Lea Thomas
Lea Thomas
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The mental rollercoaster of being a student shut out of Israel

We understand we're not citizens, and hence not the country's top priority for entry, but we're also not just tourists. It's affecting our mental health
Packed and Ready To Go
Packed and Ready To Go

Co-authored by Alexa Sussan, Brandon Werbel and Lea Thomas

Wake up, check the Israeli news. Go to online school, check the Israeli news. Complete homework, check the Israeli news. Go to sleep. Repeat. This is the life of a Jewish North American student waiting for Ben Gurion airport to reopen.

After being accepted to Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), we, along with 60 other teenagers, have been anxiously awaiting our arrival into Israel, while also taking all of the necessary Covid-19 precautions, such as quarantining, buying correct protective gear, and keeping up to date with new medical guidelines. As we get closer to each new start date, we cautiously begin to hope against hope that we will actually be able to leave. But with each new development, our hopes are quickly smashed again. The closure has affected us in a myriad of ways, including poor mental health and consistently dashed hopes of returning to somewhat normalcy.

As the news progressively worsened about our entry to Israel, our mental health did as well. With inconclusive government meetings causing a shortage of actual facts, the slew of unhelpful news articles gave false realities to many students. Students were constantly preparing for new start dates and stressing about a continued online school. Besides wanting to be immersed in Israeli culture, many students chose this program for the option of in-person learning and a sense of normalcy that is not readily available in their hometowns. Over fifty days since the start of our original pre-arrival quarantine date, our emotions have included many highs and lows. Many, many lows. Much of the blame for this can be placed on our uncertainty and vague information received from government and news sources.

Over the past few months, many students felt as if they were forgotten by the Israeli government. Despite our lack of citizenship, we still have a strong connection to Israel. While we understand the importance of bringing home Israeli citizens, many of us feel neglected by our home away from home and struggle with the fact that we may never get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many students have been planning and working tirelessly for the chance to live in Israel. Unfortunately, many citizens, similar to in the States, are not respecting the lockdowns or recommended social distancing and masking protocols. However, we should not be punished for the shortcomings of select Israelis. Despite this, we are very impressed and appreciative of all the Israeli government has done to pursue a strong vaccine program. It’s quite reassuring to know that Israel is leading the world in its vaccine distribution.

Instead of just focusing on the negative, we want to also share some positive aspects of North American teens coming to Israel. First, many of us hold a strong bond to Israel and want to further our Israeli education by being immersed in Israeli culture. This love for Israel will not only help in the short term, but it will also help during the long term by creating the next generation of Israelis. A great example of this is Avi Snowise, a participant on TRY in 2019. Since the amazing experience he had in Israel, he decided to make Aliyah and is now preparing to serve in the IDF. He is just one of many such people who were heavily influenced by an Israeli semester abroad experience. Secondly, our experiences in Israel will help us face Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism in North America and stand up against them. Actually spending time in Israel will give us invaluable experiences and information that we can utilize in real-world situations with people who are against the ideas of Judaism and Israel. Lastly, we can help with the economy. After being in absolute shut down for the past few months, Israel’s economy has taken a major hit. While we cannot completely fix this problem, students will help bring more money into circulation in the Israeli economy.

We are so thankful for all TRY has done to bring us to Israel, but at this point, it is out of the program’s hands. The TRY staff has gone out of their way to give emotional support, work odd hours, and plan amazing activities. Teachers have been very considerate about working during their evenings and helping us through these difficult times, all while providing us with a meaningful education. They have also helped create this amazing community, and even though we are not together in-person, we still feel like a family.

We understand that we are not citizens, and are therefore a second priority to the country. However, we are also not just tourists. We will be an actual part of the country for an extended period of time, and should not be lumped into the same category as other temporary visitors. While times are uncertain, we remain hopeful for better news in the coming weeks. We are very appreciative of all the time and work spent within the government to make Israel a safe and covid-free place.

About the Author
Lea Thomas is an American high school student who is attempting to participate in a study abroad program in Israel, but is unable to enter Israel due to the airport closure.
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