Roni and I received an email from Maccabi a couple of weeks ago to say that the vaccine was available and that we should make an appointment. We were in Cape Town at the time and immediately booked our flights to Tel Aviv. Roni’s cousin booked the appointments for us. We received notification that we needed to fill out the Israeli Government questionnaire as to our state of health and where we would be for the quarantine period. It was easy to follow and once submitted we received an email to say that we needed to print out the form, which we did. At the airport the Ethiopian Airlines check in requested the form and all was fine. We had to produce it twice more, at Addis Ababa and again at Ben Gurion.

When we arrived at Ben Gurion we scanned our biometric passports and immediately thereafter there was a bank of around 20 quasi immigration officials so that nobody had to stand in line. I say ‘quasi’ because they all seemed like young army recruits. They checked the documentation quickly and waved us through with no fuss.

The most stressful part, for me, was the process for the Covid testing. At the baggage hall there were three lines to receive the throat and nose swabs. Before then we had to download an app onto our cell phones. After filling in the details we got a QR code which we presented to the official at the computer. I didn’t even know how to download the app, but on hand to help was one of a number of young people who were there to metaphorically assist old people across the road. She really could see me struggling.

After presenting the QR we each received two bar codes with our names on them. One was for the tube that took the swab, the other was attached to a paper bracelet, similar to what you receive in hospital, that you had to attach to your wrist. Having three people administering the test meant that the waiting time was limited. We retrieved our luggage and could only leave the airport by showing the bar code on the paper bracelet.

The whole process was designed to be as efficient as possible, to cause as little stress as possible and to make you feel comfortable. Normally as soon as I see someone of authority I immediately think ‘What have I done wrong?’ In this case everyone was on my side.

When we were in the taxi to our destination I said to Roni, ‘There is nowhere in the world that I feel safer than in Israel. They just want to look after every citizen.’ When we made Aliyah three years ago the effort that they went to via Misrad Haklita (Ministry of Absorption) and other organisations, such as Telfed, made us feel wanted. I know that there can be lots of bureaucracy, but the bottom line is that if you’ve got a problem you will be cared for. I’ve experienced that at least twice before when I’ve had medical emergencies and had to go to hospital. It was comforting to know that I was in excellent hands.

At 2pm the next afternoon we received a text to say that we were negative. This was a most positive outcome. From 4.00 in the morning it took 10 hours. I am extremely impressed and grateful.

Yesterday we went for our vaccine at the facility in Herzliya. Again, a model of efficiency and making you feel welcome. There were around 15 stations and a supervisor directing people to their station. We were taken as soon as we arrived, even though we were 20 minutes early, the explanation of what to expect was to the point and the jab painless. A number of over 60s and others considered ‘at-risk’ were turning up without appointments. They too were admitted without fuss. There was a sense of urgency – ‘we really need to get this done.’

Forget politics – Israel is a wonderful country, whoever is in power.

Arnie Witkin

11 January 2021