(Courtesy of The Hebron Fund) Making sense of the requirements to visit Israel is confusing for Americans and Israelis alike. Even those who have attempted the first-degree relative program have reported extensive paperwork requirements and waiting periods.
The Hebron Fund, the official sponsor of the Jewish Community of Hebron that helps its residents, IDF soldiers and worshippers, has sprung into action. Recently, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of the Interior launched a program for “organized travel groups.” Those who can’t wait to get to Israel may have the opportunity to visit as part of the Hebron Fund VIP Shabbat Chayei Sarah weekend. The annual event that marks the Torah reading of Parshat Chayei Sarah was canceled for the public last year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a list of the main requirements for the Hebron Fund VIP Chayei Sarah Program:
1. Participants must be fully vaccinated in the past six months (people who have recovered from corona but have not been vaccinated are not eligible).
2. Participants must submit all information and documents to our tour agency by Monday, October 11.
3. Participants’ flights must land in Israel on Thursday, October 28, and depart back for the U.S. on Sunday night, October 31, 2021. Participants do not have to fly in on the same flight, but can join a r/t group fare with El Al from JFK or Newark at $799.
4. All participants must take a PCR test within 72 hours of departure to Israel (arranged privately at your own expense. It’s recommended to book the test in advance).
5. Upon arriving in Israel, participants must take both a PCR and serological test at Ben Gurion airport (arranged privately and at your own expense. It’s recommended to book the test in advance).
6. Participants must stay in isolation (in their hotel room; see hotel options below) until they receive their test results and are given permission to leave isolation by the Ministry of Health. This can take anywhere from a few hours to 24 hours, and in some cases even longer. We expect to be released Friday a.m.
7. All participants must take a PCR test within 72 hours of departure from Israel (arranged privately at your own expense. It’s recommended to book the test in advance).
8. Participants must stay together (as part of the group) for the duration of the trip.
9. Participants must pay an additional processing fee per application through the tour agency*.
This year, the crowds are expected to return, albeit with coronavirus precautions. Hebron is known for its hospitality dating back to Abraham and Sarah who opened up their tent to all, and today’s Hebron residents are no different. The historic buildings and alleyways and the festive atmosphere make for an inspiring experience. The Sabbath Torah reading of the week will include the description of Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah as a burial plot for his beloved wife Sarah.
Included in the program will be prayer services held inside and outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the massive Herodian edifice that sits atop the ancient burial caves.
Rabbi Dan Rosenstein, executive director of the Hebron Fund, said, “Most people have not been to Israel in at least two years.” He described a situation where parents who have children in an Israeli yeshiva or seminary have been unable to visit them. “A Shabbat in Hebron with a son or daughter is especially meaningful and remembered forever,” he stated.
The Shabbat includes great accommodations, three catered meals plus oneg Shabbat, a gala kiddush and an IDF soldier appreciation barbecue. Scheduled speakers at the meals include chief rabbis, Members of Knesset and leaders of the Jewish Community of Hebron.
Davening will be led by Hebron’s legendary tourism director Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum and Englewood favorite Chazzan Sruli Hersh.
The Hall of Isaac and Rebecca, the area within the Tomb of the Patriarchs that includes the actual opening into the underground burial chambers, will be open, one of the 10 days throughout the year in which it is accessible to the general public.
The program will follow all current guidelines of the Israeli Ministry of Health.
“VIP Chayei Sarah is the Shabbat of a lifetime,” Rabbi Rosenstein said. Details and requirements can be found on the Hebron Fund website, but act fast. The deadline for the application is this Monday, October 11. Don’t delay!