Let us Come ‘Home’

Kotel 2019 Photo Credit: Emily Katz

This is an Open Letter to Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Lapid, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Tourism and anyone else who will listen:

As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor growing up in Brooklyn, NY, I never suffered from any of the depression or other issues that some Second Generation children did. I read many stories of Second Generation PTSD and although I sympathized, I felt relieved that I didn’t suffer from that.  Maybe it was because my mother was an American Jew or maybe it was because although my father screamed in his sleep every single night, he woke up in the morning with a smile on his face and loved us with all of his heart and soul.  I understood at a very young age that my father lost his entire family and that the only thing preventing this from happening again was that we now had the State of Israel.  My father didn’t have any quirks with the exception of one thing.  He always made sure that our passports were up to date and that we had enough money to leave to Israel if things got bad for the Jews here.  I felt completely safe as a Jew in the US but found myself checking my passport more often than I should have.

I understood very clearly that the only difference between “then” and now was that we would always have a safe haven in Israel. Anytime I felt even a little bit nervous about world events, the fact that I could get to Israel if I needed to was a constant comfort.  I have thought about this safe haven so many times in my life, not only in bad times, but also feeling blessed that I have not one home, but 2.

In 1967 my father found his only living relative, his first cousin in Israel and at the age of 8, I made my first trip to Israel and immediately fell in love with the country and our new family which has grown so beautifully over the years and with whom we share a very close and special bond.   We have been blessed to be able to visit Israel many, many times over the years.

My husband was born in Israel so he and my 4 daughters all have Israeli passports.  We are so connected to our “home” even though we live happily in the US.   I have 2 children currently living in Israel and I took comfort in the fact that although they are far away, I can visit them whenever I want to.

I last landed in Israel on March 5, 2020 and landed back in New Jersey on March 11 just a few days before everything in the US shut down.  It’s been a tough year for so many in so many ways and being so far away from my kids and knowing that I cannot get there to see them has been very difficult to deal with. However, I am concentrating on the good and   am so grateful that we survived and were able to get our vaccines.

During this past year, I realized that the PTSD that I was sure I didn’t suffer from was just under the surface and not being able to get into Israel was terrifying.  How could it be that the country of my heart and soul wouldn’t let me in?  What if things went “bad” here?  It is simply terrifying to think that the doors to Israel are closed to me.  I realized that I didn’t escape the PTSD of the Second Generation after all.  Surely, the country of Israel would realize that not being able to get into the country would be traumatic to us and even more so to the children of survivors.

I am in awe and filled with pride at how my tiny country handled the pandemic and especially the vaccination program and I understand that caution must be exercised to keep the citizens of Israel safe.

So many people have so many compelling reasons to want to visit-parents, children and grandchildren that they haven’t seen in over a year, but there is an extra layer of fear for the children of Holocaust survivors.  Israel being closed to us is terrifying.

As soon as vaccines became available, I stayed up until all hours of the night trying to get an appointment and made sure I got the Pfizer vaccine. After all, Israel used the Pfizer vaccine almost exclusively so if I could get the Pfizer vaccine, surely I could go to see my kids.  I finally got my vaccine which was such a huge relief. I can go see my kids now!!!

Not so fast!  I can’t simply get on a plane and go to the home that I always knew was mine?  I can’t see my children even though I am vaccinated?  How can this be?  I understand the concern that Israel has but surely there must be a way for them to verify that I have been properly vaccinated.  This is 2021. I know that bar codes were scanned into the computer when I got my vaccine.  Why doesn’t the United States have a digital database that foreign countries can access?

The requirements for getting into Israel are arduous. I have to apply to the NY Consulate 2 weeks before we leave and we need an appostile for our marriage certificate and tests upon tests upon more tests which will probably cost way over $1000 for 3 people.  I booked a flight for myself, my husband and my youngest daughter for June 30 in the hopes that the requirements will ease up a little by then.  The stress of having to submit so much documentation or sending our kids to wait on line at 5 am to get the approvals just 2 weeks before our flight is overwhelming.  Surely there is an easier way to do this.

I don’t want to present a problem that is already well known and discussed without a solution. After much thought, I would ask that the following be considered for vaccinated people.  (I don’t understand enough about the science for unvaccinated or recovered people to offer a solution for that.)

I don’t see any reason to distinguish between first degree relatives and others.  Although I do have first degree relatives in Israel, someone wanting to see their grandparents or honestly anyone else for that matter should have a simple path to do so.  I don’t think the Embassies need to be involved in this process at all.

For those of us who have been vaccinated, please allow us to get the antibody test in our home countries through a Laboratory that can email the results directly to a Laboratory or the Ministry of Health in Israel 2 weeks before our flight. We wouldn’t have any access to that system so there would be no question of tampering.  If we have the proper antibodies, we would receive an email from the MOH (just like they are doing now) allowing us entry into the country. If the antibody test is negative, we wouldn’t even be allowed onto the plane.  We would still need the PCR test within 72 hours of departure and we would still need to take the PCR test at the airport upon landing.  Once the results from the PCR test taken at Ben Gurion come in, we would then get a digital “Green Pass” and be able to leave quarantine and stay in hotels, etc.  It is my understanding that the results of the PCR test come in very quickly which would eliminate so much stress and confusion.

This would boost the tourism industry and allow us to see our families and would ease the burden on the embassies as well.

Our children are living in Israel and we are suffering from so many personal issues on so many levels.  Someone please hear our pleas and help us to be able to come “home” to the place that was promised to us to be our forever safe place without so much stress and confusion.

Michelle R. Katz

About the Author
Michelle Katz is a real estate attorney and the mother of 4 girls. She has 2 daughters currently living in Israel. Her father was a Holocaust survivor and they have a small but amazing family in Israel. Although they reside in the US, Israel is the home of their heart and soul.
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