Beginning on the night of August 2 and into August 3, young students arrived at Ben Gurion Airport from the UK and U.S. after a long unwanted hiatus, representing the first group of overseas students to be admitted into Israel.
The boys, ages 17-20, were let back into Israel to study in their yeshiva, Yeshivat HaKotel, in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Representatives from the yeshiva met the joyous boys at the airport and helped them push carts loaded with luggage straight to busses waiting for them. Upon arrival at the yeshiva, they tore keriah at a window overlooking the Kotel and took pictures six feet apart on two sides of a welcome sign with other students and the dean of overseas students, Rabbi Reuven Taragin.
Rabbi Taragin has been working with many other rabbanim and community leaders on a coalition representing 150 yeshivos and seminaries across the ideological spectrum. They have put together documents and taken the responsibilities necessary to gain general permission for foreign students to learn in Israel.
Each particular school and student needs to be cleared separately by the Ministry of Health; the first school to be cleared was Yeshivat HaKotel. It wanted to bring its students early so they would finish quarantine shortly before yeshiva starts – enough time, says Rabbi Taragin, for them to go on a short trip and then start yeshiva on Rosh Chodesh Elul.
Rabbi Taragin told The Jewish Press that quarantine isn’t the only change facing the boys and girls hoping to study in Israel this year. The school set up will be different too. Yeshivat HaKotel is employing “the Capsule Method,” whereby a school is divided into small groups of 25-26 people who are treated like a mini yeshiva or family. They eat, learn, and sleep together. If someone gets sick, fewer people in the yeshiva will be affected.
It may seem drastic, says Rabbi Taragin, but the students “are all very excited about it and have come back in record numbers.” He added, “My impression is that yeshivot and seminaries are only open if they feel they can provide something meaningful and most of them do….
“I would tell parents and students: Naturally there’s fear during corona and a lot of fear in coming to Eretz Yisrael. Yeshivot and Seminaries are preparing very thoroughly a wonderful experience. People should see it through and come. If the government is willing to take the risk upon itself, that shows how important it is.”