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Israel

Aliyah interest spikes after unrest

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The director of the Israel Centre South Africa, Liat Amar Arran, says the organisation received “100 enquiries” into aliyah over the past three weeks, and that “at least 50 files were opened” – the first step in the aliyah process.

Comparing these figures to the 30 to 40 enquiries the organisation normally gets every month, Amar Arran says although she’s happy South African Jews see Israel as an option, we shouldn’t make aliyah in a panic.

“Making aliyah in an emergency means the person isn’t ready and hasn’t had time to do their research. It means they’re running away, and it’s very hard to settle when you are running away from something. Aliyah is a process.” Amar Arran emphasises that while Israel will always be there for South African Jews, it’s unlikely it would ever evacuate the community unless lives were truly at stake.

She says the Israeli government was updated during the unrest, but didn’t see it as an evacuation-type situation. Her team and the Israeli government have faith that the Jewish community will stay and succeed in South Africa for decades to come. “Israel will be there to strengthen, support, and assist,” she says.

She points out that Israel isn’t a solution to the complex challenges that people might be facing in South Africa. “If you are struggling financially, Israel isn’t going to save you. Yes, it gives some support and assistance, but aliyah doesn’t mean all your problems are going to be solved. You will probably carry the same problems with you. We want to see olim succeed, not collapse. You may get some assistance in the beginning, but eventually, you need to live your life there. We don’t want you to look back and say, ‘Why did I make this decision?’”

If you want to have the option of aliyah in a time of emergency, “then open a file now, and work on it [getting documents]. Don’t wait. You want to be ready on your side. Then you know that you have the documents, even if you might never use them. That’s your insurance.”

She emphasises that the Israel Centre doesn’t have the capacity to “hold people’s hand”, and that it’s each individual’s responsibility to gather their documents and do their research. While she and her team offer guidance, advice, and support, each person has to take their own steps.

She refers to the joke of a man in a town that’s flooding, and people keep offering him help – in a car, a boat, and a helicopter, but he refuses to go with them because he’s “waiting”. Eventually, he drowns and goes to heaven, where he asks G-d, “Why didn’t you come save me?” And G-d answers, “I sent you a car, a boat, and a helicopter!”

Essentially, she’s saying that you can take practical steps like opening an aliyah file if you want to have an option during times of crisis. You can also watch the informative video explaining the aliyah process that the Israel Centre recently released online. There will also be an aliyah Q&A webinar on 5 August, and the Israel Centre hosts these webinars often for prospective olim.

Though the organisation has been stretched to capacity in recent weeks, Amar Arran doesn’t expect the high level of interest to continue unless there’s more unrest. In addition, she says there is always more aliyah interest during harder lockdowns, when people are at home, less busy, and thinking about the future.

Meanwhile, olim who are making aliyah this week say the process takes time. “Getting all my South African documents [to make aliyah] was the biggest challenge, especially during COVID-19,” says Tammy Wainer. “At times it felt like I was climbing up a mountain with no end in sight! Once I had all my South African documents, it was smooth sailing.”

To others considering aliyah, she says: “Aliyah is a very big decision. Do your research, and weigh the pros and cons. Israel will be there waiting with open arms, but ultimately, it will be up to you to make a new life for yourself.”

The recent unrest in South Africa didn’t have an impact on her decision, but “it made it easier for me to say goodbye. I won’t miss going to bed at night feeling anxious at the sound of gun shots. But at the same time, it makes me worried about the loved ones I leave behind. Just because we are leaving South Africa, doesn’t mean we are turning our back on South Africa. The fire of South Africa lives in all of us, and I will continue to be proudly South African and proud of our incredible Jewish community from afar.”

Tamar Lutrin is in Grade 10, and making aliyah with her family. “Making aliyah during COVID-19 was both beneficial and hard. It was easier to leave because we weren’t spending every second with the people we love, but at the same time, we couldn’t say proper goodbyes.” To others considering making the move, she says, “Don’t prolong it, go as soon as you can. It’s hard to break down a life here without building up a new one there.”

The recent unrest “made it easier to leave”, Lutrin says. “My family and I were never leaving South Africa because we hated it, we love South Africa and the community, but it did make the grass look greener on the other side.”

Says Sandra (Sandi) Shapiro, “After the current unrest in South Africa, I can say that I’m fortunate to be one of the lucky ones to be able to leave South Africa in such uncertain times. I leave behind family and friends, and I worry for them all. I can only pray that Hashem will protect all of South Africa, and that peace, harmony, and tranquillity will prevail.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Vacelia Goodman

    Jul 29, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Quite frankly I don’t understand why it’s Not considered any urgency for 11000 Jews in Johannesburg Who are dependent on the Chevrah Kadisha to not be offered the better option of a Life in Israel. There’s No work for us here in South Africa and we’re Despised in All communities here especially if we’ve got Chronic Debilitating Physical Illnesses which are Hated in South Africa. Unfortunately All the Agencies in South Africa dealing with Aliyah have let my late Mother and myself down So far – that’s why she’s No longer alive and I’m daily Harassed and Threatened by All the Non Jewish people who are tenants where I live. I’m the Only White and Jew here and due to additional Health Problems since Covid Lockdown last year I’m unable to pack up and look for other accommodation in Johannesburg.
    However I and some cousins who are Not in Johannesburg but also in destitute circumstances ARE DETERMINED to make Aliyah. Here we have a daily living Death and in ISRAEL there’s LIFE.
    Unfortunately it appears that those who deal with the Aliyah process here in South Africa are very informative and non useful to us wanting to make Aliyah.
    They receive their salary off us BUT do nothing to assist us in what’s required to be successful in our ALIYAH. Not everyone who has made ALIYAH is financially well off or healthy. In our situation Health Care is almost completely unavailable.
    For me and others in my family South Africa has Only demonstrated it’s HATRED and Repression towards All of us Our whole lives so far. Am Yisrael Chai

  2. Miryam

    Jul 29, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    Jewish South Africans, where is your stamina? where is the loyalty and love to the community that gives so much support here? Israel is Stressful, there is absolutely no compassion in the Israeli society unless you belong to a tight religious community. South Africans always think that the grass is greener everywhere else in the world and tend to flee in panic when there is some distress.
    Israel is a wonderful country but from experience there is nothing in the world like the Jewish community here and i think a lot of south African’s have major illusions picturing Israel as the holy biblical country.

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