Number of South African olim has doubled
This is according to the director of the Israel Centre in South Africa, Aviad Sela, who believes a new trend has emerged in the numbers of people choosing to emigrate to Israel. This was also visible in the increased numbers of people who attended this week’s Aliya Exhibition in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“Israel is a very attractive destination for South Africans who are looking to move,” he said. “Aliya figures from South Africa used to be about 150 to 180 a year. More recently, the numbers have jumped to well over 300 a year.”
And the statistics show a marked decrease in the average age of olim (immigrants) from about 60 years old to 38 years old. “Younger people are choosing to move to Israel with young families. We have seen a big increase in this trend.”
The reasons for the spike in young people moving to Israel are varied. Said one father, who visited the exhibition and wished to remain anonymous: “I’m looking at options for my son for a gap year in Israel in which he can study and maybe make aliya thereafter. I think he will have more opportunities in the future in Israel.”
The director of Aliya Services for English-speaking countries, Yagen Ben-Chorin, told the SA Jewish Report that he was witnessing “a wave” of young adults in their late 30s and early 40s showing interest in exploring Israel as a future destination of choice.
“People say they have a good life in South Africa and they love their community. But some say they do not feel welcome here anymore. They fear for their personal security and they generally believe that there are limited opportunities for them in the future.
“They want to give more to their kids, have them roam the streets and have better career prospects.”
The reality in South Africa regarding crime, government corruption and anti-Israel sentiments are possibly factors contributing to the latest statistics regarding Israel, said Ben-Chonim.
Perceptions regarding future job opportunities in South Africa, and the fact that South African students feel unwelcome on certain university campuses – especially during Israel Apartheid Week – have also been cited.
A number of factors responsible for the attractiveness of Israel over other countries like the UK, the US and Australia include the many benefits offered by the State of Israel for South African olim.
South African olim are entitled to a Sal Klitah, an “absorption basket” which is a sum of money given to you by the Israeli government to help cushion your arrival in Israel during the first few months.
“The amount will not cover all your expenses, but it helps significantly,” said Sela, who added that there were six monthly payments made.
If you are a certain age, you are entitled to a free academic education and degree from all schools and universities, except private universities, where you are entitled to a sizeable reduction.
The government also offers a number of tax breaks and benefits, he said: “The government waives certain taxes for new immigrants. For instance, there is an income tax reduction for 42 months from the start of your aliya.
“Israel is a unique country. When you travel to Israel, you are not a tourist – it is a country that belongs to you as well.”
Currently, there are 27 000 to 30 000 immigrants headed for Israel annually.
Upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, new immigrants (oleh chadash) are welcomed by a representative of the Ministry of Aliya and Immigrant Absorption (Misrad Haklitah). “They literally walk you through your first few steps in your new adoptive country,” said Sela.
At the airport you are given a temporary ID card, an immigrant card, your first cash payment from the Sal Klitah “absorption basket”, and the address and phone number of the immigration office nearest to where you will be staying. You’re also given forms to fill in for health insurance, a SIM card with 200 minutes of free calls and a free taxi ride to your first destination.
“Where else do you get citizenship on day one of arriving in a new country? Which other country in the world receives new immigrants with open arms like Israel?” he added.
The State of Israel encourages young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to experience a year in Israel during which time they can “live like a local” and decide thereafter whether to return to South Africa. The year’s programme is heavily subsidised by the Israeli government to the tune of $9 100 (R115 000).
Ofer Gutman, director of marketing and sales at Masa, also attended the exhibition. He said: “The Masa Israel Journey offers a diverse range of programmes. These include volunteer and community service programmes, gap-year programmes, internship and career development programmes, undergraduate and graduate academic programmes at Israeli universities, and Jewish studies programmes.
“South Africans are entitled to a grant, which makes it easier for them to afford the many custom-made programmes on offer.”
The year gives people an opportunity to grow, develop their skills and decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives, he added.
“Because of the exchange rate complexities, South Africans are entitled to the automatic grant.”
Sela said: “We are not pushing aliya. That is not our mission here. We are offering people options.”
Make no mistake, said Ben-Chorin, “emigration is tough.
You have to make major adjustments. That’s why I’m in South Africa to do a reality check and show people that it is not a picnic, even though there are numerous benefits. It is absolutely imperative that you learn Hebrew at an ulpan.”
Employment is the number one obstacle at first, he said, adding that it is important to go with savings.
Sela said that some visitors to the Aliya Exhibition were assisted in finding employment during the exhibition.
The exhibition saw delegates from Telfed, Israel’s Interior Ministry, Absorption Ministry, Customs and Social Services. Banking representatives. Officials from municipalities were also on hand to deal with questions. There were several representatives from various academic institutions, including Bar-Ilan University, Hebrew University, IDC Herzliya, Masa and Technion.
Chaim Shchupak of Ofek Israeli, the organisation which assists in promoting aliya, said: “Israel is a country of immigrants. You feel part of the family even if you don’t know the people.”