Making Aliyah an adventure
By: Chandrea Serebro
Dean and Shirley Cohen
“As a young couple, we’ve always wanted to live in Israel. Both born to Israeli mothers (real sabras), we have always had a strong affiliation to the country. We travelled to Israel and were often reunited with close family and always felt that we truly belonged in Eretz Yisrael. So, the idea of settling one day in Israel wasn’t far-fetched.
We went on to start our own family and found it increasingly difficult to contemplate leaving our families behind. When a close friend’s mother was murdered one Sukkot, weeks before we got married, it rattled us to the core. It was probably then that the seed was planted to start evaluating and thinking about our future and where we wanted to settle. There was a constant push and pull. I wouldn’t say there was one key defining moment but rather a series of events.
There were several AHA! moments along the way that I felt cemented the idea for us in our minds. The increase in crime levels, the threat to personal safety, load shedding, economic pressure, financial instability, hijackings, muggings, home invasions, and more recently the violent July riots hastened our decision. Over time LIFE continued… and our family grew.
The concept of immigration was constantly on our minds; a topic that kept rearing its head more so as our children grew older. We discussed it with family and friends at length. We were told by many who had taken the plunge to immigrate that the transition is a lot easier when children are younger. They adapt easily and are far more resilient and less adverse to change. We felt that this was our window period for our family to make the change. Eliana would start primary school and Mia would be entering Grade 5, with some Hebrew grounding. Ultimately, leaving South Africa was for our children’s future. We wanted them to have a better quality of life and opportunities they would never have had access to in South Africa. Leaving South Africa was tough. We loved the warmth of the people, the beautiful landscape, the energy and the diversity. But we knew that the time was right.
Leaving close family behind was difficult. Over and above the familial connection and familiar landscape, we took for granted things like understanding how government institutions operated, processes, the schooling, tax, and banking systems. We were leaving behind everything that we had known. There were far more uncertainties and unknowns on our journey that we had not and could not have anticipated. But just because it wasn’t the same didn’t mean it was better or worse; it was just different.
When we arrived in Israel we felt a rollercoaster of emotion from feeling overwhelmed, excited, and nervous. Our plane ride was emotional. We were leaving family behind but also heading towards a new adventure. We had made a brave decision and we had no idea how we would adapt, what to expect, and the true future impact our decision would have on our family. A friend told us it takes about 1 000 days to truly feel settled. There are language and cultural barriers to deal with, new systems and processes to understand, and of course, Covid challenges. When I’m asked if we’ve settled in, my response is always that settling in takes time and not something that happens overnight. It’s a constant work in progress.
I love the fact that we can hang Israeli flags from our balconies, wear a Magen David in public and don’t feel the need to hide our Jewish identity. We can shop at kosher supermarkets, Chagim are truly felt, and stores are stocking up on Purim outfits months in advance. I love walking through streets lined with Israeli flags, that I can safely walk with my family and feel no anxiety. We experience the delicious wafts of Mediterranean foods whilst hearing a myriad of foreign languages spoken by fellow Olim.
Israel is truly a cultural melting pot. We love the clean, well-maintained streets, fruit trees and parks of Ra’anana. The street art and easy access to the beach is only a bus ride away. There is a shul on every corner and a loud falafel vendor trying to make another sale. One feels the hustle and bustle of pre-Shabbos shopping on the main road while men lay tefillin in the Shuk.
As a family, we are constantly adjusting to the fast-paced life in Israel. I’ve always believed that if you want something done, give it to a busy person. It would seem that Israelis use every minute of every day and they make it count. Our children are settling into their school Ulpan programme, making friends, and overall are happy with the move. Occasionally, they mention the schools, teachers, friends, and family they’ve left behind in South Africa. They do miss the familiarity around them because everyone spoke English. Despite this, they have embraced the freedom that Israel has afforded them, such as being able to walk to school or the nearest falafel vendor. No one can truly appreciate this until you are here.
Aliyah is not for sissies. It takes work each day. If your motivation to make Aliyah is strong enough it will carry you not only on the good days but also on the difficult days. With a positive attitude, an open mind, and buckets of “savlanut” (patience), the adjustment becomes easier.
“Kachol velavan ze hadegel sheli.”
Our main concerns about living in Israel
Education in Israel is very different to South Africa. In the primary phase there is less pressure on academics and more of a focus on children adapting socially. This is a major adjustment for South Africans as we are used to a more result driven, performance based and competitive school environment. As Olim, it’s essential that children have the space and time to acclimatise to their new environment, make friends, and adapt into a completely different society.
Cost of living
The cost of living in Israel is largely dependent on the area one lives in as it varies from city to city.
We moved to Ra’anana because of the quality of education. Over and above this there is a fair Anglo-Saxon community, and the city is well maintained.
The constant threat of terror is very much a reality of living in Israel, having said that I have never felt safer. Israelis don’t harp on this worry but rather choose to live every day to the fullest. There is a great deal of comfort knowing that the Israeli army and government will defend its citizens in the wake of a terror situation.
Stalwarts and sabras
Passionately Zionistic since the age of 14, after a couple of false starts, I made Aliyah with my family in 2006. The country threw the 2nd Lebanon War to welcome us but even this couldn’t dampen my spirits. We were finally home. Now came the challenge of re-establishing myself. The only person I knew in Israel was my cousin and, with limited Hebrew, I decided to focus instead on recreating the cookery school I’d run in South Africa. “Cookery classes in English?” my cousin’s husband asked sceptically. “I give it a 50/50 chance of working out.”
As a single mother, 50/50 just wasn’t an option, and I was determined that my new venture would succeed. And so it did. Within a few months, and without any formal advertising, I had students attending classes from all over the country – bussing up from Eilat to Tel Aviv to participate. I even had students who’d book from the UK before visiting. And so real life in Israel began.
I met and married the love of my life. I found a sisterhood in the group of English-speaking women we put together in Hod Hasharon. I got to meet what felt like every Anglo in Israel through my cookery classes, Meatland in Ra’anana, and virtually through Facebook. And I took huge pride in watching my children embrace all that Israel had to offer.
After a meaningful career working as a teacher to new Olim in the army, my daughter embarked on the famous Hummus Trail in India, studied, got engaged to the boy next door, and adopted the cutest shelter pup. My son made the most out of his service on the Gaza border and then launched himself into a career in computer programming and application-building. When in Israel, do as the Israelis do!
Just as I was a gauche teenager when I first found my passion for all things blue ‘n white, so too was Israel in its most gawky years. Israel today is so much sleeker, faster, and more sophisticated. The world is sitting up and taking notice of this tiny country that punches way above its weight. And now they’re taking notice for all the right reasons.
Of course, there are times that my rose-coloured glasses are brutally yanked off, and this applies in particularly when there are terror and rocket attacks. War time in Israel is especially devastating because it’s so personal. Every soldier lost is a neighbour’s son or daughter. The kid down the street. Your children’s school friend. Yom Ha’Zicharon hurts more and more every year. But this is the incredibly high price we pay to live here and love so deeply.
My childish crush on Israel has matured into a deep, real love. And I anticipate enjoying a meaningful relationship for the rest of my days.
Planning Aliyah, recently arrived, or a long-standing Israeli by choice? Find my group ‘Israel 101’ on Facebook for inspiration, shopping, recipe sharing, and general advice. Sharing my passion is my pleasure.
Been around the block – a few times
Leron and Trudy Arica
Trudy and I made Aliyah December 2014 with our four daughters…but that is not where our journey began. Growing up in Johannesburg, attending Kind David School, coming from a traditional and Zionistic family were all factors that instilled a great love of Eretz Yisrael in my heart. Becoming Torah observant further enhanced this passion and my resolve to one day settle in the ‘Promised Land’. Fortunately, Trudy shared this love but making Aliyah would entail much loss, requiring the leaving behind of her loving parents, siblings, and flourishing ballet and playschool. Following numerous family trips to Israel over the years, which we hoped would instil the same love in our children, we finally decided to try emigration.
In 2003 we came to Israel with the intention “to try” and live here. Unfortunately, due to the sudden terminal illness of my beloved mother in South Africa, we felt obliged to return and assist. South Africa is very easy to slot back into, and we did. But, with the same intention and goal in our hearts, in 2009 we braved our second attempt at emigration, but following six months living in Ramat Beit Shemesh we were informed that the tenants in our house in SA had unintentionally burned down our house. Once again, we felt compelled to return, to oversee the restoration of the property. I must admit that there was some sense of relief being back in our South African comfort zone, but five years later the calling for Israel resurfaced.
In 2014 we decided to no longer “try emigrating”, but rather to officially make Aliyah. Learning from previous attempts, we identified the stumbling block of having one foot in SA and another elsewhere. We recalled the Torah teaching of Lot’s wife and decided not to look back. Looking back today, however, I realised that it was nothing short of a miracle that we overcame our fears and interest and took the plunge – especially because we already had older teens at the time.
For work-related reasons, we came directly to Ra’anana, which from our religious values point of view was not an easy decision. As opposed to living in Joburg and Ramat Beit Shemesh, it felt like we were out of the incubated fish tank and into the big sea. However, in retrospect, this was possibly a key contributing factor to our successful integration and has greatly broadened our outlook on life.
Ra’anana is a mixed but uniquely tolerant Israeli society, ranging from secular to ultra-Haredi. In many ways, it feels like a giant Glenhazel, with its 80 000 Jews and over 100 shuls. Every day I feel a deep sense of gratitude that our kids are in a healthy environment and able to enjoy the normality like what I recall growing up with in the 70s and 80s.
Making Aliyah is naturally a challenging process and requires stepping out of the comfort zone and rolling up of one’s sleeves, to say the least, but it is worth it! My father once told me that a Jew outside Israel is like a tree in a pot, but a Jew in Israel is like a tree in the ground. In retrospect, we laugh at our pre-Aliyah fears: How would we cope without a Sunday? Without a full-time maid? What about lice? Would the kids ever speak Hebrew? What about their English? Will they become overly chutzpadik?
Aside from minor annoyances such as traffic jams, shortage of parking spaces and self-packing of parcels in shops, the high cost of living, adapting to the cultural differences, and the ability to attain self-actualisation in the highly competitive Israeli workspace has been the most challenging. Naturally, our process of integration was coupled with feelings of loneliness, frustration, yearning for familiarity, and even hopelessness at times, but approaching the 10-year milestone, we finally have a sense of being settled and at home.
Today, the girls are Israeli, fluent in both Hebrew and English, and have had the strongest Torah education possible, and the older ones are both studying accounting at Bar Ilan University. True, exposure to the bigger world has at times enabled them to question our doctrine, but the challenges posed by the Israeli culture have catapulted them forward, teaching them independence, responsibility, and the sense of reciprocation in a way that we as parents could not have dreamed, even with all the silver spoons in the world…and in case you’re wondering; yes, they all still have their good old South African accents. We are so grateful to be living in a modern, dynamic, and innovative country; the land of our forefathers, where we are free to express our Jewish faith…the only things missing are our holy brothers and sisters abroad. ‘Veshavu Banim Ligvulam.’