Aliyah – immigrating to Israel – is increasingly on the radar of Jews around the world. In this the second of a 2-part ‘Aliya on the Agenda?’ series, Shelley Berman relates her experiences in the transition from Glenhazel in South Africa to Modiin in Israel.
(Part 1 – Aliyah on the Agenda?)
We approached the whole investigation with a positive determination to find a way. In terms of practicalities, one important change was that after three visits to our children here, things were much more familiar. I was no longer so afraid of the change. I was overcoming my fear of the unknown.
Upon our return to South Africa, things moved at lightning speed. Before we had even had a serious discussion between ourselves about when or how to market and sell our home in Glenhazel, word was out in our community that we were making Aliyah, and within a week our home was sold to the daughter of an acquaintance.
The planning was exhausting and draining, both physically and emotionally. Clearing out and packing up our possessions was an arduous task, but we tackled it with the same precision that we tackled everything else. List after list was drawn up, and all the admin of tying up our affairs was dealt with.
The 29th of December 2018 is a day that will be forever etched in my memory; the day that I left South Africa, my homeland, the land of my birth. It was with such a heavy heart that we bade farewell to family and friends. A very difficult goodbye was to my mother-in-law, who was in the Jewish old-age home in Johannesburg.
But the hardest of all was to our son and daughter-in-law and their children. By then they had been blessed with twins, and saying goodbye to those children before leaving for the airport was just gut-wrenching. Our final moments at the airport saw the four of us clinging to each other in an embrace that I wanted to never end, and left us running for the boarding gate in a haze of tears, literally at the last minute. It is my fervent hope that at some time in the future, they will decide that Aliyah is on their agenda too.
The morning of Sunday 30 December 2018 dawned bright and clear as we disembarked at Ben Gurion Airport. My heartbreak and sadness lifted as I felt such enormous pride stepping onto Israeli soil. As a staunch Zionist ever since I was a teenager, this was, in its own way, a dream come true.
As we walked into the airport, we saw a familiar face standing and holding a sign that read “BERMAN FAMILY”, and my heart soared. Telfed – South African Zionist Federation in Israel – had notified us that he would be there to welcome us, and had sent me his picture in advance. What a thoughtful and helpful gesture that was!
Avraham guided us through all the bureaucracy at the airport, and we exited Ben Gurion as Israeli citizens, with our temporary Israeli Identity Documents and an envelope of cash given to us by the Israeli government. My sense of gratitude was, and still is, immense. I soon realised that our whole Aliyah journey would become a journey of gratitude.
We soon settled into life in Modiin. My daughter had found an apartment for us to rent, and we had signed the lease, trusting her judgment. It is a lovely apartment, and perfect for our needs. My daughter and son-in-law have been a solid rock of support to us. I am so grateful to them, not only for being there for us every step of the way, but for being the trail blazers who led us to take this journey.
With their help within the first few weeks, we had set up and moved into our apartment, and dealt with all of the bureaucratic red-tape that goes with making Aliyah. So many people had ‘warned’ us about how difficult it all is, and how we should expect problems here, there and everywhere. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Fell into Step
Every step of the way, we found people to be helpful, obliging and caring. We were welcomed and congratulated as new olim (immigrants), wherever we went. Every government department that we visited ran like a well-oiled machine. This was so refreshing for us, coming from a place where those offices are notoriously inefficient and unhelpful.
Of course, the language was a challenge, but we managed to get by with my imperfect Hebrew. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that most Israelis do speak at least some English, and in all government offices we were able to find someone who could help us in English when my Hebrew couldn’t cut it.
It only took a few weeks before we had received our permanent ID cards and drivers’ licences, and we had bought a car. Now, it’s all very well to have a car and a valid licence, but you may be wondering about the actual reality of driving here. Well, more about that later.
Things were going so well for us when we got a shattering phone call. My husband’s mother was seriously ill. We booked tickets and boarded a flight the next morning. Who would have believed that we would be winging our way back to Johannesburg, just four weeks after leaving?
Sadly, we lost our beloved Bobba Ros three days after we arrived. My husband sat shiva (week long mourning) with his siblings, and we returned to Israel enveloped in grief. This loss was a very hard aspect of our Aliyah. We had not yet found a shul that we felt we could call our own when my husband now needed a daily minyan (quorum of 10 Jewish adults). It was so hard for him to tackle this, and he had to do it alone.
Life soon settled into a routine, and we felt calm and happy. Ulpan was going well, and we were both improving our Hebrew. Our grandsons were nearby, and our daughter was expecting her third child.
I found a part-time job teaching English at a school in Tel-Aviv, in a maternity replacement position. This was an eye-opener for me. Israeli teenagers are very far removed from what I was used to. But it was a great experience. The school was lovely, and my colleagues were very helpful.
Dealing with the Israeli Ministry of Education was a challenge, but eventually I was able to get my degrees recognised and I was so proud to be working and earning, only ten weeks into our Aliyah journey.
Taking the train to Tel-Aviv to go to work was such a treat for me. Israelis complain about the public transport system. They should only know how good they have it here. I still marvel at the efficiency and the safety of the trains.
Getting crushed in the crowds on the station platform, and walking through the streets of Tel Aviv among the throngs of Israelis – all talking on their cell phones – made me so proud and happy to be a part of this society. This aspect of my day, which so many consider to be drudgery, gave me so much pleasure.
I was working three days a week, and going to ulpan (school for intensive study of Hebrew) twice a week, when I saw an ad for English teachers at an adult English school in Modiin. I sent them my CV, and they called me to invite me to an interview. After a lengthy interview process, I got the job.
So now I was working three days a week in Tel Aviv, going to ulpan two mornings a week, and teaching English to adults three evenings a week. I was also, and still am, a very involved and dedicated Bobba, and spend as much time as possible with my precious grandchildren. (Our Israeli granddaughter was born six months after our arrival, and BH the three children keep us on our toes). I suppose you could say that I was very busy. But I was loving every minute of it.
The temporary school job soon came to an end, and life settled into a very comfortable routine. My work teaching adults was very satisfying, and I was really happy there. In terms of convenience, the school is in the mall, right opposite our apartment, so I couldn’t ask for more.
Towards the end of our first year, my husband was lucky to find a job that he really enjoys. He has a background in the retail world, and found a job at Superpharm, also in the mall. He is happy there, and we count our blessings that he found a job without too much difficulty. Many of the predictors of ‘doom and gloom’ led us to believe that it would be almost impossible for him to find work, because of his age and his lack of Hebrew. Thankfully, this was not the case at all.
Shul and Socialising
One of the bigger challenges that we faced was finding a shul (synagogue) with a community where we would fit in. We came from a small, close-knit community in Johannesburg, where our shul was almost like an extension of our home, our community like family. We knew that we would never be able to replace this in Israel, and it remains a challenge for us. However, we have joined a shul, an Anglo community in Modiin, where we feel really comfortable, even though most of the members are a lot younger than us. We were just starting to really enjoy shul, when Corona became the buzz-word and attending shul has become a distant memory. I really hope that we will be able to return to shul soon, as this is an important element to integrating as olim (new immigrants), and being accepted socially.
One of my biggest fears was my concern about making friends and building a social life. We knew exactly one other couple here (who have become good friends). While I was never a social butterfly, I do have numerous very close friends who have been my friends for many years. While they will always be irreplaceable in my life, I am also so grateful to the people who reached out and extended a hand of friendship to us here. We have been very lucky to build up a nice circle of good friends in Modiin, but Corona has made it difficult to cement new friendships. Please G-d, now that we have all been vaccinated, we will be able to start socialising again soon.
Of course, shul and socialising are not the only aspects of our lives that have been affected by Corona. In March 2020, I was put on Halat, another buzz-word. Basically, unpaid leave. While I am still officially employed, I have not been working since the start of the pandemic.
Once again, I am deeply grateful to the State of Israel, for the incredible assistance offered through Bituach Leumi, or National Insurance. Registering with them and submitting my unemployment claim was a huge operation, but, with the help of my brother (who made Aliyah thirty years ago), fluent in Hebrew and familiar with the system, this too was overcome.
I have always been a busy, active person. I have always worked. It is not in my nature to sit around and do nothing. I have tried dabbling in a bit of content-writing, and would love to build up a practice for extra English lessons. It is my fervent wish that I will be able to get back to work soon. Now that the vaccination campaign is well under way, hopefully Burlington English will be allowed to reopen and I can go back to the job that I love.
Shot in the Arm
Which brings me to yet another aspect of life as an Israeli for which I am deeply grateful. Vaccinations! I am proud to say, ‘Gam Ani Hitchasanti’, I have also been vaccinated. Nowhere else in the world would I have been amongst the very first group of people to be invited by my healthcare provider to have the vaccine.
Our healthcare provider proved another eye-opener. As South Africans, we were used to paying huge sums of money every month for private medical insurance. Sadly, it is a country where private health insurance is a necessity, not a luxury. We still marvel at the world class medical care available to us here, for a very small contribution. Sure, the Hebrew does sometimes make it daunting, and a little difficult to navigate the system, but we manage. And there is always help available if you need it.
When it comes to all the officialdom and red-tape, if you are really stuck and need help, the ladies at the Olim centre in Modiin are wonderful. I have reached out to them on a few occasions, and they are always willing to help.
In the Driver’s Seat
Unfortunately, the one difficulty that nobody could help me to overcome, was my fear of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This was something that I had to tackle all on my own, and I did. I never used to be a nervous driver. In Johannesburg, with some of the notoriously worst taxi drivers in the world, I drove without hesitation. I zapped around in my little car with the utmost confidence.
Do I now feel the same way here? No! But I am getting there. It has taken practice and perseverance, and I’m pleased to say that I can take myself wherever I need to go. But do I enjoy driving here? Suffice it to say that I could probably write a book entitled “101 Reasons Why I Don’t Like Driving In Israel.”
Thankfully, the aspects of life in Israel that I don’t like are few and far between, and insignificant in the big scheme of things. I have been cooking for forty years, but had never cooked on gas before. It took a lot of getting used to, and I still don’t like it, but I deal with it.
The water is so different. It is much harder, and is filled with minerals. The kettle gets all gunky and has to be descaled regularly, while the dishwasher leaves horrible streaks on everything. In the winter, everything is Wet Wet Wet, and I’m NOT referring to the popular soft rock band. Hang up your towel after your shower. Tomorrow night it will still be damp, while the mould spores are growing prolifically on the bathroom ceiling.
These are minor irritations. You get used to them. You learn to adapt. Yes, even I, so resistant to change, have learned to adapt. When I consider the bigger picture, I have so much to be grateful for. Over the last two years, there has not been a single day when I have questioned or doubted our decision to make Israel our home.
Face the Music
I have recently discovered the music of the late Tom Petty. When I listened to the album, Wildflowers, there were three songs with lines that spoke to me, that could in fact have been written for me and my Aliyah journey.
“You belong somewhere you feel free”. For me, this is Modiin, Eretz Yisrael. To have the freedom to go out for a walk alone, late at night, without fear of being attacked; to see my grandchildren riding their bikes freely through the streets, with gay abandon; to live in a home with one lock on the front door, with no security gate, no alarm, and no electric fence; you cannot put a price on such freedom!
Aliyah is not for the faint-hearted. I will never make light of the enormity of the undertaking. It is without a doubt the most difficult thing I have ever done. But, to quote Tom Petty again:
“What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing” But….
“I’m not afraid anymore!”
(Part 1 – Aliyah on the Agenda?)
About the Writer:
Shelley Berman and her husband, Ian, made Aliyah from South Africa in December 2018. She has always been a staunch Zionist with a strong love for Israel. With a degree in English and an English teacher by profession, she is passionate about education. She has also always loved writing, and has worked as a content writer. She is dedicated to her family, and is a proud mother and grandmother.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)