Time to come home: The Aliyah wave after Covid-19

נוסעים על אניית המעפילים "מדינת היהודים", Original Image Name:אניית המעפילים "מדינת היהודים"

Whether in Egypt, Persia, the Americas, Europe, or Far East, we have thrived speaking English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and Afrikaans, whether working in Law, Medicine, Architecture, Engineering, Literature, Arts and Culture, and across the centuries! The breadth of the Jewish Diaspora is as large, as our ability to devote passion to any field of knowledge and pursue excellence whilst doing it!

But here is an inconvenient truth: the Covid-19 global pandemic has made it evident, beyond any doubt, that Jewish life in the Jewish State is better protected than anywhere in the Diaspora. Israel will continue to be the world’s safest haven for Jews, and the destination par excellence where the corpus of our religious tradition and cultural expression will endure, thrive and flourish. This is where our present should be, because certainly this is where our future lies.

April 19, 2020. Last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at 21:00 that the imposed lockdown on Israeli citizens will be eased over the next two weeks, given the encouraging epidemiological surveillance of Covid-19. Make no mistake: the pandemic is far from over, and any sense of business-as-usual is ludicrous! Normality needs to be understood anew. Slowly and progressively. We are likely to experience a second or third wave of Covid-19 cases, before an effective immunisation campaign (if ever developed, since it is likely to provide immunity for only 60-70% of the population, not taking into account viral mutations) or a definitive treatment protocol for COVID-19 is found. Clinical trials abound and a fascinating interaction between scientists and physicians has developed to shorten the regulatory pathway from bench-to-bedside. 

However, in the meantime, the preliminary results of the biopsy of this pandemic already show some staggering figures:

  • ISRAEL: 9.1 million inhabitants; 13,362 diagnosed Covid-19 cases (3,653 already recovered), and 171 deaths. Mortality rate of 1.2% amongst diagnosed cases (20 deaths / million people)
  • BELGIUM: 11.4 million inhabitants; 37,183 diagnosed Covid-19 cases (8,348 already recovered), and 5,453 deaths. Mortality rate of 14.6% amongst diagnosed cases (471 deaths / million people)
  • SWITZERLAND: 8.57 million inhabitants;  27,404 diagnosed Covid-19 cases (17,100 recovered cases), and 1,368 deaths. Mortality rate of approximately 5% amongst diagnosed cases (158 deaths / million people)
  • USA: 329.5 million inhabitants; 738,923 diagnosed Covid-19 cases (68,291 recovered cases), and 39,015 deaths. A mortality rate of 5% amongst diagnosed cases (118 deaths / million people) 
  • UK: 67.5 million inhabitants; 114,217 diagnosed Covid-19 cases, and 15,464 deaths. A mortality rate of 13% (228 deaths / million people)

Bottomline is clear as daylight: Israeli early closure of airports, adoption of social distancing, a prevalent self-imposed restrain, lockdown, even contact tracing and GPS electronic monitoring have permitted Israel to thrive better than other European or North American counterparts. It is a perfectly legitimate debate to discuss the limits of governmental surveillance in light of the global pandemic – can the genie be returned to the bottle after all? Ultimately, the social contract between a citizen of Israel and the Israeli government is better understood than any other social contract across the Western democracies and Jewish citizens living there. True, and this is far from uniform in response, I trust my GPS data before a clerk in the Defence Ministry / Health Ministry more than I would do if it were found anywhere across the servers of this world. Naftali Bennett has my back after all.

Yes, the Israeli response is far from perfect: Mass testing is urgently needed, so can develop some type of immunological passport. Technical body advisors and politicians need to communicate better, and for goodness sake, we still need a unity government to avert 4th elections in a year! Enough of governance or legitimacy crisis. 

Besides that, If we are to be successful the message needs to reach everyone in our diverse, and often fractured society: from the Tel Aviv beach-goer going to coffee shops in Dizengoff avenue, Charedim attending illegal prayer quorums in Bnei Brak, politicians allegedly flouting rules during religious festivals, or Israeli Arabs needing to be extra strict and promote social distancing during Ramadan. Everyone needs to follow the rules! This storm will eventually pass

As King David writes in the Psalms:  Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight – it is because of wars we developed a degree of disaster preparedness (and resilience), unlike anywhere else. As a result, we could preserve supply chains of food, water and toiletries (yes, toilet paper included) all while boasting reserves, without causing too much social distress or panic buying. Israeli soldiers, indeed, have watched our backs and maintained peace and control of our borders whether in the Golan Heights, in the Negev and beyond enemy lines. Whether carrying a rifle or a diagnostic swab at hand our soldiers, MADA, Hatzalah, Mossad and Shin Bet, they all have our backs. 

The great majority of people in Israel values life and the preservation of life above and beyond anything else. Survival, like basic nucleotides, is ingrained in our DNA. And whether it is Bibi, Gantz, Lapid, Peretz Yalon, Ashkenazi, Yossi Cohen, or Moshe Bar-Siman Tov, everyone here is working for the safety and preservation of Life (including Jewish Life), in the Jewish State, about which Naphtali Herz Imber writes: 

“Our hope- the 2,000 year-old hope – will not be lost: To be a free people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem”

We don’t take chances. There is no plan B.

Here is the issue: I am writing this with a great sense of disquiet. It is painful to watch the loss of life – all life. Trust me, as a doctor (although no longer practising), there is nothing worse than life perishing in an ICU bed. Patient names change constantly at the start of a shift, when they are not being discharged but deceased or  simply expired in PC language. After all, Death, in its cruelty, has no religion or political orientation. Jewish life, however, has been disproportionately lost during this global pandemic in communities across the global Diaspora, whether in Milan, Manchester or Monsey. And I have lost count of the number of Tehillim chapters I have read every time my soul prompts me to do it, for complete strangers.

This piece will elicit a few diametrically opposite responses, to name two: 

The seasoned Israeli reader could promptly respond with : “Here is another naive, new immigrant, without mileage in Israeli society, lauding a partial response to a the Covid-19 storm, which would in any case be won in due course”. To you, my dear cynic and skeptic brother, I quote the known voice of Ben Gurion: ‘In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles”. 

And the seasoned Jewish chutznik reader, reading this whilst in the eye of storm, could respond like this: “We need no further politicisation of Aliyah. We are still grieving the loss of the stalwarts of our communities, and are in scores of pain. We don’t need to be lectured on Israel and Aliyah politics – you are being insensitive”. 

Know this, my dear brother or sister: Israel will be here for you, come what may! With you, I’ll sit in grief, in the house of morning, will share the despair or your silence, your loss is my loss too, but rest assured: We hate to see the gates of Israel closed to you, because of a global pandemic. After all, this is home – your home. Take ownership of it. Come home and break bread and drink wine with us. Here, where you belong. 

שִׁ֗יר הַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת בְּשׁ֣וּב יְ֭הוָה אֶת־שִׁיבַ֣ת צִיּ֑וֹן הָ֝יִ֗ינוּ כְּחֹלְמִֽים׃

אָ֤ז יִמָּלֵ֪א שְׂח֡וֹק פִּינוּ֮ וּלְשׁוֹנֵ֪נוּ רִ֫נָּ֥ה אָ֭ז יֹאמְר֣וּ בַגּוֹיִ֑ם הִגְדִּ֥יל יְ֝הוָ֗ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִם־אֵֽלֶּה׃

הִגְדִּ֣יל יְ֭הוָה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת עִמָּ֗נוּ הָיִ֥ינוּ שְׂמֵחִֽים׃
שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה אֶת־שבותנו [שְׁבִיתֵ֑נוּ] כַּאֲפִיקִ֥ים בַּנֶּֽגֶב׃
הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ׃
הָ֘ל֤וֹךְ יֵלֵ֨ךְ ׀ וּבָכֹה֮ נֹשֵׂ֪א מֶֽשֶׁךְ־הַ֫זָּ֥רַע בֹּֽ֬א־יָב֥וֹא בְרִנָּ֑ה נֹ֝שֵׂ֗א אֲלֻמֹּתָֽיו׃

About the Author
Dr. Gabriel Sapir is a medical doctor and strategic consultant in Biotechnology. He has a Master's in Global Health Sciences, Health Economics and International Development. Born in Brazil, he lived in the US, UK, Germany and Switzerland before moving to Israel where he now resides with his wife, Hannah. He contemplates life from the hills of Judah, in Efrat; loves Moroccan fish and Mujadarrah.
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