Israel is a country of olim (immigrants), a country that is beautifully diverse and rich in flavor, largely in part due to the millions of immigrants who, since its establishment, have uprooted their lives in their home countries with the intention of building a life in Israel. Many of us move here out of love for this country and with the hope that we may live lives that are richer and fuller. But most significantly, we move here with the assumption that the government will be there to support us, as olim and as citizens.
But this past year, during a real and raw moment of truth, Israel has shown a darker side – specifically when it comes to the recognition of the basic needs of us olim.
The skies closed to travelers in March of 2020, and after much advocating, was opened to parents of olim for births, weddings, and funerals. In January of 2021, when the skies closed, this opportunity ended. However, when the skies reopened recently, everyone expected these exceptions to become valid again. With the understanding that we are still contending with a global pandemic and that protecting the public’s health and safety is of the utmost importance, as olim, we find the current situation preventing the entry of our immediate family members simply unconscionable. Many, if not all, of the parents applying to come in have been vaccinated and are willing to do testing to prove it and/or quarantine if that is the requirement. And yet, we receive rejection letters as athletes and students are granted entry to participate in athletic events and for study. Where is the humanity in this?
In particular, the skies being closed to non-residents/non-citizens represents a unique challenge for olot giving birth. As olot, it is incomprehensible that births are not being considered as part of the entry exceptions, specifically under the category of: “To provide assistance to a first-degree relative who is in distress, and cannot receive assistance from someone else in Israel.”
Birth and the first few weeks of postpartum are often the most challenging. Many olot – whose only family in Israel is their partner – are unable to access the vital support and assistance that parents/immediate family members provide. As a result, many olot are now struggling through this challenging period on their own. Given that spouses do not get extended parental leave, grandparents play a vital role in providing support for olot giving birth and within the few weeks following birth. Right now, olot are being forced into isolation, forced to recover physically while caring for a newborn (and in many cases older children as well) without family support nearby.
While those born in Israel have the family support they need here, the current closure of the skies discriminates against olot whose families live abroad, leaving us completely alone and in desperate need of our families’ support during this time of distress.
For these reasons, and many more, we are speaking out and sharing our stories. We hope that our personal anecdotes shed light on the importance and urgency of this issue – an issue that demands immediate attention.
Israel, here are some of your own citizen’s birth stories and the stories of our children’s first year in this world.
My husband and I are olim from the United States. My husband’s brother lives in Israel with his family, but because they have kids, we knew we would not want them to help us much once the baby was born due to the risk of infection. Aside from them, we don’t have close family here. We knew we wouldn’t want too many people around helping because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was due mid-March, and we wanted my parents to come in mid-February in order to give them time to quarantine for two weeks before helping us prepare for the baby (they had an Airbnb booked, but would of course have stayed in one of Israel’s corona hotels if that was the requirement). They were going to cook and freeze food, as well as help us clean the house. Once the baby came, the plan was for them to help with my recovery, help with the baby, and help around the house (including preparations for Pesach).
February came and went and they weren’t allowed in. They kept re-booking their flights and even got fully vaccinated. I finally gave birth on March 17. But my parents were still not able to enter the country.
The birth was incredibly difficult, with a 50-hour labor, and, in the end, an emergency C-section. We were not prepared for the recovery from a C-section (I’m still recovering). We applied again, multiple times, now including the fact that I had an emergency C-section and needed extra help urgently. But the rejection kept coming. We are lucky that my husband is a teacher, and happened to be on break, so he has been around. All I’m able to do for the baby is feed him and change him.
Until a few days ago, I wasn’t even able to lift him from his crib or put him back by myself. For Pesach, a friend helped with cleaning, my husband took out a few things and some friends made us some food, but this doesn’t compare to what it would have been had my parents been here.
Tomorrow my husband goes back to work and I’ll be on my own. While I have definitely improved, I am in no way fully healed, and we still cannot get my parents here.
How is it that athletes (who weren’t even vaccinated) can enter Israel, but our parents cannot enter in order to help with one of the hardest periods of one’s life? I have never regretted more my decision to move away from my family.
I made aliyah over 7 years ago from the UK as an independent 21-year old, knowing that I’d go through long phases without my family (parents and two sisters) back home. But never did I expect to go through key life events alone.
Over the last year, I’ve had to reschedule my wedding three times. One of those instances was only a few days before it was meant to go ahead as the UK became listed as a “Red” country.
I have a new wedding date scheduled for the first week of May 2021, in just four weeks time. Unfortunately, I’m waiting to see if my parents (both of whom are vaccinated!) can fly in from the UK. After explaining the situation to our venue, they’ve been reluctant to return our deposit (our original date was in this same venue in May 2020). They’ve now opened the May 2021 date to new couples – so it may be given away very soon if my parents aren’t given permission to enter Israel.
To make matters more complicated, I’m 4.5 months pregnant. Having children has always been very important to us – we were supposed to be married now for nearly a year and putting children off is no longer an option. If we do get married in a few weeks, I’ll need to buy a new dress (for obvious reasons –the old one no longer fits!), send invites out and organize some more vendors (again) – “bli lachatz!”
The venue is outdoors and I’m due to give birth just after the summer. In other words, we’ll need to postpone to May 2022 if it’s cancelled. The venue doesn’t have any other summer dates, and getting married after summer in an outdoor venue with a newborn isn’t exactly ideal.
I’m being forced to decide between getting married with hardly any friends or family so that my baby is born to married parents (old school thinking I know, but I grew up traditionally Jewish), and having a wedding with my immediate family there, but only in a year from now. I thought I could go through the wedding without them, but when I really thought about it, a wedding is supposed to be a joyous occasion where two families come together. My family has never met my fiance’s family, and they’ve only met him once. I don’t want to look back knowing my mum couldn’t be there to help me get ready, and my dad couldn’t walk his first born down the aisle – it’s such a terrible decision to have to make. I no longer care for the venue, the food, the decor, none of it. I would swap all that for a 20 person wedding on my friend’s balcony where everyone brings food as a gift and my immediate family is there; this is actually what one of the weddings I had planned looked like, but it got cancelled in October.
I’ve come to terms with not seeing my family since July 2019. But to get married without them here with me just doesn’t feel right. I’m praying for a miracle in the next week that allows them to enter, so we can go ahead in May 2021 and for my mum to be allowed in near the time of the birth.
I gave birth in January 2020, moments before the world came to a halt. I was fortunate that my immediate family was able to visit and be with me, my husband and my son (first child) during the first three weeks of his life. When my family left, we parted with the assumption that they would come back and visit soon. Neither they nor I had any conception of what was to come.
It has now been over 14 months and 5 days since we said our goodbyes (yes, I am counting).
While Israelis continue to revel in the reopening of Israeli society, I still feel slightly disconnected. We check the news daily with the hope that maybe, just maybe, there are some positive developments. I watch as students and athletes continue to receive permission to enter Israel and yet my own mother, fully vaccinated, won’t stand a chance in front of the committee.
So instead, as each day goes by, I continue to push my son in the swings at the park alongside those lucky saftot pushing their own grandchildren in the swings. Both babies go up and down in the swings, blissfully unaware of the different trajectories their early lives have taken. For, unlike the other baby, my son has a WhatsApp relationship with his grandmother. His face lights up when he hears the WhatsApp dial tone. It’s a sight that is both incredibly heartwarming and shattering.
I went through the lows and insanity of early motherhood without the possibility of my own mother coming out to be by my side, to help me, to hold my son. But the thing about motherhood is that you must push on. There is no other choice but to somehow take a deep breath, ready yourself for another sleepless night, and go on. While I have found reasons to feel joy and happiness this past year, I continue to feel an ever-present weight that I know won’t be lifted until I can be reunited with my family.
I am blessed to have such a supportive and loving partner who has been by my side throughout the rollercoaster of this past year. He has dried too many of my tears, listened patiently as I cried out my frustrations and spent too much time brainstorming creative solutions. But at the end of the day, no matter how loving or supportive your partner is, there is no replacement for your own mother being at your side.
And the stories continue on.
We are calling upon the Israeli government to immediately reconsider their decision to deny immediate family members of olim entry into Israel. We of course recognize that this entry is contingent upon complete vaccination or compliance with the Ministry of Health guidelines upon arrival to ensure the safety of public health.
We are calling upon the Israeli government to show compassion to its olim – the immigrants who have sacrificed so much to be here, who have spent years learning Hebrew, participating in the workforce, growing families in Israel, participating in Israel’s democracy through voting and contributing to its economy. We have invested our hearts and souls for the betterment and enrichment of Israeli society.
Now, we need our country to show us the same investment. We shouldn’t have to go through key life events or times of dire need on our own. Israel, the Jewish State is different. It must be different, and it must prioritize compassion and humanity over politics.
The above was co-authored with Talya Adler, Annabelle Amery, LeeAnn Langer, and Nicole Grubner.