Showing posts with label Travelling to Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travelling to Israel. Show all posts

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Rosh Hashanah 2021 - Update Blog

Shana Tova.  I haven't written too much lately but this is a "two for the price of one" day - or in Israel, as they say a "1+1."  I have already written an article about Ben Caspit's book, The Netanyahu Years and I am adding this more general article about a few other topics.


First of all, a bit on travelling.  I wrote two blogs earlier this year about my trip to Canada and then return to Israel  during  Covid restrictions.  Those blogs both need to be updated  as things have changed but here is the short version, based on my most recent experience.  When  flying to Canada now, if you are double vaccinated, with one of the "acceptable vaccines" (which does not include the Russian Sputnik vaccination or the Sinovax from China), you only need a test in the departing country (a PCR test) and proof of your two vaccinations.  You can put this all in the ArriveCan app (which you can download from the  Android Play store or the Apple store) and, unless you are selected at random for an additional test, you can waltz through the border by showing the required items to a customers officer.  I have my doubts that this policy will  remain in place, especially as infection numbers  continue  to rise - but I guess we will see.  I should note that to leave Israel, travellers are required to get "exit permission" by completing an online form that provides information about testing, vaccination  status and current symptoms.  It is fairly quick and easy.

Arriving in Israel, things are continuing to change rapidly.  As of Friday  September 3, 2021, if you are triple vaxed, you do not need to go into quarantine on arriving in Israel as long as you test negative on arrival.  Everyone, including the triple vaxed, must do an airport PCR test, which costs 80 Shequels (about $33 Cdn) and you get results within a day or so.  If you are negative and triple vaxed, you are then free to go.  I was only double so I was in a different category,  If you are only double vaxed, you still require a one week quarantine period, even if you test negative on arrival.  You can get released by going for a test on your 6th day after arrival and then you are officially released on day 7, without any official further notification from  the Ministry of Health. My results from the airport test came back within  about  10 hours but that didn't change my status.  I'll go do my test on Wednesday night after Rosh Hashana ends and I'll get my third shot on Thursday (assuming my test results are negative).

As far as I understand it, only Israelis  or those with immediate family in Israel can come to Israel.  Israel has not yet opened its borders to tourists and other categories of travellers.  


Meanwhile the Covid  numbers in all categories in Israel are quite high.  The number of people testing positive has been over 10,000 a day and has just now started to decline, which some are attributing to the rollout of the booster shot.  The number of seriously ill  patients, who are hospitalized is hovering around at around 600 and there have been 10-20 deaths a day.  These are gruesome numbers for a country that, at one point, had under 10 new cases a day and almost no daily deaths.  Percentage-wise, it is still a far greater share of the unvaccinated population that is testing positive and becoming seriously ill.   But there are many hospitalized patients who had received  two doses, mostly more than 6 months ago.


I don't have too much to say at this point about Israel's current political situation other than there seems to be some sense of relative stability and motivation on the part of the constituent governing parties to keep the government together.  A budget has been proposed  and passed through cabinet and  has now passed through a first reading in the Knesset.  We  haven't had a budget passed since 2019 so this marks a very different change in direction from that which was taking place under Netanyahu's stewardship.  The current government is putting forward many different proposals,  some  of which are  more popular than others.  It is a government made up of a wide range of voices, ideologies and aspirations but there seems to be a sense, for now, that these MKs are committed to working together for the good of the country.   In my view, it is refreshing and I am reasonably optimistic, at  least in the short to medium term, that we will have a measure of stability.


If you are in Israel, the big sport is usually football (soccer as some of us might say) and of course the big tournament is the upcoming 2022 World Cup.  The Israeli  national team won a huge game yesterday - beating the Austrian national team 5-2 in a key qualifying match.  Israel sits second in its 6 team group after playing its first 5 matches.  It still has  5  games to play but it is off to a good start.  The next game is huge - a game against Switzerland on Tuesday night (the second Erev Rosh Hashana).  After that, Israel will play twice in October and twice in November.  If it manages to catch and pass Switzerland and  finish  first in the group (which is highly unlikely), it would make it into the World Cup  automatically.  If not, the 8 teams with the next best records will all be put into a group and four of them will make it after playing a "home and  home"  series against their designated opponent.  Israel has only made it to the World  Cup once in the history of its national team.  It is still far too  early to start ordering flags but with this huge victory over Austria, the prospect of a berth is still real.

Yamim Nora'im and Chaggim

It is yet  another unusual year for the celebration of key holidays  Technically, I am in "isolation" until Wednesday night, so that means no in-person live attendance at any shul - though I'm not entirely sure  I would have gone in-person  in any event.  For Rosh Hashanah, one option will be to conduct our own, in-home, Rosh Hashanah service,  without a minyan (at least 10 adults), which is what  we did last year.  We have a shofar and most other items  (we don't have a Torah scroll).  Another option would be to join an online service.  We  could join a local service, such as  the broadcast from our shul, Hod vehadar, or we could join  the broadcast from one of  many other shuls across  Israel that are steaming their services.  In fact, we could sleep in and start services at 4 p.m., by watching a streamed  service from Toronto (Beth Tikvah Synagogue  would be our choice), New York (Park Avenue, perhaps?) or we could stay in bed  until 5 p.m.  and then watch a service from St. Louis.   Unless we have had way too  much wine on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I doubt anyone  will be  sleeping in until 4 p.m., even with the jet lag.  And we generally don't use computers or tvs on Rosh Hashanah.  So I guess we have a day or two to decide what to do....

For Yom Kippur, we gathered in a friend's backyard last  year in Ra'anana and conducted the service.  There were only about  12 or 13 of us and some may not be available this year.  So I'm not sure  what we are  going to do.  We still have a week or so to decide, though if I am going to lead Kol  Nidrei and Neilah again, I will have to do some serious practising....

Music and Entertainment

Israel's "Rising Star" music competition ended this week.   The  winner, American-Israeli Tamir Grinberg, won by a significant margin.  It seemed clear to the judges the  first  time they heard him sing that he would probably win, much like when Kelly Clarkson first appeared on American Idol or Eden Alena appeared two years  ago in Israel's "A Star is Born"  competition.   There are some contestants, that come along  every once in a while, who are so good that it seems that it will be impossible to beat them no matter who shows up as the challengers.  I have included a YouTube clip with Grinberg singing from a few weeks ago with the eventual runner up contestant, so you can  judge for  yourself.

Over the past couple of weeks, I watched  the 9 episodes of Hit and Run, the new "thriller" starring Lior Raz of Fauda fame.  It wasn't Fauda but it was fun to watch, reasonably intense and contained lots  of twists  and  turns.  The dialogue is in Hebrew (with subtitles) and English and the movie was shot in Israel and New York.  There is a fair bit of violence, at times graphic.  But I guess that is the genre.

I also watched Ted  Lasso, which has nothing  to do with this blog, Israel or any of the other topics that I usually cover.  If I really stretch things, I could point out that I mentioned the Israeli national football team earlier in my blog and the  show is about a British fictional Premier league  football team....coached by an American football coach with no knowledge of soccer....but I'm not sure that creates a real tie-in.   I was a bit skeptical about  Ted Lasso for the first couple of episodes but since then, I have really enjoyed it.  

So there it is - that is my shmorgasbord blog for today - just before the Jewish New Year - covering a few  selected topics that I thought you might find interesting.  I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year  - and I hope that I will have the chance to see  or speak to many of you soon.

One of my favourite social media postings recently - was this one (I don't take the credit for it but I'm not sure who posted it) - "as we approach Rosh Hashanah and  think of both asking for forgiveness and repentance, we should heed the wise words of Rabbi Led of Zeppelin, who sang, "yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the  road you're on."  If you are too  old, too young, or too musically disconnected to get the reference, send me a note and I'll explain.  

Shana Tova!

Monday, June 28, 2021

Trip from Toronto to Tel-Aviv During Covid

Leaving Toronto
In an earlier blog, I wrote about my trip from Tel-Aviv, Israel to Toronto, Canada during Covid-19 and the various requirements.  I returned to Israel on June 23, 2021 so I thought I would write about  some of the details of travelling this route  in case you are thinking of trying it - we love  visitors!

First of all, Israel is still generally closed to "tourists" right now - other than certain group tours.  So in order to come  to Israel, you either need an Israeli passport, a work visa, or an advance authorization from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior - for example to visit a parent, child or other close relative.  I am really not sure about all of the requirements for non-Israeli visitors - so you would have to look that up.  I'm also not sure when this might change.  Israel has seen a recent surge in the Delta variant of Covid-19, which has even infected some people who had been vaccinated.  So there is some real concern about the need to take proper  measures to contain it.  

I chose to fly Air Canada.  I usually fly Star Alliance since I can collect  and  use the Aeroplan points.  I don't think El Al has resumed direct flights to Toronto in any event, so Air Canada was the only option for a direct flight.  The prices were still "reasonable" by comparison to other years.  You could get a round trip flight for between $850 and $1,100 Cdn.  which is still fairly low for this time of year due, of course, to the current situation.  The flights have been leaving at about 8 p.m. which means they arrive in Israel about 1:30 p.m. local  time.   I actually like that timing quite a bit.  Over the past few years -  Air Canada had been leaving Toronto at 5:30 p.m. and arriving in Israel at about 11 a.m.  I didn't mind that  timing - but  the return  flights were leaving Israel at  about noon - and getting  in to Toronto at 6 p.m. EST.  I really dislike those all day flights especially since the flight from Israel to Toronto, against the wind, can take close to 12 hours if not longer sometimes.

Inside FHS Labs
Anyways, the first order of business was to get a PCR test done in Toronto.  PCR tests are not being provided for free unless you meet one of the conditions for requiring one.   For example, if you have symptoms or you have been exposed to someone with Covid.  Otherwise, you have to arrange a private
test.  These seem to range in price from about  $159 plus tax to about  $300.  I used FHS labs.  I was able to book it on line for 8 a.m. two days before my flight.   The cost was $159 plus tax - about $180 total.  FHS was prompt, quick and easy and the results came  quickly as promised.  I would happily recommend using  them  unless you can find something much cheaper.  No one was there early on a Sunday morning as you can see from the photo.

Next came the Israeli government's "permission" form.  Within 24 hours of a flight  to Israel,  you have to fill in and submit an online form called a "Request to Entry Form." I have included the link in case you need it.  Here you have to provide  personal details - passport information etc.,  You  also have to indicate which countries you have visited while out of Israel and whether you have any symptoms.  Of course you also have to acknowledge that you can face severe fines for answering falsely.  Once you fill in the form and submit it online - you get a response back from the Israeli government fairly quickly.   You must print out the "approval" and bring it to the airport.  You will need it on check in at the counter in Canada and then again in Israel when you land.

I also had to book an arrival Covid test through the Israeli company Check2Fly - which administers these tests in Israel at the airport.  It is cheaper to book in advance and you avoid extra line-ups.  I think it was 80 Shequels (about $32 Cdn).  Much more reasonable  than the cost of leaving Canada - but I have heard that  Israel is planning on increasing the costs  shortly.  So I booked the test and printed that  out and had that with me for the airport as well.  I think Check2Fly also has an app that you can install on your  phone.

Then I checked  in with Air Canada.  There was another form to complete before checking in - a health attestation - that I didn't have any symptoms, wasn't with someone who had Covid etc.,  This form didn't take too long but I completed that and then I was finally ready for the regular check in process.

The online check in was  then simply the normal process.

On flight day, I was worried that things would take longer than usual  so I got to the airport fairly early.  As it turns out, it wasn't that crowded.  I guess there aren't that many people flying, which makes sense in the circumstances.  I normally go to the priority check-in counter because  of my Aeroplan status - which is at the front end of the terminal.  This time, I was offered the services of the concierge.  The concierge was super friendly.  He  went  through all of the different paperwork and requirements, checked everything and then told me I could leave everything with him.   He gave  me the baggage tags and wished me a good  flight.  That was the easiest and most helpful  check-in I have had in years.  Sorry that I don't  have the concierge's name but he was terrific.

Since the flight load is so much smaller these days, all of the security for international and domestic  flights is being done in the same place.  This means that once you get through security, you have about a twenty minute walk over to the international departures section.  There are shuttles for people who need them.   This area is normally closed off but they have set up a path to go from one area to the other.  The international lounge is also closed - but you can use the domestic lounge if you have access.  The lounge is operating on an "order-only" basis meaning you have to ask for food items  and they provide them to you directly to ensure that you aren't picking up food items that have been touched by hundreds of other lounge-goers.  There wasn't much of a selection.  I just had a bottle of water  and caught up on some emails.  I had to leave the lounge early enough to allow for the 20 minute walk over the international gates.

Boarding was pretty standard and on-time and I was off  for my 10 1/2 hour flight to Israel.  Fortunately, I was able to get an upgrade and sit in Business Class. Most of the business class services have been depleted these days  due to Covid.  There is much less food, a smaller selection of drinks,  fewer snacks etc.,  But of course the main attraction of the Business Class section on Air Canada for this type of flight (on a 787) is that the seats fold back completely to beds.  You are provided with a newly  cleaned sheet and blanket in a sealed, inspected bag along with a special sealed bag of personal and cleaning supplies.  In non-Covid  times, the staff members come around and  set up your  sheet and  blanket etc.,  These days, you are on your own but it is still all the same stuff once you get  it out of the sealed plastic bag.

Frozen Kosher Food
I ordered the Kosher meal in advance.  The hot part of the meal was okay - a less than memorable dish of chicken thighs in sauce.  But it also came with a sealed "cold tray" which included fruit that was too frozen to eat, frozen couscous and some other frozen items.  I probably didn't need to eat most of that anyways - but is is not very nice to be served a frozen meal - especially for the people who are paying real money for these  business class seats.

I picked out one movie and watched "Across the Universe" a vehicle for Beatles music from a few years ago.  I enjoyed it.  Tried to sleep after that and next thing I knew, it was time for breakfast.

The breakfast was a bit strange.  It  was an omelette but made with chick peas  in a cumin sauce.  I guess  the caterer figured that since we are on the way to Israel, we might as well start eating Mideastern spices early on.  I don't think  I have ever had a cumin-chick pea omelette in Israel - the breakfast food is usually more  influenced  by Greek or Italian flavours.  Mushrooms, tomatoes and feta?  Sure.  Chick peas? Not usually.   The "cold" part of the meal was  either stale or  frozen so I stayed away from it.   Air Canada is not serving real milk  with the breakfast coffee due to  Covid (don't ask...).  I'm not really sure how that is related and I didn't really feel like ingesting  some of that non-dairy creamer.  So the coffee was going to have to wait until after I landed.

Israel from Above
Once we arrived in Israel, things seemed reasonably normal.  No one came on to the plane or stood at the gate checking people as they got off.  However, they had set up an early passport check area.  So I was able to go through passport security quite quickly.  I believe that the Request to Entry Form had already been connected to my passport - so that whole system allowed for a quick  entry process.

After that, it was off to collect luggage, which was also quite normal.  Once I had collected my bags, and walked through the Green  customs line-up (nothing to declare, of course), I then had to get in line for a Covid test.   There was  line-up for those who hadn't yet  paid and a much shorter line up for those who had.  I  really didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes and probably even less than that.  My test was administered, I was given  a wrist band  to wear while in the airport and that was that.  I was free to go.  My test results came the next day, and thankfully, I was negative once again.

It was quite a bit easier to arrive in Israel than it was to arrive in Toronto and frankly, the process made much more  sense.  

Montreal Hockey Fans

Israel is now dealing with a wave of the Delta variant and the new government is trying to determine the best measures to take.  I guess we will see shortly whether Israel imposes new restrictions.

And so I was back in Israel - just in time to get up in the middle of the night a few times and watch the Montreal Canadiens miraculously defeat the heavily favoured  Las Vegas Golden Knights - for the Habs' first berth in a Stanley Cup final since 1993.  I am very excited about that - which will mean a definitely crazy sleep pattern over the next two weeks (or until the series ends).  Tonight is game one - about 3 a.m. Israel time.

That's about it for  now - no politics in this article - perhaps I'll write some more soon.  Wishing everyone the best of health.