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Personal Story

Aliya for bighearted, not fainthearted



My husband Ian and I are in our mid-sixties, and made aliya five years ago. I feel honoured to have been invited by the Jewish Agency to share my story at the Aliyah Expo, and hopefully inspire others.

Our daughter and son-in-law, Gila and Robin, had made aliya with our two little grandsons, and were settled and happy in Modi’in. We wanted to join them, but felt so overwhelmed at the thought of such a drastic move. We also couldn’t face the thought of leaving Alon and Sarah, our son and daughter-in-law, who were still in South Africa.

We visited Gila and Robin in Modi’in three times in the two years prior to our aliya. On each visit, we started to feel more comfortable and less afraid of the unknown, as life in Modi’in started to become more familiar and attractive.

When Alon and Sarah announced that they had decided to leave South Africa, we realised it was time for us to take the giant leap forward. We sold our home quickly and easily, and started planning our aliya. Careful planning was one of the key elements to making aliya successfully.

Gila found an apartment for us to rent, and we signed the lease based on her good judgement. It’s a lovely apartment, and we’re happy there. Knowing where we would be living and how much space we would have enabled us to plan our packing carefully and helped us to decide what to leave behind and what to take in our container.

We were also in a position to plan our finances fairly accurately because we knew how much money we would need to cover rent, utilities, and day-to-day living expenses. Knowing all of this in advance helped to make the process less stressful, and prevented any unpleasant and unexpected surprises after our arrival.

We settled in quickly, and soon dealt with all the official bureaucratic matters, like opening a bank account, converting our drivers’ licences, and applying for biometric identity documents. People were welcoming and helpful every step of the way.

We signed up for ulpan, and spent the next six months working on our Hebrew. Even though most Israelis can speak some English, it’s essential to learn Hebrew as it helps to integrate into Israeli society.

We joined a shul with an Anglo community, and feel quite comfortable there, even though most of the people are younger than we are.

One of our biggest concerns was whether we would find work. Fortunately, Ian and I were lucky enough to find jobs without too much difficulty. He works for Super-Pharm, a pharmacy, healthcare, and home-products store. I’m an English teacher, and teach at a girls high school in Tel Aviv. Teaching Israeli teenagers has been an eye-opener, and is very different to what I was used to, but it’s a wonderful school, and I enjoy teaching there.

Dealing with the bureaucracy of misrad hachinuch (the education ministry) was challenging. In spite of the fact that I managed to get my South African degrees recognised, I was still required to do a year of staj (internship) and complete a one-year staj course through a college of education in order to get my teaching licence. I completed this during my first year at the school, and eventually sorted out all of the bureaucratic issues with the help of Telfed.

Alon and Sarah made aliya with their three children two and a half years after us, and Gila and Robin had their third child shortly after we arrived. We’re all happy in Modi’in, and enjoy the wonderful quality of life that Israel offers. My grandchildren can ride their bikes freely in the streets, and I can walk to the 24/7 supermarket, at midnight, without looking over my shoulder.

Of course, living through the war has and continues to be stressful and utterly heart breaking. Though we can never ignore the horrors of the war, I still feel safe in Israel. I have the utmost respect for our brave Israel Defense Forces heroes who are there to protect us. Nowhere else in the world do Jews have that safety net, that protection.

The war has brought out the best in Israeli society. Just the slogan coined, “beyachad nenatzeach” (together we will win) sums up the overwhelming feeling of unity. Israelis from all walks of life have banded together to volunteer, help, and provide support wherever they can. It’s humbling and empowering to be a part of such a society. Tragically, so many soldiers have died, yet even in our grief, we’re unified. One soldier is one too many. One family’s pain is the nation’s pain. We’re a nation in mourning, but we mourn together, and we’ll ultimately be victorious together.

Aliya isn’t for the fainthearted. I’ll never make light of the enormity of the undertaking. It’s without doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But, to quote the words of singer Tom Petty, “What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing, but I’m not afraid anymore.” Am Yisrael Chai! Ein li eretz acheret!

  • Shelley Berman spoke at the Aliyah Expo about her personal experience of emigrating to Israel from South Africa.

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