It’s never too early to make aliyah

  • aliyah
The rising numbers of olim, especially among matriculants, reflects Israel’s enduring pull for the Jewish people.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Apr 19, 2018

The number of South Africans making aliyah is rising, agrees Sue Resnick, head of the Aliyah Department at the Israel Centre in Raedene, Johannesburg. While about 300 South Africans made aliyah last year, it’s impossible to estimate how many will follow in their footsteps this year, she says. “It’s off the wall at the moment – I’m booked solid for the next month seeing potential olim.”

While at the moment people are making aliyah across the board, in recent years, there’s been a trend towards young people making aliyah, often straight after matric.

“A lot of the kids go on Encounter in Grade 11 and come back hooked on Israel and wanting to make aliyah after matric,” she says. “The advantages of going early are that you integrate quickly and get subsidised to go to university. Or, you can go on a programme or go to the army. You get to make friends and integrate. The older you go, the harder it is. But make sure that this is what you want to do before moving.”

Young people who’ve made the move echo her sentiments.

After matriculating from King David Linksfield last year, Benji Gavronsky knew exactly where he was headed. Having done both a Bnei Akiva and a Diller Teen Fellows programme in 2015 and 2016, Gavronsky realised he was meant to live in Israel. “From the minute I first arrived in Israel, I knew that one day this would be my home,” he says.

“Three years after my first trip there, I’m home and I’m living and loving my dream.”

Although he made aliyah alone, Gavronsky never wavered in his decision. “My strength came from the fact that I knew I was returning home to Eretz HaKodesh and from my trust and faith in Hashem. Every day in Israel is another blessing.”

With support from Resnick at the Aliyah Centre, Gavronsky was mentally prepared for his move. “The process teaches you patience and ensures that you’re truly ready for your journey ahead.”

Before he left for Israel, Gavronsky was contacted by Telfed, which took up the role of providing support. “Since arriving in Israel, I’ve had constant emails and phone calls from Telfed members to ensure that I’ve found my feet.”

Gavronsky is currently living on a religious Zionist kibbutz called Sde Eliyahu. “The Kibbutz Ulpan programme I’m on entails working on the kibbutz and learning in an ulpan. The programme allows you to develop holistically as a Jew while experiencing the life of a kibbutznik.”

He plans to draft into the Israeli army, into Shiryon – the armoured corps – in November. “After my service I plan to continue my journey in Israel, studying psychology or politics. It’s all in Hashem’s hands, though.”

Gavronsky feels that making aliyah at a young age is advantageous. “You can absorb new things easily and integrate smoothly into society, as the systems in place give young individuals opportunities to grow and advance into the sometimes overwhelming society.”

Although Gavronsky says his journey has been relatively smooth so far, there are challenges. “It’s tough and if you want to survive, you have to be even tougher! Israel gives you challenges every day, but you grow and realise how every day is another adventure. Israel is home and here, the only constant is change.”

Gavronsky says his South African grounding has given him an edge. “Since moving here, I’ve realised that growing up as a Jewish South African was the biggest privilege I could ever have received. We’re one of the most committed and Zionistic Jewish communities in the diaspora. Being an Israeli Jewish South African makes me proud as I know that my South African roots will always keep me grounded and strong through everything I experience.”

Jordan Upiter, who made the move after matriculating in 2016, is currently serving in the Israeli Defence Forces. “I made aliyah after matric because it was something I always wanted to do and by going immediately after school, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he says.

“Youngsters are full of energy and ready for any challenge. It’s much easier to learn the language and integrate into the society when you’re young.”

Upiter’s passion for Israel and drive to join the army gave him the strength to move away from home. “I was excited to be independent and embrace new experiences.”

While he made aliyah without his family, Upiter says that moving together with two good friends smoothed the transition. “We’ve followed the same path and are still living together today. A big challenge has been missing my family more than I thought I would. Other challenges are learning independence and doing the admin that we don’t have our parents to do for us anymore.”

Yet he’s gaining independence every day. “I’ve only been in the army for four months and I have another two years and four months to go. I’m loving the experience and I’m blessed to be in a good place, with good people.”

“After the army, I plan to study. Israel is a vibey country and I hope to create a future here.”

Yet not every young person who makes aliyah lands up staying. Gila Germon made aliyah in 2007 but returned to South Africa after living in Israel for five years. “I wanted to build my life in Israel and to study there. I studied a BA Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya,” she says. “It was a big adventure. I learned to be independent, gained self-confidence and became a stronger person. You’re not sheltered anymore – you have to rely on yourself. It’s a wonderful learning experience. I also felt very safe in Israel and much freer than in South Africa.”

Yet after she finished her degree, Germon’s friends began to move on. “In Israel, it’s quite an unstable life. People come and go all the time,” she says. “I was living in Herzliya and after I finished studying, everyone I had befriended left. I didn’t want to live in Tel Aviv and was very lonely. I had put everything into making it work and it was an amazing experience, but I wasn’t happy anymore.

“It was a hard realisation for me. Before I moved there I had an idealistic view of the country. While I still consider myself a Zionist, I see Israel for what it is. It’s a difficult culture at times and the language barrier was a huge problem for me, which was limiting in terms of work.

“I learned that there are so many options for young people wanting to live in Israel. While making aliyah has huge advantages, you can go on a programme or get subsidised university fees without making aliyah. For me, leaving was a tough decision but it paid off. A month after I returned to South Africa, I met the man who was to become my husband and now we’re living happily in South Africa. You need to listen to your instincts.”

1 Comment

  1. 1 Jules Moles 31 Jul
    Am trying to find a good friend from school. We matriculated in 1982 Parktown Boys and his name was Simon Gavronsky (not sure of correct spelling) and was head of the Jewish Students Association. He knew me as Rainbow and always invited me to JSA and gave me an enduring love for Israel. If you have any ideas as to how I could find Simon I'd  be very grateful.


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