Steiner, who followed the battle in Israel around the arrival of yeshiva students, still feels hurt by the attitude expressed toward him and his friends. “I’m still hurt by the vicious media frenzy against my and my friends’ arrival to study in Israel,” he said. “We came in a group of several dozen friends from New Jersey. We are all in quarantine now for 14 days. What’s the story exactly? What transmission are we talking about? Will we purposely spread diseases?”
He added, “The State of Israel thinks it’s still in the first wave, without infection or illness, but this is a country stricken by the coronavirus, which is among the countries with the highest rates of infection. So what exactly are they protecting here? In New Jersey we experienced two very difficult months in April and May, but since then we hardly have any cases. If there is a chance that someone will get the virus, it is me from the Israelis, and not the Israelis from me.”
Steiner has come to study at a yeshiva in Israel for a year, after which he will return to the United States. “I came in order to absorb some Zionist values, to improve my Hebrew and to get a taste of Israeliness,” he noted. “This is my life’s dream. I’ve been waiting for this day since I was 10 — and 14 days of quarantine is completely acceptable.”
This is a phenomenon that has grown in recent years, and until the coronavirus pandemic, tens of thousands of young people have spent extended periods of time studying in Israel, in various programs. “This is a huge economic engine for the market,” said Abraham Luria, economic analyst for the ultra-Orthodox daily HaMevaser, who has studied the phenomenon in-depth.
“Through research we conducted in the past, we found that every young American spends anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 a month here — if the parents are really wealthy. They rent apartments, eat at restaurants, travel the country and enjoy spending money here. There is a whole industry of businesses that cater to these students, that directly provides the livelihood for hundreds of families and indirectly for thousands more. We discovered whole industries that are based on this tourism, that bring a lot of money to the State of Israel. Without confirmed information I assume that in closed discussions on this question, this issue also came up,” Luria told Al-Monitor.
Steiner concluded, “I don’t understand why the State of Israel doesn’t embrace us. We come to do good and commit to following the rules, including the quarantine rules. ”In regard to the economic aspect of their arrival in Israel, he said, “My parents pay the yeshiva where I study $2,200 a month including room and board, and I agreed with my parents on pocket money of $1,700 a month for expenses like laundry, clothes, travel, food, health insurance, and so on. It is clear that we give to Israel, but the response of some politicians to us is disappointing and hurtful. Despite it all, me being here is a sweet victory.”