Groups of American Jewish tourists prepare to return to Israel

NEW YORK – For Julia Friedman, the Israeli government’s decision to reopen the country to fully vaccinated tourists, starting Nov. 1, means that she will soon be meeting her brother for the first time in nearly two years.

Friedman is scheduled to lead a Birthright trip in December through Ohio State Hillel University. After the 10-day trip, the first USO she has been running since the start of the pandemic, the 26-year-old plans to extend her long-awaited visit and spend time with her brother who lives in Jerusalem.

“The trip has been long postponed,” Friedman told The Jerusalem Post. “Everybody in the semester has been asking for a Birthright trip. In fact, there was an overflow and we decided to take a second bus. I think everyone is ready to go back to Israel. I know who I am.”

Throughout Israel’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has for the most part allowed in some foreigners, including people making aliyah or those coming to work or study. In January, the country completely closed its airport in an unprecedented move. During the summer, there was talk of making the move again, as COVID cases continued to rise.

Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on September 6, 2021 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL / FLASH90)

But Friedman expressed confidence that his trip will not be affected by another closure.

“Even if things close, at least from my perspective, I am hopeful that Birthright will be allowed to continue to function,” he said.

The Jewish National Fund and local federations, including those in New York and Washington, DC, are also expected to bring American tourists back to Israel in the coming weeks and months.

JNF is scheduled to go on a mission trip in January 2022, with pre-mission options to Dubai and Morocco, called “Celebrate your return to Israel with the in-person trip of a lifetime.”

“We have several trips planned to Israel, and the first is scheduled to arrive on November 28,” UJA-Federation of New York executive director Eric Goldstein told the Post. “There is the same enthusiasm on our part for travel planning and our community for being part of the first wave of UJA travel to Israel since the start of the pandemic. We are all very excited once again to take group trips to Israel. “

“In fact, we started planning our big May 2022 trip even before Israel announced that it would lift restrictions on tourist visits,” Federation of Greater Washington executive director Gil Preuss told the Post. He estimated that about 70 community members have already registered.

He noted that the federation has led small mission groups throughout 2021, including the most recent of more than a dozen rabbis after the Israel-Gaza war in May. But with Israel’s decision to reopen to leisure travelers, Preuss said, the upcoming trips will be the biggest since early 2020.

“People are very excited to travel to Israel. It’s been a long time and the last year and a half has been very hard for people, ”he continued. “The level of energy and interest that we are seeing is tremendous and very rewarding.”

The reopening to tourists comes as Israel emerges from a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. In July, Israel launched an aggressive booster vaccination campaign, offering a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to virtually anyone over the age of 16. That round of inoculation appears to have controlled the outbreak.

The decision to reopen could give a boost to the struggling tourism industry, which has been hit hard by a lack of tourists. It occurs just before the busy Hanukkah and Christmas season, when tens of thousands of foreigners visit Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Preuss noted that, as the pandemic has shown, plans could go smoothly.

“No one can predict the future,” he said. “Things were open and then the Delta variant came along. Having said that, I feel pretty confident that with the vaccines we will be able to go and finally bring people back to Israel. “

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