Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



Jewish immigrants find SA appealing

Avatar photo



Jews from around the world are choosing to make South Africa home. Hailing from countries including the United Kingdom (UK), France, and the United States, they’re excited by the opportunities the country offers and they’re grounded by the embrace of a community like no other.

Seeking a break from life as a foreign-exchange broker in his native London, Gabriel Rubin*, 23, came to South Africa in October last year for a change of scenery. He was also determined to fulfil his bucket-list dream of living abroad in spite of being told he couldn’t do it because of having Type 1 diabetes. “I’ve lived life proving people wrong and doing things I really want to do,” he says.

Largely attracted to South Africa because of stories his parents, who lived here for 18 months before marrying, had shared with him about the country and its Jewish community, Rubin booked his ticket to Johannesburg.

“I went to shul regularly and fell in love with the atmosphere and the special community, with how people interacted with each other, how supportive, friendly, and nice they are. It’s easy to make friends here, especially when you’re an extrovert. I’m also excited by the chance to work with the amazing charity organisations here,” Rubin says. He also loves Johannesburg’s weather and greenery. “Going for daily runs and getting some vitamin D makes a massive difference to my well-being,” he says.

Building a relationship with someone in the community has solidified his love of the country. Together, he and his girlfriend are ticking off his list of places to visit, including the Lion Park.

Rubin is inherently ambitious. “I’m entrepreneurial, and I’ve been told by friends here about the power of community networking. Jewish people really help each other, not just socially but also in business.” He’s excited by the long-term start-up opportunities.

While he admits that friends from home and even some South Africans think he’s mad to want to stay here, especially in light of the crime and government challenges, he’s optimistic. “The community here is so strong that regardless of what happens, I see my long-term future here. Even if you move to Israel, the UK, or Australia, you won’t have the same unique community and support.”

Penelope D moved with her partner and two sons to Cape Town from Toulouse in June 2015, following her mother who had moved to the city in 2000. “For as long as I can remember, I had my heart set on living in an English-speaking country, somewhere where I could follow my heart in spiritual growth and connection,” Penelope says. “I had dreamed of leaving France for a long time and so, after several antisemitic attacks near our home in Toulouse in 2012, we decided to take steps to do so.”

Penelope also felt that going to the other side of the world meant that she and her family would be far from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which felt very present in France. While making a living was hard in the beginning, she says they made their way with the help of new friends in the Jewish community. Her partner works remotely for a French company, and she has proudly built her business, Penelope D Judaica, in which she crafts Judaica items. Her sons both matriculated from Herzlia, and one has since graduated from the University of Cape Town, while the other is studying.

Life is better here,” she says. “There’s less stress and people are nicer. In France, I lied for years to my colleagues to avoid nasty comments about being Jewish. In South Africa, I feel free. Since 7 October, things have changed, but is it worse than in France, the UK, or the United States? I always say that I prefer the imperfections of South Africa to the hypocritical behaviour of Western countries. South Africa has a vibrant and strong Jewish community. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Originally from New York, Zachary Bucheister studied and worked in the city before completing a graduate degree in England. Seeking entrepreneurial opportunities, he moved to Accra in Ghana and built his talent technology company, Africa Foresight Group (AFG). Later looking for more stability and a place more conducive to Jewish life, he moved to Johannesburg five years ago, where he remains on the board of directors of AFG. He’s a director of boutique property development company, Josa Properties, which creates Jewish homes in suburbs including Highlands North and Rouxville, and also does ad hoc financial modelling for companies.

“Though I had an amazing childhood, I always knew I liked the idea of doing something different to the context in which I grew up,” he says. “I’m passionate about the way different markets and the companies within those markets operate, more specifically about doing something beneficial for the community that also makes money. There are an enormous amount of business opportunities in South Africa and in Joburg specifically, which doubles as being the most attractive business hub for launching businesses into other African markets.”

Last year, Bucheister and his wife, who also hails from New York and moved to South Africa to join him, became parents. They’re putting down roots. “The Joburg Jewish community is one of the main draws that I had to the city originally, and it’s proved to be way beyond my expectations,” Bucheister says. “It’s an incredibly warm, Zionist community steeped in tradition. It’s welcoming regardless of your level of observance, which is rare.”

In spite of the challenges the country faces, Bucheister prefers to look at the broader context. “I’m interested only in establishing a good lifestyle for my family and finding things that interest and stimulate me from a business, religious, and community perspective. There are aspects of any city that I wouldn’t like, it’s about what can you do to adjust to them. When you have a government that doesn’t always provide services in the way you’d like, it creates opportunities for private enterprise. That’s worth focusing on,” he says.

*Name has been changed.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *