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Strange but familiar – first days as a SA oleh



Two weeks ago, one of the biggest groups of olim left South Africa to live in Israel. We caught up with a few of them.

Hymie Ehrlich

Leaving South Africa and coming to Israel on aliyah was the next step in my life. I have no regrets. I spent many happy years living and working in South Africa as a doctor until the age of 90. As my daughter and son-in-law prepared for their aliyah, they encouraged me to join them and the rest of my family, relatives, and friends in Israel.

The seven days of bidud (isolation) were no hardship for me, as being over 70, I was able to go directly to my children in Modi’in, and quickly fell into the routine of helping with daily chores. I received a warm welcome from many friends as well.

The fact that our baggage was delayed didn’t bother me, as I had sufficient clothes in Modi’in from previous visits here.

When the first of my children left South Africa on aliyah in 1987, my wife and I promised to visit them every year, and I’ve been here about 40 times since then.

As soon as the quarantine period was over, the family arranged a few days away together at a moshav near Tiberius, where I swam in the Kinneret and spent three days with my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

At this early stage of aliyah, I approach every day with the excitement of a new day in a new country, and reconnecting with so many friends and relatives.

New olim have unique fears and anxieties, but I know that my children are there to ease the transition for me, and I’m very comfortable with the care and concern they’ve shown me.

Although I’m living with my son and daughter-in-law in Modi’in, I look forward to spending time also in Kfar Adumim with my daughter and son-in-law, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and extended family.

Samuel Hyde

For many, the onset of COVID-19 enabled a reset of sorts. As people spent more time at home surrounded by family or discovered newfound independence, there began to be a recalibration and introspection about what’s important to them.

For me, the idea of making a life in Israel became more realistic than I may have initially thought. I suppose you could say my life took a radical shift in every way, from leaving the music industry for journalism, to making aliyah and claiming my indigenous rights under the Law of Return.

My aliyah process begun with a simple email to the South African Zionist Federation just less than a year ago, but truly, it began two years prior to that on a tour to Poland, where I set out to discover my roots and engage with the Holocaust at an academic level.

With the mandatory free time the initial 21-day lockdown brought us, I felt myself reflecting on my experience in Poland, searching for the sequel to the Jewish story. I watched endless hours of speeches and debates, read dozens of articles and books, listened to Jewish and Israel rights activists, and became hooked on engaging at a deeper level with Jewish liberation through Zionism.

I suppose the strangest part of the aliyah process, besides the obvious feeling of leaving a country you’ve grown up in and family behind, was the bonds you make with those embarking on the same journey as you.

You form an instant connection with these people, most of whom you’ve never met before. You share arguably the most important experience of your life with strangers. You get to know them instantly, as if you’ve been friends for years, and when quarantine is over, you disperse to opposite ends of the country. For a week, I stood on my balcony watching passers by – the mother pushing her child in a pram at midnight, the suited businessman riding a bicycle to the next door high-rise finance centre, and the ultimate joy and freedom as children, teenagers, and the elderly walked the promenade lit by the blazing middle eastern sun and engulfed in euphoric freedom.

As I took my first steps onto the streets of Tel Aviv, I felt as if the moment was transformed into an expertly edited film. With every step, I was struck by a flashback of walking the gravelled soil of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was in two places at once – tragedy and liberation.

Now, a political journalist, proud Zionist, and Jewish activist, all the concepts, articles, talks, and ideas I held so close to my heart had become reality. I had become part of those who are the realisation of our ancestors’ dreams. Already, being in Israel is more than just existing here – it’s a home for the homeless; freedom for those previously shackled; Jewish liberation; it’s historic; but most importantly, we are all here knowingly or sub-consciously to better the Jewish destiny for future generations. If not now, then when?

(Samuel Hyde is a political journalist and Jewish and Israel rights activist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. He studied antisemitism and the Holocaust at academic level, and aims to redefine the way in which the non-Jewish world interacts with Zionism.)

Daniel and Lolly Onay

Our aliyah is something we planned and thought through for the past two years. As much as we planned, we eventually realised that aliyah is something that requires you to let go of your emotions, uncertainties, and the unknown. It requires a lot of faith, positivity, determination, and focus.

Though we started the process two years ago, our plans were halted by COVID-19. We opened our aliyah file with the Jewish Global Centre, and after many attempts, finally submitted all our documentation. Once we were approved, the Jewish Agency were a pleasure to deal with. They swiftly got our aliyah approved, and before we knew it, we were given our date.

The past few months were a roller coaster of emotions, between selling our house, packing up our lives, and saying goodbye to our families and friends. Other than uprooting our lives and leaving everything familiar, saying goodbye to family was the hardest. With this in mind, we kept focusing on the decision that we believed to be correct for our family’s future.

We boarded a flight to Ethiopia that we were told was the largest aliyah flight since 1994. Seeing such a huge number of South Africans making aliyah was inspirational, and it was a brocha to be a part of this historic flight. Our children, many of whom had not been on an aeroplane before, embraced it, and faced the flight with courage and commitment.

Upon arrival in Israel, we were all ushered into a hall for COVID-19 testing and to receive our aliyah documentation and some aliyah benefits. It took hours to be processed, but we were all still full of adrenaline and you could feel the excitement in the air.

Much to our dismay, the majority of the olim’s luggage didn’t arrive at the airport, and we had to document it with the airline. Although there were difficulties, we were amazed at the effort that the Jewish Agency and Telfed put in and how they managed to arrange for all the luggage to be delivered to us in our bidud (quarantine) hotel.

We were put up in the beautiful Dan Panorama Tel Aviv Hotel for isolation over the next eight days. Of course, this could change if any of the two COVID-19 tests came back positive, but fortunately, that didn’t happen. The food was plentiful, and somehow the days flew by. We took it as an opportunity to catch our breath after a chaotic couple of months, and before we knew it, we were on the way to our new home.

Arriving at our new home in Even Shmuel, a small religious yishuv in the south, felt like a dream come true. Being reunited with family who had made aliyah more than four years ago was beyond special – in fact it felt strangely like we were home!

We know it will take time to settle in properly, learn the language, and integrate. It’s a journey we will embrace completely and look for all the good that our beautiful country has to offer.

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1 Comment

  1. Zelda Onay

    Aug 12, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    I am so proud of my very special family in this journey. It is indeed a brocha to have made Aliyah and to go ‘home’. I wish them and all the Olim BE’HATZLACHA! I will be visiting as soon as I can.

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