Yad L’Olim is helping olim and family travel to Israel during the pandemic.
We were stuck in the U.S. for months after our wedding,” says Zach Herschfus, formerly of Southfield. “But once Maureen got involved, we knew we were in good hands. She knew the best way to work within the system and managed to get us back to Israel.”
Herschfus and his new bride, Sabine, are just two of many individuals who have been locked out of Israel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Israeli government has identified new strains coming in through Ben Gurion Airport and has done its best to keep the infection under control by shutting down tourism — much to the chagrin of family members of olim and other Israelis who haven’t seen their families since before March 2020.
Since this past April, Maureen Ash, formerly of Michigan, has been helping people all over the world get to Israel to see their families or to simply go home.
Anyone who is not an Israeli citizen, Herschfus included, cannot simply travel back and forth to Israel these days. You need special approval (an Ishur) to travel, and Maureen knows how to help you get one.
Helping Unite Families
At the beginning of the pandemic, for many months, no one was traveling to Israel unless they had a first-degree relative’s wedding; a birth, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah of a grandchild; a child who was a Lone Soldier in active duty; or a funeral. And you had to apply through the U.S. [AZ1] consulate in those days. Israelis started complaining that they couldn’t see their relatives.
Former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh was the voice of the olim in Israel and got involved in helping them get their families to Israel for a visit. The Ministry of the Interior posted on its website that you could get an Ishur through its office, and once that hit social media, the ministry was flooded with requests for family members’ Ishurim. This past July, the requests were switched to an online portal.
Ash works around the clock to help people get their Ishurim. Gail Berkove says, “After I submitted my initial paperwork, someone told me about Maureen. I sent her what I had submitted, and she found an error that I was able to easily correct. Once I sent in the corrected paperwork, I was able to get my Ishur three days before I left for Israel. Judging from stories I have heard, my acceptance was received in record time!”
Jill Greenbaum’s experience was a bit different. She was able to file on her own, she says, but she did get a tremendous education from Maureen’s WhatsApp group. The wealth of information that was shared about peoples’ experiences prior to her filing was invaluable. She hadn’t seen her son Avi, a recent Lone Soldier, in 15 months, and she was grateful for the help she got in securing her Ishur.
There are many different reasons for people to want to visit Israel during this time. Joanne Lorkis’ son got married in August. “Maureen was incredibly helpful,” Lorkis says. “She held our hands the whole way through and helped with advice and paperwork to get many family members to Israel. We even called her from the airport when they told me I was missing something!”
There have been some unusual situations, each with its own nuance, that have had to be addressed.
“I had a couple call and say that they wanted to go to their grandson’s bar mitzvah, but their son had died and now they didn’t have a first-degree relative living in Israel. I sent them to the Israeli Consulate in Miami, and they explained everything and got their Ishur.”
Former MK Dov Lipman started the NGO Yad L’Olim to help olim navigate any kind of Israeli bureaucracy, including getting their relatives to Israel. Ash and Ariella Bernstein, who both work for Yad L’Olim, are the dream team for those who are applying for Ishurim. Bernstein lives in Israel and Ash is in Chicago, so they work a combined 24 hours a day to help as many people as they can.
Greenbaum is grateful for them: “No words can describe the energy and effort they have put into this. It’s a very stressful process to get the Ishur, and my heart goes out to anyone who doesn’t get one.”