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Aliya interrupted, but not cancelled

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The war in Israel has made Osher Favel strangely more convinced to make aliya from South Africa than she was before it started.

Favel is one of the 18 out of about 20 people who were scheduled to make aliya since the start of the war but had to postpone their plans.

“I was meant to go in October, but I’m hoping to go in December. I feel like even if the war is still on, I’m tired of the unknown, of not knowing what’s going on,” says the Israel-born Favel, who has lived in Johannesburg since arriving in South Africa as a baby.

“Before the war happened, I was anxious about leaving my entire life behind in South Africa and starting afresh in Israel, where the culture is quite different to South Africa. However, waiting these past two months and seeing everything that has been happening, especially on social media, where so many are against Israel, it sort of makes me want to go even more. I feel way more confident now about going to Israel than I did before. Since the war, with so many people being against Israel and so much antisemitism, it’s sealed the deal and makes it clear that Israel is where I need to be.”

Favel’s aunts, uncles, and cousins live in Israel. “I can’t wait to see them and be with them, b’ezrat Hashem [with the help of G-d]. My one aunt’s home was invaded by Hamas on 7 October but baruch Hashem, she wasn’t at home and was at her daughter’s house for the holidays.”

Favel also has a job awaiting her in Israel. Having worked in IT, admin, and sales in South Africa, she’s now doing freelance work because, she says, “I don’t want anything to hold me back when it’s okay to make aliya. It’s just the fear of the war that’s holding me back. I’m hoping the situation doesn’t cause me to lose that job.”

Liat Amar Arran, the outgoing director of the Israel Centre in South Africa, says some of the 18 people have put making aliya on hold until further notice. “Some are waiting until the end of November, and some want to hear about changes on the ground in order for them to make aliya,” Amar Arran says.

Most of the 18 decided in the first week of the war to postpone an aliya. Amar Arran and her colleagues have been in regular contact with them. “Mainly we’re telling them that to make aliya in times of war isn’t easy,” she says. “People need to understand where they’re coming to, what the situation on the ground is, and make sure that they have what they need to support themselves and feel safe.”

Throughout her life, Favel has been “drawn to Israel” and the idea of going back to her birthplace. “Finally, it reached the point where I put my money where my mouth is, and I got everything ready to make aliya. It seems like the next chapter in my life is to go to Israel, start a family there, and work. I’ve also got my dog, which I’m taking with me. I really love Israel. I feel connected to it and that’s basically the reason I want to go back. Even if the war carries on for a few months, I’m not going to wait for it to end. I would like to go this year.”

Amar Arran says it’s incredible that no-one has cancelled aliya due to the war. “People just want to postpone it, and this is the strength of the Jewish people. This is something that gives a lot of strength to the people of Israel, knowing that there are brothers and sisters around the globe who are still going to be making aliya and coming to build this country.”

Amar Arran says aliya is continuing around the globe. “If you’re coming to family or if you have someone waiting for you here in Israel, I think it makes things easier.”

She says some of the people who were going to make aliya have already sold their houses in South Africa and are staying with friends or family. Favel has already sold her car in South Africa.

“Some sent their belongings to Israel, some left their jobs in South Africa, or haven’t sent their kids to school for a few months,” Amar Arran says. “I told them, ‘You need to balance how much your life is hard in South Africa compared to how much your life is going to be hard here. If you sold your house, you’re sleeping on a couch at someone’s house, you have no money, you have already found a job in Israel, all your stuff is already in Israel, and if the current situation in South Africa is so hard to bear and you’re feeling like you need to go, then go. But take into consideration that it’s not a normal time of aliya.’”

Favel says the Israel Centre and Telfed have been “amazing” in helping her ahead of her aliya. “With their help, I don’t feel alone. I feel like I’ve got a strong support system. If I have a question or doubt, I can speak to them.”

War raises everyone’s anxiety, Amar Arran says, “no matter if you have a home and job. Some people are taking it easier; some people are taking it harder. For some people, it’s really paralysing. We’re telling them, ‘It’s a hard time in Israel, nothing is functioning. All the effort is aimed at the war and the people fighting.’”

Amar Arran wouldn’t recommend making aliya during a war. “The system is kind of broken, and we don’t know when it will be back to normal. Kids usually can just go out and play in Israel, but that’s not the situation in some places at the moment.

“Most government offices in Israel aren’t functioning like they used to,” Amar Arran says. “Schools aren’t really working, and nobody is dealing with how to integrate new kids properly. Men are away, and women are staying at home without their spouses.”

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