The arrival of two tour groups to Israel last week marked the gradual reopening of the country to foreign tourists.

The Covid-19 pandemic led Israel to close its borders to foreign tourists on March 21, 2020. Since then, only foreign students and some individual travelers have been admitted.

The first arrival was a Birthright Israel educational tourism group on May 24, comprising 14 vaccinated participants from Florida, Boston, New Jersey, New York and Texas, plus two staff members.

On May 24, 2021, the first Birthright Israel group arrived since the pandemic closed Israel to foreign tourists on March 21, 2020. Photo by Erez Uzir

Each participant was required to provide a negative PCR test before boarding and to take an antibody test upon arrival at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. They will also be tested at the end of their 10-day stay as required for re-entry into the United States.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Birthright Israel had provided trips for more than 750,000 young Jewish adults from 68 countries.

Arranged by the Prime Minister’s Office, this first group is one of dozens more Birthright Israel trips planned in May, June, July, August and October.

“We have thousands of young Jewish adults who have signed up for our trips. In the coming weeks we will bring more groups, responsibly and safely,” said Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright.

On May 27, a group of 12 Christian students from Concordia Seminary in Missouri arrived with Pastor Tom Zelt from the Prince of Peace Church, kicking off a pilot project of the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Health that aims to bring back tourism gradually.

A member of the Concordia Seminary group tour getting a PCR test at Ben-Gurion International Airport upon arrival on May 27, 2021. Photo by Michael Dimenstein/GPO

The theology students, all vaccinated, were greeted with flowers by Israel Ministry of Tourism representatives. They were escorted through the process of getting PCR tests mandated by Israeli law for all incoming passengers.

“You are the first of what I am sure will be many tourists returning to the Holy Land,” Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen stated.

She said Israel was looking at ways to allow individual vaccinated tourists to visit, probably beginning in July.

“I hope you all enjoy your trip, and that you encourage others to come visit Israel after when you return home,” she told the group.