'We Realized We Could Be Stuck in a Coronavirus Lockdown in a Foreign Country, and Things Got Real'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A couple who managed to fly home to Israel in the nick of time, and an American who came to Israel because God told her to

Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein
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Lior Gal and Motti Ben Atar.
Lior Gal and Motti Ben Atar.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein

Lior Gal, 21, and Motti Ben Atar, 23, both live in Dimona; arriving from Mexico City

Hi, where are you escaping from?

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Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsCredit: Haaretz

Lior: Mexico. Motti was traveling across South America over the past three months, and I was in Guatemala for a month and a half. We were supposed to go on to Mexico together, but the trip was cut short by the coronavirus.

When did you decide it was enough?

Lior: Most of the trip in Mexico was good; they’re very disconnected from what’s going on. Until two-three days ago, corona was still just a kind of beer to them. So I said, yallah, let’s go; we’ll stay another month here, or another month there, it’s all good.

But it wasn’t good.

Lior: No, because things started to close down. There’s nothing to do, you’re stuck, you’re stressed, your parents are stressed. In the past two days we started to see hand sanitizer, masks and gloves in the stores. We got up one day to go diving and it was closed. We wanted to eat, but nothing was open.

You didn’t have where to eat?

Lior: We eat only kosher, and the Chabad Houses started to shut down one after the other. We realized we could be stuck in a lockdown in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language, and everything suddenly became real and scary. Our parents started to freak out, and we realized that in another minute the skies in Mexico were going to close, too. So finally we said: Okay, we better stop here, with all the pain and anguish. For me, I was stopping in the middle of the trip; Motti did more.

Motti: I knew things were getting bad already when I was in San Andres, in Colombia. One minute everything was operating, we were in a boat and having a great time, and then one day I go to the beach, and there is no beach. Overnight they packed up everything, the place was deserted, you couldn’t even sit there on the sand, because the police packed you up. Suddenly everything is closed except the supermarket. I said, fine, I’ll go on to Mexico, I’ve had good luck all during the trip and it will follow me there. But suddenly I get a message that my flight from Colombia to Mexico, which was supposed to be on Sunday, was canceled, so I escaped on Thursday on a different flight.

You weren’t together the whole time?

Lior: No, we’ve been a couple for five years. He’s been on the road for three months; I’ve been traveling for only a month and a half. We met in Mexico in order to continue together. And that, as I said, almost didn’t happen.

Motti: What’s happening with the flights is disgusting. I paid 5,000 shekels [$1,388] to come back here, and even that is relatively all right. That’s in addition to the 3,000-shekel ticket I already had. But friends of mine who are now stuck in Colombia paid 2,500 shekels for a flight, it was canceled and they didn’t see any money. People there sell you tickets for flights that simply don’t exist.

So how did you manage to get out?

Motti: Luckily, I happened to find a travel agent who told me I had to get to Mexico fast. My friends didn’t want to listen to me; every one of them was told a different story. I ran to the airport in the middle of the night. I waited there and the whole time I saw on the flight board “canceled, canceled, canceled.” I prayed really hard and managed to get on the flight. But my friends are stuck there; most of them are at the end of their trips and don’t have money. I know someone who’s in Colombia with a wife and two children, and the flight costs $3,200 multiplied by four – it’s a catastrophe. I left behind about 200 unlucky Israelis, in Honduras and Costa Rica. They sent a plane to Peru but forgot about all the rest.

And from here you’re going into quarantine?

Motti: Yes, together. After not having seen each other for months, now it’s going to be intense. I don’t know what the instructions are exactly, but I guess we’ll do the quarantine in a room at my parents’ place. I hear everything is deserted in Dimona, but how is that different from Dimona in normal times?

Do you want to stay in the south?

Lior: In college, yes, in the south, but not in Dimona. Maybe Ashdod, some place with the sea, with more life.

And afterward?

Lior: To go to the United States, to live and raise a family there.

Motti: What? What are you talking about?

Lior: We’ll talk about it in quarantine.

Diana Porter.
Diana Porter.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Diana Porter, 52, lives in Farmington, Utah; flying to Salt Lake City

Hey, did you sleep here in the airport?

Yes, because I was told there wouldn’t be buses today. Yesterday evening I took a cab and a bus, and got here at 9 P.M. I dozed off but didn’t really sleep. I’m waiting for my flight, which is scheduled for 10:10 P.M.

What were you doing in Israel?

I came with a group of Christian believers from all across the United States. They left a month and a half ago, but I stayed, because God told me to. He also told me a few years ago that I would come to Israel, but he had to heal me better before that, and only then gave me the go-ahead.

Do you talk, you and God?

Yes. It’s something people find hard to understand. So first of all I worship him, read the [Hebrew] Bible and the New Testament, go to church. And then I listen. It’s not a one-way relationship, with me telling him, “You’re wonderful, listen to me, do things for me,” and he replies. Sometimes he comes to me in my dreams, sometimes he sends me a message through other Christian believers, sometimes it happens while I’m reading the Bible, sometimes he wakes me up to pray in the middle of the night and even hints things to me in numbers. We have a very intimate relationship. He knows me very well.

Did you always have that kind of bond?

It happened before I was married, 20 years ago, I wasn’t a little girl anymore. I was raised as a Catholic, but I never felt really connected to God. But two years before I was married, I had a boyfriend who had strong religious ties. I started to ask him tons of questions: What’s is all that faith good for? How are things that happened thousands of years ago connected to me? And then I started to get messages, like in 3D.

And the relationship never foundered?

I abandoned him once. When my middle daughter was born, relations with my husband got very bad, and I felt very hurt. I turned to Jesus and said to him, “Aren’t you listening to my prayers? Why aren’t you responding?” I turned my back on faith. He didn’t say anything to me, but he made me sick for a month. I couldn’t get over it. So I prayed to him and I said, “Please forgive me.” Since then I’ve never been angry at him even once. He is the god of love and battles the evil powers.

Then what’s the deal with the coronavirus now?

Those are the forces of darkness, the forces of Satan. People often blame God. Even now, when bad things are happening – and worse things are going to happen, I know that from him – Jesus safeguards us and does battle on our behalf. What we can do is to be strong for God. We need to understand that we don’t have the understanding and the strength and the wisdom and the knowledge, and we have to rely on God. God is like a precious jewel that has been lost: You need to look for it everywhere and with great intention. With all our heart.

Aren’t you afraid of the virus?

No, I’m not. It’s not that I’m going to start licking things now and get myself sick. I wash my hands, I used a face mask. But God gave me a gift, I feel it. I feel the spirits of death. God told me to pray for humanity. The forces of darkness need the body, and Jesus also needs the body. When people are fearful, as they are now, they create an opening, and God can enter them. There’s good in it, too.

How did you keep your hair so nice after a very long trip?

I was a hairstylist until a few years ago, but God took that from me. He told me I needed a flexible job, not a 9-to-5 thing. That way I wouldn’t have been able to come to Israel, because people would have said, “I need to have my hair done – what do you mean, you’re going to Israel?”

What do you do now?

I live on alimony and on faith. I am working on a project that God gave me so I can earn a living while I help people. Before God gives a great deal, he gives a little. He explained to me that he will give me a lot, because I also want to give, to contribute and to bring back believers.