In response to the new omicron variant of COVID-19, the Israeli government has been updating its policies and regulations. One of the government’s recently enacted policies prohibited parents of expectant mothers from entering Israel. Pregnant olim throughout the country were enraged and distraught, but one woman, Ayala Laub Waltuch of Efrat, together with Rabbi Dov Lipman and Yad L’Olim, immediately took action against what she believed was an unfair policy.
Waltuch, originally from West Orange, has lived in Israel for almost a decade. She and her husband, Eli, originally from New York, now have four sons, but Ayala was pregnant with their youngest when the new COVID policy went into effect.
Ayala spearheaded a campaign to demand that parents of expectant women be able to enter Israel for the birth of their grandchildren. She worked closely with Lipman, founder and CEO of Yad L’Olim. The campaign ultimately succeeded and Israel’s interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, changed the policy.
Yad L’Olim’s mission, according to its website, “is to help olim thrive in Israel. This begins with helping [them] navigate Israel’s complicated bureaucracies to ensure that Israel’s new immigrants gain access to all basic services, benefits and rights to which they are entitled. … Within the government Yad L’Olim serves as a lobbying body to the Knesset to drive government policies that provide new immigrants with the tools that they need to succeed in Israel.”
As part of the campaign, Ayala was featured in a video produced by Yad L’Olim, in which pregnant olim highlighted the injustice that their parents couldn’t be there to support them through their deliveries, whereas models were allowed into Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.
Ayala and the other women featured in the video said: “My mother is also beautiful; now can she come for the birth?”
Ayala explained, “I was devastated when I heard my parents couldn’t come in for my [delivery]. Especially since my entire pregnancy there had always been an option for parents to come, even at the height of other waves.
“My parents luckily had made it to Israel in the summer under the first-degree relative exception, so it wasn’t about having been years since we’d seen them,” she added. “It was about the fact that we needed them physically and emotionally after a birth and with four little kids.”
Ayala continued, “Birth is a serious thing. Many women struggle physically and emotionally post birth and rely heavily on familial support to get through that time. Having family around is not something that can be replaced, even if you are someone who can afford help, which most of us can’t.
“The idea that a woman a few days after birth may be totally alone with her baby and other children is terrifying. Some women may have had traumatic births, may have trouble physically moving, and more.”
Ayala was unhappy when she found out that an exception had been made for first-degree relatives of b’nai mitzvah children. That Miss Universe contestants were allowed in, and not parents of pregnant women, was the icing on the cake: “It was another blow that made me feel like literally everything is more important than immigrants. I love Israel very much, but really resented the idea that they couldn’t figure out how to organize my triple vaccinated parents and in-laws to be here, but could safely organize a massive international event like a beauty contest!”
Ayala gives full credit to Lipman and Yad ’LOlim, who were the keys to making this happen. “Without [Dov’s] constantly pushing the government, and his connections, we wouldn’t have had the success we did. Dov understood the importance of this issue, and initiated the campaign with me, getting the video edited, getting press involved, and fighting with ministers daily. His advocacy work is critical for the immigrant community during these times.”
Ayala has a message for Shaked and the Israeli government: “Firstly, I want to thank Minister Shaked for changing her stance, and enabling this exception to happen.”
Secondly, to the Israeli government: “The process for exceptions needs to be smoother. We can’t start from square one every time something changes, have to refight battles, and still struggle to get ishurim (permits) on time. … Fully vaccinated non-citizens do not pose any more of a threat to Israel than the Israelis traveling back and forth. They need to stop using our families as pawns to look strong on COVID, when it has no real epidemiological impact, and just hurts immigrants and the tourism industry.
“We need the Israeli government to understand that [we] matter, we need their help, and to hear our voices,” Ayala concluded.