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Israelis Stranded Abroad

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Last Updated on July 6, 2021

 

Week Five

Day 30 – February 21st

I am reminded that a relative of my husband is stuck in Johannesburg. He came to South Africa to get engaged in December and has been there ever since. His mother and I are in contact and together we talk through some options. Mostly we just vent but that’s a good thing too.

My travel insurance has completely run out and even if it hadn’t, they would not reimburse me for the medical costs I might have to incur.  Anything covid related is not covered in the policy. Perhaps my HMO will cover the cost of my meds or even a part of it? After all, for 32 years I have being paying for the highest coverage.

I ask a family member to find out and at the same time I post my question on Facebook.  A friend replies to me privately and offers to help in any way he can, even financially if necessary. I was deeply moved by his gesture. Thank you.

Day 31 – February 22nd

Maccabi’s hotline cannot provide an answer to my question.  I go back to their website to take advantage of their live chat option.  It doesn’t work. I find a public inquiry section on their website.  I don’t really expect to get an answer but I write in anyway.

My days have been filled with worrying about getting back to Israel that the reason for my visit has taken on less of a priority.  That should not be the case as there is still work to be done.

We have decided to give most of the contents of my mom’s home to the carers who tended to her needs so diligently over the years. Some items we will donate and a few things will be sold.  I am tasked with coordinating the distribution of the items to the carers.

Emptying her home so shortly after her death was hard and to see it bare of furniture and belongings, made me cry.

When I get back to my brother’s house, we talk about a way to honour mom’s memory together in the ‘hopefully’ short time we have left together.  We decide to use her recipes and cook some of her best dishes.  This is comforting for me.

Day 32 – February 23rd

I check my emails in the middle of the night when counting sheep has not worked yet again. Lo and behold there is a reply from Maccabi.  Not the reply I was hoping for, but all the credit to them, at least they replied and in a most timely manner.

I manage to fall asleep at around 5am only to be woken at 6:30am by a call from my husband who thinks I am having a holiday and sleeping in.

It is one month since our mother passed.

Day 33 – February 24th

I post on various South African Facebook groups that I am looking to connect with other Israelis stuck in South Africa.  I also search Facebook and find a Hebrew group – Stranded Abroad which I join. Within minutes I am contacted with an invitation to join a Hebrew WhatsApp group – Stranded in Africa. There are only some 25 group members and so it seems that there is only a small number of us here and by virtue of that and the fear of the South African variant, we are likely to be last on the list of our government’s priorities.

I hear of the 21 Haredim that arrived from New York with forged covid results.  I am livid. Shame on them. Do they have any idea how their behaviour is affecting the some 10,000 honest, law abiding, Israeli citizens who need to get home and are stranded abroad? They bring shame to us all. 

Day 34 – February 25th

I go for an early morning walk on the beach.  The icy water on my feet, the sun and sand, help clear my mind and I start thinking the situation through and what I can do about it.

I decide to write a letter to Bibi. Many have already, but perhaps mine will be the one that makes a difference? It’s unlikely, but that is my hope. I am frustrated by the situation and I need to get it off my chest. I spend a couple of hours working on this letter and realize that I am way too emotional to write anything that might make a difference. He certainly isn’t interested in my personal tale of woe. I give up on the letter.

In the afternoon, I am contacted by a woman who wants to ‘ask a favour’. She saw my post on one of the South African Jewish Facebook groups. “It’s a long shot” she explains, but it’s worth a try. Her aunt was supposed to make Aliyah some months ago and because of the travel restrictions she has not been able to go.  Should the airport open on March 6th, would I be willing to accompany her aunt to Israel and agree to quarantine with her in the shared accommodation in a corona hotel until said auntie can reunite with her daughter who lives in Raanana. In exchange, auntie is willing to pay my costs.

While I understand auntie’s plight and sympathize with her, I cannot agree to such an arrangement. I have my own issues and if I do need to quarantine upon returning, even though I am fully vaccinated, I will apply to do so at home.  I have work commitments and other responsibilities which I can attend to from there. 

She understands my refusal and then apologizes profusely to me. She tells me that she is very embarrassed that she even asked.  South Africans are polite and tend to be very apologetic (two traits I lost probably in year 2 of my Aliyah).  I reassure her and tell her that it’s all good.  We continue to chat and discover that we have mutual acquaintances.

I hope things work out for her aunt and that her Aliyah is a successful one.

The call leaves me anxious and irritated.  There must be something that can be done about the current situation. I feel I need to be a voice for those like auntie who are not able to speak up.

I chat with my husband’s relative in Johannesburg (my venting partner) and on her advice, I decide to send an email to some of the MKs who oppose the current status quo. She suggests I write to Dov Lipman and Michal Cotler-Wunsh. 

A friend in Rosh HaAyin calls me, he suggests writing to Yair Lapid and Gidon Saar as well.

I feel that our Minister of Foreign Affairs – Gabi Ashkenazi, who is supposed to protect the interests of Israelis abroad, should also hear from me (or is he one of the many that resigned recently?). 

I draft an email and this time I am able to crystallize my thoughts, write something rational and nothing that identifies me as just another basket case.  I send the emails off.  I feel better after having written. Now I must wait for a response.

Day 35 – February 26th

Some of the members of the WhatsApp group – Stranded in Africa, have made it to Frankfurt where they will get another flight to Tel Aviv.

I am interested to know how traveling to Frankfurt for a rescue flight actually works so I post the question in the group. Within half-an-hour or so, a group member calls me. She is a travel agent and she begins to explain how she can help me. She gabbles off a whole lot of information and is quick to offer me her services – she’ll send me the forms.  I am not entirely convinced by her willingness to help, after all, if all 25 group members, as well as members of other groups that she probably belongs to, make use of her services, she is likely to rake in a fair sum. My standard answer to pushy salesmen is “I have to ask my husband”.  No one has ever argued or questioned my husband’s right to supposedly having the final say.

I hear more and more stories from those who made it to Frankfurt; long lines, passports taken, lost luggage and terrible conditions at the corona hotels. 

I realize that I am one of the lucky ones, I am staying with my brother.  I do not have extra hotel or accommodation expenses to deal with.  My brother and I get on well and we decide that if we fight and cannot stand to look at one another anymore, he’ll pitch a tent in the garden and I’ll sleep in the house.  Jokes aside. It’s not easy having house guests for an extended period of time and it’s not easy being a house guest for an extended period of time.  I am fully appreciative of his hospitality and his kindness.

I scour the Jerusalem Post and YNet’s English site for information about those that are stranded and there is very little coverage. It’s an unacceptable situation.  What’s actually going on in Israel?

The elections are looming.  If we are not allowed to return we will have lost our democratic right to vote and that would be a constitutional crisis.  Why is this happening? Now I hear that there are 25,000 disgruntled voters stranded abroad – what does that say about the possible outcome of the election? One cannot help but wonder.

No response received from the MK’s today.

Day 36 – February 27th

I am contacted by another person in the WhatsApp group who wants to communicate with me in English. He and his fiancee are making Aliyah and like auntie, their Aliyah flight has been delayed.  Do I know if the airport is opening on March 6th?  “I wish I knew the answer to that question” I tell him. I don’t know anything more than anyone else.

He tells me his parents left Israel for South Africa when he was one year old.  He is fluent in Hebrew but cannot write or spell well (join the club).

He asks me whether I think they are doing the right thing in making Aliyah.  I feel this is a profound moment and that I need to say something that will resonate with him for the rest of his life. I tell him that he and his fiancee must be willing to adjust their lifestyles and expectations. I go on to tell him that he is wise to leave South Africa and that his children will benefit from that decision. I tell him to be open minded, to be flexible and willing to do the work to make it work.

We get into the Jewish geography conversation.  I tell him that I live in Haifa.  He asks where I am from in South Africa.  I tell him that I am from Johannesburg, mention the suburb I grew up in and the name of the Jewish day school, I attended. He tells me his parents used to live just outside Haifa (in the Krayot) and when they first arrived in Johannesburg, and they lived in the suburb I grew up in. He also attended the same Jewish day school. Isn’t it wonderful when the Jewish geography conversation bears fruit?

I try to download my Green Pass from the Ramzor App but no luck – “Try again later”

Still no response from the MK’s today.

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