By Shoshanah Marcus, Editor in Chief
“But the Land, to which you pass to possess…absorbs water from the rains of heaven, It is a Land that the Lord your God seeks out; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it” (Deuteronomy 11:11-12).
Rashi comments on Deuteronomy 11:12: “It is as if God cares only for [Israel], and with that caring…He cares for all the [other] lands along with it.”
The last year and a half have been a time of great pain for the Jewish people. Along with the rest of the world, we have suffered through the seemingly endless heartbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our communities have had to endure virtual funerals and drive-by weddings. We have celebrated birthdays in isolation and heartbreak in solitude. The list of pandemic-related disappointments is seemingly endless, but one ache that many in the Jewish nation have added to their list is the pain of being cut off from our homeland, our Promised Land, Israel.
Since the beginning of March 2020, the Israeli borders have been almost entirely sealed to all non-Israeli citizens. Though there have been slight exceptions to the policy, there has been an almost impermeable barrier keeping diaspora Jews from entering and Israeli Jews from exiting. There have been countless stories of milestone life events missed due to the stringency of the Israeli border. This has caused an almost unbearable pain in the collective global Jewish soul. We are a people who speak daily on our love and desire to be in the Land we were promised. Our birthright was given to us by God. To be kept from our Land has inflicted a deep pain upon our nation’s soul.
Just after finishing classes in the Spring 2021 semester, I traveled to Israel with the hopes of getting married in my homeland. The process of applying for entry permits to Israel and collecting paperwork and documents, including needing to prove that my siblings were my parents’ children, was a nightmare. Despite the immense effort required, our families were as dedicated as my now-husband and myself to gain entrance to our home. Even after filling out every necessary form, I still felt like an intruder in Israel while waiting on the long airport security lines.
I knew most of my friends would not be able to fly out for my wedding, but what many do not know is that I did not know if even my own siblings would be able to attend. After months of holding my breath, I will never forget the moment I was told that my siblings received entry permits and would be able to attend my wedding. The thought of not having my siblings at my own wedding was heartbreaking, and hearing this news was a relief to say the least. With God’s help, I was able to get married in Israel in early June with my entire immediate family in attendance, there are so many who were not as fortunate.
Beginning this month, there seems to be a light radiating from the end of a very long, dark tunnel. On November 1, 2021, Israel opened their borders to vaccinated tourists. While there are still necessary procedures in place to protect the health and safety of citizens and travelers, this new lifting of restrictions is a huge relief to many.
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season we are reminded of the importance of family and loved ones. It seems like good timing, in my opinion, that the relaxing of travel restrictions to Israel comes as American families begin to gather and reflect on the many blessings in our lives. After almost two years of being separated from our friends, family, and homeland, this reopening perfectly reflects the celebration of Thanksgiving.
The Jews’ connection and love for the Land of Israel has been ongoing for thousands of years. Israel is our land:it is written in our scripture and is beating in our hearts. In every generation Jews have pined for the spirituality and protection found within the borders of Israel. These past two years have been painful, yes, but just as our ancestors returned, so shall we, and when we do, we will sing out the praises of hodaya [thanksgiving].
Editor’s Note: Thank you to the YU Observer’s Managing Editor, Danielle Lane, for being a soundboard to discuss the ideas of this article.