Moving to Israel during COVID-19

A TAU staffer shares his story of making aliya as COVID broke
10 June 2021
Rafael Ben-Menashe. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi

My aliya journey began on January 20, 2020. Like many Diaspora Jews, I dreamed of living in Israel to experience life in Tel Aviv. I grew up in a Jewish community in Sydney, Australia and visited family in Israel often. Visiting this beautiful, ancient land on family trips was always an exciting experience for me.


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, flights from Australia were always full, and my aliya flight was no exception. The ritualistic passage through El Al security at Bangkok Airport and waiting with a bunch of lively Israelis at the airport’s farthest gate conjured fond memories from childhood. Then, finally, tears and applause upon touchdown at Ben-Gurion Airport.  


How could I know that within just two short months, this timeless experience for olim would be forever changed? How could any of us know that travel, something most of us took for granted, would become out of reach?


Three weeks before COVID hit Israel, I began work at Tel Aviv University’s Public Affairs Division as a content writer. Life was great. I began making new friends, and work at the University was busy. Tel Aviv, as always, was frenetic.


For me, Tel Aviv University was always one of those places where I immediately felt at home. Before I moved here, I would occasionally visit the University to attend public lectures in an attempt to practice my Hebrew and, of course, to simply enjoy life on campus.


My connection to the University spans a few generations, too. My grandparents love the University and visited the beautiful campus many times on their trips here. My aunt is a guide at ANU Museum of the Jewish People (also known as the Diaspora Museum or Beit Hatfutsot), located on the TAU campus.


Back when I arrived, no one was aware of the looming impact COVID would have. Before long, the pandemic was the topic of every conversation at the University, in Israel, and globally.


When COVID finally hit Israel, like so many, I was furloughed. Being away from work and the campus was hard, especially since I had just begun. I missed my new TAU friends.


When we finally returned to the office, everything had changed. Despite the challenges, TAU tackled the pandemic head-on. Our unit got to work rolling out the COVID-19 drive. The goal was to raise emergency funds for coronavirus research and scholarships for students at risk of dropping out for pandemic-related reasons. Filming videos for the COVID-19 drive were some of my first shoots with the team.


TAU researchers and professors eventually returned to work, and Division activities slowly found a new normal, even though our students’ absence on campus was felt.


Despite the wavering lockdowns and restrictions which impeded social life, I looked forward to coming to work at TAU. I have met inspiring people here, many of them olim themselves who helped guide me during my absorption process in Israel.


Despite its challenges, the year has been a stimulating one for me working at the University, and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting, interviewing and filming some of TAU’s outstanding professors leading groundbreaking research. One highlight was Dr. Dan Yamin who created a data-tracking tool to understand the spread of the coronavirus.


Last month, I finally bought a bike to make my Tel Aviv experience complete. I get why this city loves bikes so much!


Witnessing the spirit of Israeli endurance firsthand, as well as the ingenuity of TAU and its staff has been inspiring.


It’s been a pleasure working at TAU, despite the pandemic. My aliya journey is still only just beginning!


By: Rafael Ben-Menashe


Tel Aviv University makes every effort to respect copyright. If you own copyright to the content contained
here and / or the use of such content is in your opinion infringing, Contact us as soon as possible >>