When I made aliyah, my parents and I had a plan: We would visit each other at least once a year.
It wasn’t easy for them when they hugged me goodbye at the airport. Although, as strong lovers of Israel, they were proud of my decision, it was also extremely difficult for them to be so far from me.
You see, I’m an only child. I am the only immediate family that my parents have in this world.
It’s no wonder that it’s hard for them to be far apart.
Since the pandemic hit, and Israel outlawed incoming travel for non-citizens, the theme of when I’ll next see them is a constant topic of conversation between us.
They bought tickets for Passover — but will they be let in?
Does it make sense for me to travel to New York, quarantine for two weeks, see them for a few days, and then quarantine again when I get back to Jerusalem? I’ve offered to do so, but, because I have a history of heart surgery, they are worried about my getting on a plane as long as the coronavirus is still a public health threat.
I was immensely relieved when I read Michal Cotler-Wunsh’s blog on The Times of Israel, about her advocacy for allowing olim to have visits from their families. But then I read that the accommodation for olim only applied to those who had made aliyah within the past four years.
I’ve been here for nearly eight.
I assume that the government thinks that new olim need more help from their family, and haven’t yet had time to build a support network in Israel.
To a certain extent, they’re right. But on the other hand, do my friends who’ve been here 10 years, have three kids, and no family in Israel, need less help then when they had just made aliyah and were part of a thriving singles community in Jerusalem? Do my friends who have been here 10 years and are single and have no family here, and are struggling with being stuck at home and limited dating opportunities in a pandemic, need a hug from their parents less then when they got here?
In the case of only children, the situation is even harder. My parents have been stuck at home because of the pandemic — they live in New York, which was one of the hardest hit areas. And they have nobody to rely on but me. That puts immense pressure on all of us, as we strive to emotionally support each other from afar.
I have no immediate family besides my husband and my parents. Would I have made aliyah if I knew that doing so would sunder me from two-thirds of my family?
Would my parents have let me make aliyah if they knew they wouldn’t be able to visit?
Not being able to have your parents — the closest family members, who’ve known you since you were born — visit changes the terms of aliyah, both for the children who move here and for the parents who are left behind.
Israel’s refusal to let in parents of olim who’ve been here more than four years may result in a massive movement of olim leaving Israel. It will certainly cause those who are currently in the Diaspora, and considering making aliyah, to think twice before committing and jumping on the plane.
I certainly know that I and many of my peers have been asking ourselves and each other: If the ban on entry for parents continues, would we consider leaving? For many of us, the answer is yes.
I have one plea for the Israeli government:
Ideally, I think you should let in the parents of all olim.
But if you won’t do that, can you please make an exception for olim who are only children?
I have no one but my parents, and they have no one but me.
Will you separate us indefinitely, as we don’t know when this pandemic will end?
The Jewish people’s survival for thousands of years has been in part due to the great value it places on family; the family-centered-ness is one of the things I love about Israeli culture. But that family centered-ness means that many of the MKs making these decisions are people who themselves enjoy Shabbat meals surrounded by extended parents, grand-parents, siblings, and nephews, making it very hard for them to imagine how it must feel to be a parent or child whose only immediate family is an ocean away.
Olim are already asked to sacrifice so much in order to be here: We give up our language, our culture, and our identity. Some of us give up career or financial opportunities. But this is one sacrifice too much to bear.
Please don’t ask me to give up on my family in order to fulfill the Zionist dream.
Please don’t ask my parents to be separated from their one child, the only person they have besides each other, just because I made aliyah eight years ago instead of four.