Aliyah, the good, the bad and the meshuga

  • BenitaLevin
The highly-anticipated arrival of President Donald Trump in Jerusalem, is likely to dominate news here in the Middle East and abroad for a while. Much has already been made of the fact that the controversial American businessman is the first sitting US president to visit the Kotel.
by BENITA LEVIN | May 25, 2017

Israeli and American flags line the highways into the capital. Security is tight, as always. One can hear the names Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas being bandied about in outdoor cafés and in queues in shopping centres. Many are sceptical about talk of another peace deal, others raise nuclear concerns about Iran and some seem cautiously optimistic that there is a glimmer of hope for all people in the region.

Photographs of the US President wearing a yarmulke as he touches the Western Wall, followed by pictures of First Lady Melania Trump and daughter Ivanka Kushner doing the same, have already sparked much reaction.

Analysts are debating the significance of the newly-elected leader’s historic move - without any Israeli leaders by his side - and the discussion around the increasingly unlikely relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, rages on.

One cannot miss the irony - or is it no coincidence - that the US President’s visit comes in the same week as Israel celebrates 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem, after the Six Day War in 1967.

Celebrations have attracted thousands of visitors from the Diaspora who have flocked to the capital to mark this historic event. These visitors include a large contingent from the South African Jewish community.

Singers and comedians have been entertaining young and old; politicians and religious leaders have been sharing their thoughts about the significance of this miraculous milestone.

But it is the words of a South African grandfather in Jerusalem that gave me goose bumps. He was a volunteer in the Six Day War. He told me how emotional he was to see fellow volunteers at a Yom Yerushalayim ceremony this week - people he hadn’t seen in 50 years. His beautiful teenager granddaughter held his hand and told us how proud she was of “her hero”. He smiled. It was a beautiful, touching moment. 

Home is where the heart is…

The celebrations in Jerusalem came just days after I’d returned from a quick visit back to South Africa, my first since making aliyah four months ago. A trip included a special simcha in the beautiful Mother City, giving a talk in Johannesburg about making life-changing decisions, and being interviewed on radio by former colleague, Tom London.

No matter where I was in South Africa, or who I was talking to, (on air or off air), the questions were all very similar. Most people wanted to know how it felt as an Olah Chadasha (a new Israeli citizen) to be back in South Africa and what we missed most.

The main concern I heard people discussing in Johannesburg and Cape Town, was about safety concerns and the political and economic future. (It goes without saying that there are real problems in every country, no matter where one is in the world.)

There is also still an incredibly strong, proud spirit or “gees” in the country - we have seen it so many times in the past. The 1994 elections and the 2010 Rugby World Cup are just two of the moments in which South Africans from all over the country united against all odds. The passion and the indomitable spirit of South Africans, gave us all hope in the past and it can again.

So, when Tom London asked me on air what I missed most about South Africa, I didn’t hesitate. “The people”.

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It seems the world over, we wait and see what leaders will do to secure our future and the future of our children.

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Word of the week – “Be-tach” – for sure.

New phrase of the week - “Od Echad bevakasha” - another one please. (Usually in a coffee shop or bakery!)

Smile of the week-  Before we made aliyah, I’d told friends that all I wanted, was when the doorbell rang at night, it would be “a neighbour needing to borrow some sugar”.

The other night, my son came running into my room: “Mommy, your dream has come true.” “Why is that?” I asked. He replied: “Our neighbour is here from the flat downstairs - he’s asked for an egg”!

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