I took the drastic measure yesterday to bring my son home early for Pesach. He is studying at a prestigious yeshiva in Yerushalayim, and I would prefer that he be able to remain and continue his learning unabated for several more weeks before flying back to the US. But the coronavirus changed those plans.
The decision I made is not out of fear or panic; it is rooted deeply in pragmatism and viewing what is going on with the coronavirus in the United States and Israel with a critical eye.
What we are witnessing with this illness is a global pandemic. The virus has sickened more than 100,000 individuals and has killed about 4,000. Does that mean we should panic? No, of course not. The regular flu kills an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States alone each year. And while the death rate from coronavirus appears to be at least slightly higher than the flu, the coronavirus is, at least for now, a lesser threat than the flu. So concern over becoming infected with the coronavirus is not a reason to bring students home early. Additionally, bringing a child home because coronavirus is spreading wouldn’t make much sense because, at the moment, it appears to be spreading more quickly in the United States than in Israel. If anything, students are less likely to become infected with the virus if they remain in Israel.
Instead, the reason why my son is coming home early is because there is a very real possibility that flights between the United States and Israel will be completely shut down. Israel is now expected to announce that travelers coming to the country from anywhere in the world, including the United States, would have to enter a mandatory 14-day quarantine. That has not officially been announced yet, but they are still considering it and it is likely that even if that regulation isn’t implemented, they will put in some others.
Any massive change in regulations for visitors to Israel will cause the number of passengers flying on planes from the US to Israel to drop dramatically. And because airlines depend on there being passengers on both legs (to and from) of an international trip, a lack of passengers flying from the US to Israel will probably force airline officials to stop flying to the US at all, or at least cancel many of the currently scheduled flights. If that happens within the next few weeks, thousands of American boys and girls will become stranded in Israel indefinitely and will not be with their families for Pesach.
To top it all off, I have been told by reliable sources that several religious leaders – Litvish and Chasidish – have begun urging their American followers to fly home immediately so that they may be with their families for Pesach.
All of the above is why my son is taking the flight home.
Should you change your son’s or daughter’s travel plans? I am not in a position to tell you what to do. All I can do is give my position and perspective on the matter. The rest is up to you.