Tomorrow is the day I submit paperwork to the Israeli consulate in Atlanta in order for my family to travel in two weeks’ time. I will be taking an interesting class at Hebrew University (Conflict Resolution from Theory to Practice: Israel as a Case Study) and we will be visiting my son who moved back last summer. There is a level of trepidation that will unavoidably accompany this activity, just as there is whenever you set foot into unpredictable and uncontrollable territory. My fear has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with securing the necessary and sometimes elusive ishur — permit — for my family.
Currently, first-degree relatives can fly in. These individuals have to prove their relationship with prescribed documentation. There are also very reasonable hoops that need to be jumped through that are related to Covid-19. PCR test, proof of vaccine or recovery, proof of insurance, and once we’ve arrived, serological test and quarantine until the Ministry of Health sees results and releases.
The first-degree proof requirements were actually a bit more complicated initially, and so I joined the Facebook group Reunite Olim With Their Families early on to keep an eye on the situation. It provides “support, help and resources for olim and their families” and both its admins and members share advice.
They also share their horror stories.
Paperwork has to be submitted to consulates two weeks in advance. Although some accept in three. I think I’ve heard there are some that even allow people to send in four weeks early. Some don’t respond in a timely manner, and people are discouraged from sending in follow-up emails as they just clog their inboxes and slow things down. So, applicants are often left in limbo for a long time — and on occasion, past their planned departure date.
Another option – and one which many take advantage — is for the relative in Israel to go to his or her local branch of the Ministry of the Interior and apply on behalf of those outside the country. Never more than two weeks in advance. Each branch is different. One required people to be lined up before 6:00 AM and then didn’t accept them all for that day. Some didn’t offer appointments but only took walk ins. Some only accepted email. For those that went in person, there were more than a few instances where tears and persistence played a major part in one’s success.
Dov Lipman has been an amazing resource to many. Not only does he update the Reunite Facebook group with new information about changes in requirements or procedures when he learns of them, but he has singlehandedly made himself available to every person who needs help. Truthfully, he deserves a medal.
But it should not fall on one person’s shoulders.
The absence of a uniform and seamless procedure is not only bad optics, it is incredibly and unnecessarily frustrating. On more than one occasion, people have not been allowed to fly out because they did not get the ishur in time. I heard of one case where the person could fly to Europe but wasn’t allowed to board a connecting flight.
And so I, of course, am nervous as hell. I don’t want to have to ask my son in Jerusalem to go to the Ministry of the Interior on our behalf. I don’t want to have to ask Dov Lipman to intervene. But all I can do is cross my fingers and hope the paperwork I send tomorrow in neat little 5MB PDFs is what they want. And that they read it. And that they respond within the week, so there is time for my son to try at his end.
Yes, I have the a list of required documents, but I also know that we are an unusual family (and that some consulate websites have outdated information). My sons and I are actually dual citizens and so the son traveling with me and I do not need an ishur. But we are necessary for my husband and stepson to get theirs.
My husband and I have different last names; mine is also different from my sons. So while my Israeli passport reflects my current name, my old Israeli ID card does not. For my husband’s application to go, I need to include our marriage certificate to connect him to me. I am unsure if I also need to connect him to my son, but to play it safe, I have my son’s Israeli birth certificate which also reflects my maiden name.
For my stepson, I have to supply all of this plus his birth certificate to show he is his father’s son and ergo, my son’s stepbrother. This should satisfy a requirement for a first degree relative. I hope.
The flights and AirBnB are booked and paid for. Class starts a few days after we are supposed to land. While we still have to figure out where we will do the serology test when we land, I have a few leads for places in Jerusalem that aren’t crazily priced. We are waiting for the new vendor who replaces Check2Fly in order to book our PCR test in Israel (and wondering if they will also do serology at a reasonable price and with quick turnaround). Incredibly, I just learned that I may actually need to get the marriage certificate (but not my stepson’s birth certificate, since that requirement was dropped) notarized by an apostille.
I hope not. Who the hell knows. In some ways, it feels like it is all a crapshoot. Wish me luck.