue. No matter the difficulty, no matter the danger, no matter the cost, Israel takes care of its own.

At least that’s the way it used to be.

If we needed any more proof that the coronavirus has drained every last bit of common sense, compassion, and perspective from those in power, Israel’s heartless abandonment of hundreds of its own citizens who are stranded abroad has brought that message – instead of those unfortunate Israelis – home.

We’re not talking about people who left the country because they were desperate for a vacation (aren’t we all?) or indulging in wanderlust.  Some of the stranded fall into that category, but the vast majority are people who had to travel for work (yes, Mr. Prime Minister, much as you try to hamper them, people are still trying to make a living) or urgent family matters such as being with sick or dying loved ones.  And then there are the new olim who courageously packed up their old lives, put their worldly belongings on a ship, and threw away their house keys, only to have the door shut in their faces at the eleventh hour.  Families have been literally left homeless.

Hundreds of stranded Israelis managed to make their way to Frankfurt, Germany where they were promised a rescue flight home last week. That flight has been repeatedly delayed due to government bickering over “the rules.” Like a store employee telling you she can’t process your return because “the computer won’t let me,” Israel has become a slave to its own dehumanizing regulations. This is a crisis that goes far beyond virus control.

Former MK and longtime advocate for Anglo Israelis Dov Lipman just released a video featuring pleas by stranded, certified coronavirus-free American Israelis begging to be allowed to return home to their families. A man who had to travel for work and whose wife and seven kids need him at home. A young mother who had an urgent family matter and due to the delay in returning has missed the window for receiving her second dose of the vaccine. A man who will miss his own daughter’s wedding if he doesn’t get back soon. A woman who flew to join her family when her grandmother passed away. A dental surgeon who went to treat patients in the U.S. and has a backlog of patients, and a wife and five children, waiting for him here.

Watching this video filled me with sympathy for their plight but also with a burning sense of injustice. Why are innocent Israelis, already struggling with the harsh realities of corona totalitarianism like the rest of us, being treated like criminals when all they did is buy a round-trip plane ticket? Why is Israel acting as if allowing them back in, subject to testing, of course, would somehow push the country past the tipping point when the virus is already well past ubiquitous?

Israel, which treats citizens of enemy countries, terrorists even, in its hospital wards, suddenly has no room for its own good men and women.

Last March, at the start of the pandemic, the government flew home planeloads of Israelis stranded in South America and India amid looming closures. Videos of passengers and crew cheering and singing together went viral.  That’s the Israel we know, the Israel that makes us revel in pride.

It’s been barely a year but so much has been lost since then.  Lives. Livelihoods. Mental, psychological, and physical well-being. But along with those has come a loss so epic it makes me wonder what this G-d-given country will look like when this is all over:  Israel’s sense of purpose, its singular moral clarity, its allegiance to the principle of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.

And make no mistake:  Though these new and old Israelis will eventually, hopefully soon, be allowed home, nothing will remove the ugly stain of what has transpired, the way they have been treated, much like how those Israelis returning from the UK weeks ago were herded onto buses and forced into dirty hotel rooms without warning – the abrogation of human dignity.

What happened to “No Jew Left Behind”?  What happened to Israel?

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., is a contributing editor for The Jewish Press and a freelance writer and editor. Her second children's book, Tzippi Inside/Out, has just been published by Targum Press. She feels grateful to be living with her husband and children in Jerusalem.
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