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Vendors and residents looked at us like we’re from Mars

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Lay leader Meir Balofsky (background, left) with his students, near the Western Wall plaza in mid-May, as so many Israelis were shocked to see “tourists” | Photo: Courtesy

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It was a rapid ascent to the head of the news cycle and it took its spot as the dominant and near singular theme of the news for what seemed like an eternity. In Israel, were it not for the farce that was the 3rd, and near 4th election, we would have heard of nothing other than the virus. Today, it’s still very much on people’s minds, but the news pages have made room for other themes.

Yes, Israel has opened up its economy for the most part, but we are very far from returning to full strength. The entertainment and travel/tourism industries are still very much stunted, and the trickle-down of those industries is not making any headlines.

The easy starting point is the fact that the border is closed to non-Israelis, and even those who do come in must self-isolate for two weeks. Parents have missed their children’s weddings, and zero tour groups are coming in right now. Even when the doors do open, it’s expected that the 14-day quarantine is to remain in place.  

The best-case scenario is people being tested at the airport, and then still having to isolate for a few days until a result can be ascertained. Most people cannot afford to add those days to their vacation and would rather opt to wait it out, and spend the money on a full trip another time.

In Israel, many people would otherwise be travelling abroad this summer and now find themselves home. While hikes and outdoor activities may have eased limitations, distancing is still in effect; bus capacities are limited; and even the extra step of having to book a spot in advance, and only maybe getting a seat at a venue, is not worth the headache for many.

Many establishments are just not opening their doors at all as the decreased potential revenue does not make the potential income worth it.

The Kinneret is full, and no one is coming to play in it. 

I am the Assistant Director and Experiential Education Director at the Israel XP at Bar Ilan University, Freshman year abroad program in Israel. A few weeks ago, I took my students (30 of whom remained in Israel after the major wave of Corona hit) to the Kotel soon after they re-opened it to the public. We parked the bus by Zion gate and, with our masks on, we walked together through the Jewish Quarter and headed towards the Western Wall.

Vendors and residents looked at us like we were from Mars. We were a group who spoke English and looked like any Birthright-style delegation. This was mid-May. Generally, in May (and really from Passover straight through the summer) the Old City of Jerusalem is absolutely packed with groups on a daily basis.

People were shocked to see us. I had to explain that this is a group that has been here since October and they’re students at the Israel XP at Bar Ilan University program. The fact that people were so amazed to see any “tourists” drove this point home.

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The employees at the airport, hotel workers, attraction owners and staff, street food vendors, transportation and tourism companies, me. We don’t know what to expect and how to plan for the coming months. I’m trying to put together an experiential education program calendar for my students coming in September, and I’m working in the dark.

We are taking our collective deep breath, and are doing the best we can. We know that Israel will once again open her doors to the world, and people will be able to enjoy her spiritual and physical majesty.
We will get there. We’re waiting for you.

Meir Balofsky is originally from Toronto and moved to Israel in 2004 with his wife and three children. Meir has maintained close ties to the Toronto community and has returned each summer to join the staff at Camp Moshava Canada in each year of its operation since making Aliyah. Meir currently resides in Ramat Gan with his family.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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