With the United States now defined as a “red country” by Israel in terms of the pandemic, many Jews are wondering if this will lead to a crisis between the two nations.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko, member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and President of EITAN–The American-Israeli Jewish Network, tells Israel National News that while he doesn’t think there will be damage on a diplomatic level, he does think “that in terms of Israel-Diaspora relations this is a huge blow.”
“If you think about when Israel closed its gates, that was almost two years ago,” Rabbi Poupko says. ”We’re talking now around 20, 21 months and there was not one full month in which Jews were allowed to come from countries around the world to Israel. There were exceptions made sometimes for [new immigrants], sometimes for Birthright, sometimes for students. But by and large, if you're an American Jew who loves Israel, supports Israel, and makes sure to visit there every holiday, summer or what have you, and you're a reliable supporter of Israel, you have not been able to come into Israel for the past almost two years, and that's in my opinion a huge damage.”
Rabbi Poupko calls it a “generational damage.”
He explains that he has “friends whose children didn't see Israel. Instead, they're visiting Florida, the Dominican Republic, Europe.”
“You have an entire lost generation that is not seeing Israel,” he says. “You have Israelis who are not seeing their parents. I think it's a very damaging big blow. Historically, this is the first time Jews have not been allowed into Israel since the White Paper [of 1939, limiting Jewish immigration to 75,000 over five years], which you know is infamous. I think that's huge damage.”
When asked if the headlines about the “skies opening” throughout the past two years were misleading, Rabbi Poupko says, “Yes, absolutely.”
“The skies are open to Israelis. The skies may be open sometimes to students coming for their gap year in Israel. But the skies are not open for just someone who wants to come spend Sukkot, Passover, winter vacation – which is coming up. The skies are not open for that.”
Commenting that “Israel's minister of tourism launched a campaign for November because they thought that's when the skies will be open,” he notes that “in fact they have not been.”
“I got a message from a friend who after the murder of Eli Kay saw how the family was sent back, some on Shabbat. He said, ‘This makes me fear that if something happens to Diaspora Jews, Israel will not open its gate to us.’ And I told him with great sadness that i don't think it will,” Rabbi Poupko says.
He continues: “This is a real blow because if you think about the essence of Zionism, if you think about the ideal of having a homeland for the Jewish people, this is exactly the opposite of that. There is no open gate, there is no sort of Law of Return. Yes, if you want to move to Israel, there have been ways to go in at times. But, by and large, the idea of a country, a homeland of the Jewish people – that has undermined this idea.”
What does Rabbi Poupko say to doctors and professionals who tell him that Israel is now in a crisis – a “state of war” – and the nation simply can’t bring in Jews from the four corners of the world?
“What the past two years have shown is where are you making the exceptions, where are you showing the goodwill,” Rabbi Poupko says.
He explains: “So Miss Universe is important enough for Israel to open its gates and to invest resources in letting people in, then why is it that at the exact same time, the family of of someone who volunteered to serve in the Israeli army, who died for Israel, why are his family and friends not allowed to come in for the funeral? There have been tens and hundreds of thousands of Israelis flying all over Europe and going to the United States. I think it's a question of priorities and unfortunately Diaspora Jews feel like they are ranking low on the list of priorities.”
Rabbi Poupko believes that there will be “damage to all these kids, the people who are not going to Israel, not going to visit for seminary.”
He adds that “yes, of course, health has to come first. But you have an extraordinary number of Israelis that have been flying all over for for a very long time and people see the exceptions.”
“It's really the exceptions that make people hurt and that was the same with Israelis. You saw people getting angry when exceptions were made,” Rabbi Poupko says.