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New year, new olim. Celebration or challenge?



Being in a new country for Rosh Hashanah has its challenges. The SA Jewish Report reached out to recent olim to find out what this time of year is like for them, and how they plan to celebrate the year 5784.

Tayla Lemmer

Six months ago, I said goodbye to my life in Johannesburg and began my aliya journey. Now, I’m celebrating my first Rosh Hashanah as an Israeli citizen. This time of year always has us looking back into the past and the past six months have been a whirlwind. Making aliya fresh out of university comes with its challenges. But Israel has given me a profound sense of independence and pride.

There are certain sacrifices you have to make as a 23-year-old when making aliya – no washing is done for me; no dinner is made when I get home; I pay the bills; I do the grocery shopping; I go to work; and I take it all day by day.

Making aliya isn’t easy, but it’s the most rewarding adventure.

Many strangers have asked me why I chose to come to Israel, especially in its current political state. My answer is that I came here to build a brighter future for myself, one that doesn’t involve the hardships in South Africa. But the truth is, my life in South Africa was beautiful. I understand now why people say there is no Jewish community like the South African Jewish community.

My journey has caused a lot of tears, involved a lot of planning, and taken a lot of courage. But most importantly, it has taught me to take each day as it comes, to live in the moment, and be grateful for the life I’m building for myself. This time last year, I was with my family singing, Next year in Jerusalem”. This year, I have made that a reality.

  • Tayla Lemmer is a recent digital design graduate.

Susan Fine

My partner, Mark Isaacs, and I made aliya in December 2022 because I have two daughters living in Israel and I wanted to be closer to them. We’ll be at home for the first night of Rosh Hashanah with my daughter and her family. The second night, my daughter is hosting, and my younger daughter will join us. For lunch, we’ll be at home. We’re not yet members of a shul, and will try to find one to go to. The shul that Mark goes to on Saturdays is full for the holidays. In Ra’anana, they put up tents for additional shuls for the chagim, so we’ll try to find one nearby.

In South Africa, we had our routine for the holidays, and I suspect it will be similar here, just in a different environment with different people. I’m excited to experience chagim in the “holy land”. Besides some family and friends left in South Africa, I’m happy to be here.

  • Susan Fine is from Pretoria and Mark Isaacs is the former director of the Jaffa Old Age Home in Pretoria.

Selwyn Epstein

I made aliya on 29 March 2023. My late wife, Tessa Epstein, took ill at the end of June 2022, and was diagnosed with malignancies. Unfortunately, after two months, she succumbed to the dreaded disease. Tessa told my daughter that I should make aliya and be close to them. I made a promise to Tessa that I would do so. It made sense. I love Israel, and spent nine months here in 1967 as a volunteer.

Going from a big house with a pool, a BMW, and the obvious inverter system to a two-bed apartment in Ra’anana isn’t easy, but I realised this from the start. I knew there would be red tape, I knew there would be frustration and a host of other things I wouldn’t have thought of.

But knowing this beforehand made the transition that much easier, and I strongly urge others who are contemplating aliya to be strong and jump those hurdles.

The choices were stark: be alone in Cape Town or near my children and grandchildren.

I’m in a state of peace and nostalgia, as whenever I pass a place where we were together two years ago, it becomes difficult for a while.

On a lighter note, while Israelis may outwardly appear brusque and impatient, they embrace olim irrespective of age. Israelis have taught me how to navigate rules and regulations to my advantage. Bend the rules, but don’t break them!

  • Selwyn Epstein, a Herzliya high school alumnus, has a real-estate company in Cape Town.

Menashe Rossouw

I feel at peace in Israel, and life here flows beautifully. I’m surrounded by beauty, and have amazing family and friends here. My plan for Rosh Hashanah is to reunite with my parents, who are travelling from Cape Town. This will be their first ever Rosh Hashanah experience in Israel, and I’m lucky to share this moment with them.

My passion lies in theatre and film, and there’s a place in Israel for me to explore this industry with the right connections and community.

I’m motivated to live in Israel with a healthy mindset. Cape Town will always be my home, and has its unique beauty, however, being in Israel is the best decision for me.

My family and friends will always be close to my heart. I have a special bond with the people I love, and I’m excited to create more memories here.

  • Menashe Rossouw is an aspiring actor and a recruiter for Israel Experience and Masa Israel Teaching Fellows.

Leanne Zabow

I made aliya with my husband and twin daughters (aged five) two months ago. My husband, Rafi, wanted to return to Israel, having lived here during his school years and served in the army. I made aliya to widen opportunities for my children and increase the likelihood of geographical proximity to them later in their lives.

I also feel comfortable in Israel. It’s a vibrant place filled with interesting opportunities. Some of the difficulties involved in living in South Africa also influenced us to make this move.

We live in Ra’anana, and haven’t yet had time to attend the different shuls in the area and decide which one is for us. In South Africa, I would have been with my parents and extended family, and would have spent time davening at my dad’s minyan in the garden at his apartment block, and at one of the minyanim on the Yeshiva College campus. We’re considering attending Kehillat Bnei Aharon, a lovely, warm shul with serious tefilah about a kilometre away from our apartment. We’re not sure how much of the service we’ll attend because we aren’t sure about options for children. They have made some friends in our building, and we’re hoping to enlist some of the older children as babysitters during the service.

We’re fortunate to have my husband’s family nearby in Kfar Saba, and we’ll be walking there to join them for first night dinner. This helps with a sense of belonging and familial warmth. We’re also fortunate to have been invited to new and old friends during the day. Reaching out to people through WhatsApp groups has helped us. Everyone is looking to create a community here as we’re all far from our original home.

There’s some aching for home and familiarity at this time of year, when we tend to feel connected to the community. There’s a feeling of dislocation and confusion, and an awareness of having to rebuild. At the same time, everyone around is gearing up for the holiday, which feels special.

  • Leanne Zabow from Johannesburg is a clinical psychologist and entrepreneur.

Hayley Katzer

We made aliya in November 2022 to Ra’anana mainly for the sake of our nine-year-old son, our craving for Judaism, and our love for the holy land.

We came from Durban, and unfortunately, we belonged to a small and ageing community. There were many limitations for our son, Asher, and we wanted to bring him up in a traditional Jewish way with Jewish children his age.

Our aliya process has been a complete blessing from Hashem, and nine months later, we’re all thriving in our new home and have adapted amazingly to the different but special way of life.

This will be our first Rosh Hashanah in Israel, and we’ll be with family and friends. There’s a special feeling around the entire country as the New Year is upon us and we’re honoured to be able to spend this special, holy time in Israel.

It’s also a little bittersweet as we’re not going to be able to spend Rosh Hashanah with family in South Africa, but we’ll be together in mind and spirit and we know how proud of us they are for making aliya in search of a better life and future.

  • Hayley Katzer is a private nursery school teacher and her husband, Darren, is a sports analyst.

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