Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Fast Forward

Thousands of Israelis in the US called home as coronavirus restrictions tighten

NEW YORK (JTA) — Purim celebrations at Oakland Hebrew Day School on Tuesday included a surprise, un-festive addition: farewells to two young Israeli women whose work in the Northern California school was being cut short by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The women were assigned to work at the school as part of their national service, an alternative to Israeli army service chosen by many Orthodox girls.

They were ordered to return to Israel immediately, along with 2,000 other participants in the program run by Israel’s National Civic Service Authority. They were due to depart Wednesday night and it’s unclear when they will be allowed to return — if at all.

“It was very emotional because these poor girls are 19 years old and they come here and they’re having this special meaningful service year,” Tania Schweig, the head of school, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “And they’ve built all these relationships with kids.”

In a letter to participating communities, the authority director, Reuven Pinsky, said the decision had been made “with a heavy heart.” The agency allowed only emissaries in Australia and Singapore to remain abroad, deeming their risk of coronavirus infection during travel higher than the risk of staying put.

“It is a necessity, and our duty to make sure they are safe,” Pinsky wrote. “We express our empathy and solidarity and wish health to all Jews in Israel and abroad. May we return to work on the important connection between Jews in the State of Israel to Jews abroad soon.”

The recall came as the Israeli government tightened restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus epidemic there. On Monday, the country announced that anyone entering from abroad would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine in their homes, or in hotels in the case of international visitors.

As of last week, about 80,000 Israelis were quarantined, and that number is rising as more Israelis make their way home. The Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that nearly 250,000 Israelis have entered the country in the past two weeks.

But not all Israelis abroad are rushing home. Another group that places young Israelis in Jewish communities abroad took a much different approach, calling back a handful of emissaries in places with serious outbreaks but encouraging most to stay put.

Approximately 2,000 Israelis are serving abroad through the Jewish Agency for Israel, including high school graduates taking a gap year before beginning their army service and young adults who have recently concluded their military service. They are placed in synagogues, schools and college Hillels around the world — with about 400 currently in the United States.

Seven young adults working in New York’s suburban Westchester County, the site of the largest outbreak in the Jewish community, flew home this week, agency officials confirmed, in part because the closure of schools there made their education outreach impossible. And some of the emissaries in hard-hit areas of Italy also have returned home.

The vast majority, though, are planning to remain, and some have begun developing online engagement activities in keeping with local health regulations that increasingly discourage or bar in-person gatherings. Jewish Agency emissaries have been told not to leave the states where they work.

On Tuesday night, Jewish Agency CEO Isaac Herzog met with hundreds of emissaries via videoconference to offer support and answer their questions.

“The Jewish Agency is determined to ensure our important activities in the Jewish communities proceed, to the extent possible,” a spokeswoman, Hadass Tesher, said in a statement.

Guy Nachum, 19, has been serving as a Jewish Agency emissary in St. Louis for six months, teaching local Jews about Israel. Nachum says he has received guidance about protecting himself from the virus, including avoiding large crowds and limiting unnecessary travel. But he has no plans to go home before the end of his term in six months.

“I don’t want to go back home,” Nachum said. “I have like a mission here. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the coronavirus or other things, I want to stay here and complete my mission.”

The post Thousands of Israelis in the US called home as coronavirus restrictions tighten in their homeland appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.