HONOURING ELI

Soldiering on, the indomitable spirit of Eli Kay- murdered by a terrorist in Jerusalem in 2021- is today back at his base

By David E. Kaplan

Soon after arriving by bus at a training camp for some of Israel’s toughest highly-trained soldiers – Tzanhanim (paratroopers) Training Base in the Jordan Valley – our group soon understood the poignant symbolism behind the insignia of this ‘Paratroopers Brigade’ of the snake with wings. A history of “carrying out special forces-style missions”, it operates “like a deadly snake striking quickly with the element of surprise and then rapidly withdrawing,” explained our army guide. One of the biggest surprise raids in its illustrious history was the famous Operation Entebbe when on the morning of July 4, 1976, a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission  headed by Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron succeeded in rescuing 102 passengers and crew of a hijacked Air France aircraft at Entebbe, Uganda. The 102 rescued hostages were flown to Israel via Nairobi, Kenya, shortly after the raid.

Strike Force. The insignia of the snake with wings of Israel’s prestigious Parachute Brigade.

Turning into a day “full of surprises” as the day was advertised, no less surprising for our group, was learning that for these young soldiers it was not only about protecting the citizens of Israel but protecting “our history and connection to the land of Israel.” We heard how for the past year, these soldiers, as part of their training, teamed up with the Israel Antiquities Authority to  excavate a nearby archaeological site of a 5th century Jewish dwelling. As was explained:

Being a soldier in the Israeli army is more than about combat in the field; it is also about connecting to the land, the history, the geography and to understand that we are part of the nation of Israel embedded to this land.”  The discovery of the fifteen hundred year old Jewish dwelling in the confines of this army base, affirms the link of the Jewish people to the land and the need of a strong army to ensure ‘never again’ to be conquered and sent off into exile to be at the mercy of others. ‘Mercy’ it never was!

BOOTS AND ALL

We looked at the young men addressing us – all lone soldiers from abroad  –  who were telling us their personal stories and who look forward proudly to the day when they too will wear their regimental maroon beret with the infantry pin and reddish brown boots that will clearly identify them as being in the distinguished ‘Paratroopers Brigade’.

Eli Kay, a South African immigrant who at 25 was gunned down last year on the 21 November in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, had worn that highly prized maroon beret with the infantry pin, and his once calloused feet from the rigorous training had  proudly walked, ran and marched in those reddish brown boots.

Serving his People. Eli Kay proudly displaying his hard-earned maroon beret and parachute wings.

We were here today because of Eli, who although his physical presence could no more grace his base, his spirit most certainly permeated as we entered into the newly renovated soldier’s clubhouse renamed in his memory with funds generously donated by EMEK Lone Soldiers, Keren Magi and Roger Ademan & family (London) through YAHAD, theEnglish Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.

All listened spellbound, as Eli’s father Avi Kay spoke movingly about his beloved son and his journey that although murderously cut short – had nevertheless been jam-packed with enriching experience and self-fulfillment.

Thank you to the hosts and the young soldiers here without rank because you are at the beginning of your journey. When Eli came to Israel, he first went to the Yeshiva in Kiryat Gat and thereafter signed up for Tzanhanim,” began Avi.  

Field of Dreams. Whether in the field on army manoeuvres or for recreation, Eli loved the open space of the outdoors.

He fought very hard to get in here and fought no less hard to stay in this unit. This was his home. As a lone soldier at the time, before we, his parents, made Aliyah, this was his family. And when the opportunity arose to do ‘Course Makim’ (commanders course), he grabbed it because firstly it was an honour and secondly because he could impart the hard lessons he had learnt to the next intake of soldiers.”

These endearing themes about the son’s army experience in Tzanhanim – of ‘home’, ‘family’ and ‘preparing the next generation’ – was brought home to the father when “I was with Avi walking through the shuk  – Mahanei Yehuda  in Jerusalem – and he received a WhatsApp on his cellphone about one of his soldiers becoming a Katzin (a commander). I watched his animated reaction. It was almost like the expectant father standing outside a delivery room, who had just heard the cry of his first child….that’s how proud Eli was. And that is what I think this unit represents. Once you are part of it like Eli was, you are part of a family.”

Celebrating a Life. Rabbi Shalom Myers (right) and Avi Kay at the ceremony of the newly renovated clubhouse in the name of Eli Kay (Photo: David E Kaplan).  

Working alongside Ian Walbaum and Ian Fine of  YAHAD that has been making an invaluable contribution to the welfare of Israeli soldiers by finding donors around the world to sponsor clubhouses and provide recreational equipment at military bases across the country, has been a very special rabbi from Jerusalem. Like Eli, Rabbi Shalom Myers is also a former South African. From helping English-Speaking lone soldiers to engaging and embracing soldiers from the Haredi community, Rabbi Myers pursues his vision of ensuring Israel’s lone soldiers are never alone. Most importantly, he has been providing spiritual as well as material support to the ever-increasing Haredi soldiers in the IDF.

A Blast from the Past. Bringing everone together in a spririal embrace with our ancient past, Rabbi Shalom Myers blows the Shofar at Tzanhanim Training Base (Photo: David E Kaplan).

To this end, Rabbi Myers is a frequent visitor to the Tzanhanim Training Base, engaging weekly with religious soldiers and it was in this context where he had earlier met with Eli. His Emek Lone Soldiers’  – a home away from home for religious soldiers – is thus a proud partner in the newly renovated honouring Eli Kay clubhouse. Explaining his role following a quote from Rav Kook, Rabbi Myers said  of the soldiers who are there to defend and protect us:

 “If I can serve those that serve that is my biggest honour.”

Proud Parents. Devorah and Avi Kay about to cut the ribbon at the opening of the army clubhouse in the name of  their late son, Eli (Photo: David E Kaplan).

On that fine note, Rabbi Myers hit another fine note  – literally – when he surprisingly took out his shofar (rams horn), put it to his mouth and blew a sound that reached out to the heavens inviting Eli to join us in a warm spiritual embrace that connected our ancient past with our future. To safeguard Israel’s future and avert the Jewish tragedy of the past 2000 years, we need our brave soldiers like Eli.

Rabbi Shalom Myers in full throttle with religious soldiers at Tzanhanim Training Base Chetz synagoge.

TUNNEL VISION

Our group of fifty would later in the day reflect on the services of these young boys and girls in uniform and think again of the symbolism of the regimental emblem of the snake with wings when we visited on the Gazan border a thankfully discovered-in-time Hamas tunnel. Seventy metres underground, emerging 600 metres on the Israeli side in an open field on a kibbutz, what would have happened if it had not been discovered by soldiers like Eli and killers emerged to wreak murder and mayhem?

We know only too well the answer to this horrifying question!

Light at the End of this Tunnel. Lt. Colonel (Res) Shirley Sobel Yosiphon, Foreign Affairs Director of the LIBI Fund the Association for the Wellbeing of Israeli soldiers (left) with Dr. Hillel Faktor at the entrance to the discovered Hamas tunnel, 600 metres inside Israel (Photo: David E Kaplan.

I would later further reflect on the words of Eli’s father, Avi, in an interview following the funeral of his beloved son. Speaking about the warmth he and Devorah felt from people in Israel and around the world, he said:

 “Know when your child goes into the Israeli army, the whole Jewish world is behind you.”

It should be, because when Jews around the world are today threatened, they can rest assured who will be there for them. As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks expressed in 2018:

One of the core ideas within Judaism is contained in the famous Talmudic phrase: Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other.”

This was something Eli understood and this message will resonate with all the exhausted and fatigued young soldiers who enter daily the newly renovated clubhouse at Tzanhanim Training Base. 


Avi Kay, Eli Kay’s father: This is my son’s message to the world




________________________

For more information on the English-Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, contact volunteer Ian Waldbaum at Tel: (054) 4745 092.

Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers

To learn more of the work Rabbi Shalom Myers with Lone Soldiers in particular the Heredi soldiers, visit Emek Lone Soldiers’ at 64 Emek Refaim Jerusalem or contact by email at: shalommyers56@gmail.com and/or +972586355207.





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).

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HERZL

Musings and thoughts from the 125th anniversary of the World Zionist Organisation and Congress recently held in Basel, Switzerland

By Rolene Marks

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or what I am doing, if I hear the opening strains of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, my heart swells and my eyes tear up. The feeling of pervasive pride is visceral. It is not just that I am a proud Israel, it is the knowledge that the words have sustained Jews in our darkest times – and also our greatest triumphs. Whether it be the scenes of Jews singing in Bergen-Belsen after liberation or Linoy Ashram standing proudly on the podium as she receives Olympic gold, I get the feels.

So you can imagine what I felt last week in Basel, Switzerland as I joined my WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) delegation and over a thousand others as we stood in the Stadtcasino, 125 years after the first Zionist Congress and sang the anthem of the country that had been but a dream a century and a quarter before.

Members of WIZO delegation

Over a hundred years ago, when a young journalist called Theodore Herzl, recognising the growing threat of antisemitism and motivated by the sham trial of French Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, wrote an article and then two books called The Jewish State and Altneuland, where he presented his vision of what that would be. Herzl recognised that this state could only manifest in the ancestral and historical homeland of the Jewish people – Eretz Yisrael, then called Palestine. The Romans, seeking to wipe out any reference to Jewish history and culture had named it thus. 

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind,” Herzl said.

Herzl also famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream”. And so they gathered in Basel, laying the foundations of willing a Jewish state. From these seeds would spring forth the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Just a couple of years later, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation would be founded. All of these organisations, would help prepare the land and the ingathering of the exiles for what would be the fulfillment of the Zionist dream – a Jewish state.

“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it,” mused Theodor Herzl.

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

Herzl, like Moses millennia before him, would lead his people to the Promised Land – but never enter it himself. Herzl died on the 3 July 1904, in Edlach, a village inside Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, having been diagnosed with a heart issue earlier in the year, of cardiac sclerosis. A day before his death, he told the Reverend William H. Hechler: “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” He certainly did.

Herzl’s vision would come to life with the birth of the modern state of Israel in our ancient, ancestral homeland. The Jewish people had come home.

In Basel some 125 years later we would gather to celebrate this vision and pay homage to the man who inspired hope in so many. And gather we did from the four corners of the world, 1 400 Zionists, representing different communities and ages and holding many different opinions. We were all there – the organisations, the social media personalities, familiar faces, those whose opinions veered to the right, those firmly in the centre and those to the left. In the city that birthed the modern Zionist movement, we debated, argued, agreed and discussed.

A stand out moment for me was the honouring of Druze Sheikh, Mowafaq Tarif and the presence of Emirati Sheikh Ahmed Ubeid Al Mansur.

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

Yaakov Hagoel, the chairperson of the World Zionist Organization, said of Al Mansur, “Herzl never dreamed that the day would come that a brave Arab leader would participate in a Zionist Conference together with thousands of Jews from all over the world whose goal is to strengthen and develop the independent and sovereign state of Israel.”

This gathering in Basel was not just a prime opportunity to pay tribute to Herzl or to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish world like rising antisemitism, the Iranian threat or how we will contribute to the fight against climate change; but also allowed us a moment to stop and take stock and marvel at the miracle that is the embodiment of our dream – the state of Israel.

In the presence of our President, Isaac Herzog, whose own family story is a reflection of Jewish history and First lady, Michal, we took a moment to look back – and forward to the future – of what Israel has achieved in a matter of a few decades. When Herzl envisioned a state that would see “the world be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness and whatever we attempt there for our own benefit would redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind”, I don’t think even his wildest imagination could see what we have achieved.

In that hallowed halls, in the presence of the President and in the company of those who from generation to generation take up that promise to keep building, singing Hatikvah has never sounded so sweet.

 In the footsteps of Herzl on the balcony of Les Trois Rois Hotel

Standing on the balcony of “Les Trois Rois”, where the iconic visionary once stood I contemplated what he must be thinking as he watched on from high in the heavens.

How proud he must be. His will is no longer a dream. It is a reality. And it is ours.



Herzl and I reflect





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).

A DREAM OF ZION

The Story of Ethiopian Jewry

By Rolene Marks

The dream of Jerusalem sustained them through the centuries. The hope of one day returning home to Jerusalem has been the song in the heart of Ethiopian Jews and home they came.

The story of Israel’s Ethiopian community is extraordinary. It is a story of hardship, tragedy and loss – but it is also a story of incredible hope, survival and fortitude.

Jewish Journey. Berchko Adela as a young girl in Ethiopia, before Operation Moses is today 68, a married mother of five and lives in Ashdod, Israel. (Doron Bacher/via JTA)

Ethiopia’s Jewish community (Beta Israel – House of Israel) had existed in that country for centuries. The origins of Jews in Ethiopia are unclear; though most believe that they are the descendants of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. There are many theories though, some believing they are the lost tribe of Dan, while others believe they are the descendants of Christians who converted to Judaism. The Jews of Ethiopia maintained their independence for over 1000 years in spite of continuous massacres, religious persecution, enslavement, and forced conversions.

In 1616, using modern Portuguese weapons, the Amhara finally conquered the Jews, enslaving, converting or killing many of them. They were referred to as “Falashas” – a derogatory name meaning “stranger” or “exile” – Ethiopian Jews could no longer own land or be educated.

But the dreams of Zion sustained them.

Promised Land. New immigrants from Ethiopia shortly after disembarking from the plane as part of Operation Solomon, 25 May 1991. (Photo: Gadi Cavallo/ Dan Hadani Archive,)

In 1974, civil unrest broke out and a pro-communist military junta, known as the “Derg” (“committee”), seized power after ousting the emperor Haile Selassie I. The Derg installed a government which was socialist in name but military in rule. Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as the head of state and Derg chairman. Mengistu’s years in office were marked by a totalitarian-style government and Ethiopia became extremely militarized with heavy financing from the former Soviet Union and the former Eastern Bloc countries as well as Cuba. Ethiopia was effectively a communist state in the 1970’s and 80’s. With this, Ethiopia took on the communist mantles of being both anti-religion and anti-Israel.  

The Jews of Ethiopia bore the brunt of this.

Ethiopia in the 1980’s endured a series of famines and hundreds of thousands lost their lives. The images of starving children with distended bellies are seared into our global consciousness.

Out of Africa. A still from the documentary ‘With No Land.’ (Courtesy of the Other Israel Film Festival)

The situation for Beta Israel became untenable and many started to leave Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jews started the long, arduous journey on foot through neighbouring Sudan to reach the Promised Land. The journey was fraught with danger and many died along the way.

In late 1984, over six weeks, about seven thousand Beta Israel were covertly flown from Sudan to Israel in Operation Moses. Due to pressure from Arab states, Sudan ceased allowing the emigration in January 1985, leaving many Ethiopian Jews stranded.

Months later, the United States evacuated five hundred Jews from Sudan to Israel in Operation Joshua. However, after this operation, Israeli leaders struggled to convince Mengistu to allow the remaining Beta Israel to leave. Finally, in 1990, Israel and Ethiopia reached an agreement that allowed Jewish emigration.

Home Free. Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel waving Israeli flags in this still from the documentary ‘With No Land.’ (Courtesy of the Other Israel Film Festival)

The situation became increasingly more desperate and in 1991, rebel forces seized control of Addis Ababa, the capital, threatening the country with political collapse. Israeli officials embarked on an emergency mission to evacuate as many Jews as possible, dispatching thirty-four planes. Many of these planes had their seats removed to increase their passenger capacity; one set the record for passengers carried aboard a Boeing 747 at 1,087 people. Over thirty-six hours, starting on May 24, 1991, more than fourteen thousand Beta Israel were flown to Israel in the remarkable Operation Solomon. Several babies were born aboard the flights, and numerous doctors were mobilised to assist the sick and the new born babies and moms upon arrival in Israel.

Israel’s rescue was the only time in history that a Westernised country brought out Africans to liberate rather than to enslave.

Desert to Knesset. Tamano-Shata came to Israel as part of Operation Moses, the first wave of mass immigration from Ethiopia and is today Israel’s Minster of Aliyah and Integration.

Today there are an estimate 170 000 + Jews of Ethiopian origin in Israel and many have gone on to achieve extraordinary things in a variety of areas including the Rabbinate, politics, military, fashion, journalism, the arts and many more.

Despite economic and social challenges, including incidents of racism, the community has largely integrated into Israeli society. Efforts continue to bring the remaining Ethiopians with Jewish origins, whose total number is disputed, to Israel.

Welcome to Israel. Then Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog before becoming Israel’s President (2nd right) and Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (centre) greet Ethiopian immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion Airport on March 11, 2021. (The Jewish Agency

Israel’s vibrant Ethiopian community, who have fulfilled the dream of returning home to Jerusalem, Zion form a strong part of the fabric of society that makes Israel so very special.





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).

‘Ruck’ & Roll

From rugby to netball, squash to tennis, the 21st Maccabiah is “rocking”

By David E. Kaplan

When cynics scoff that the Maccabi Gamesis not real sport” or

it’s not front page, back page or any page news” or even more disparaging, “Who cares?” they are wrong.

In sport parlance – “It’s on track”.

In one 24-hour period – in full view of the international media -visiting US President Joe Biden was introduced to two polarized but defining components of the Jew of the 21st century – a journey from the depths of near oblivion to Jewish national sovereignty when in the morning he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center and in the evening the opening of the 21st Maccabiah, commonly referred to as the “Jewish Olympics”.

Let the Games Begin. Raising his USA cap as the USA delegation marches onto the field in the Opening Ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022, Joe Biden becomes the first USA president to make an appearance at the Maccabiah or ‘Jewish Olympics’. Joining him in jubilation are Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog (left), and Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP via Getty Images).

When Joe met the two American Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem, he was meeting not only  Giselle Cycowicz and Rena Quint but a stark reminder that only a few years before the State of Israel was born in 1948, Jews  were lining up to be mass murdered while much of the world stood by and yawned. At same day’s end, as the golden summer sun’s rays settled over the sublime skyline of Jerusalem, the American President waved as Jewish athletes – over 10,000 from 80 countries including the USA, the largest overseas delegation – marched  proudly onto the field at Teddy Stadium for the 2022 21st Maccabiah. These athletes were the living embodiment of “Muscular Zionism”, the concept conceived by Max Nordau who sowed the seeds for a “Jewish Olympics” when at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898, he spoke about forging a new Jew – far removed from the stereotype Ghetto image – who would be strong in appearance and resolute in spirit.

Moving Meeting. Giving both women and hug and kiss on the cheek, President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (r) and Rena Quint in the Hall of Remembrance during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Image.
 

While the concept of “Muscular Zionism” was born, it took a further three decades before the first Maccabiah opened in 1932 in Tel Aviv with a colourful parade through the streets of Tel Aviv led by Mayor Meir Dizengoff riding his iconic white horse.

That triumphant march in what was nicknamed the “White Horse Olympics” would culminate in 1950, the first Maccabiah held in a sovereign State of Israel. Edna Kaplan who I interviewed  some years ago was a participant in the South African delegation that year.

Rose among the Thorns. Edna Kaplan (centre) was the only woman in the South African running squad at the 1950 Maccabiah.

I was the rose amongst the thorns,” she said chuckling. “I was not the only woman in the South African athletic squad, I was the only woman in the entire delegation.” A sprinter, Edna described the conditions of the rough track, with Tel Aviv’s Reading Power Station in the background. In keeping with the family’s sporting tradition, her daughter Janine, literallyran’ in her mother’s footsteps, participating in the1973 Maccabiah also as a sprinter.  Janine was then part of the Rhodesian (later Zimbabwe) delegation. Such an impression did it make, that within six months, she immigrated to Israel.

This has frequently proved the impact of the Maccabiah.

Running for Gold. In the first post-WWII Maccabiah in 1950, South African Edna Kaplan competes in the Woman’s 100m at Reading in Tel Aviv.

A South African ‘Israel Prize’ recipient, Dr. Ian Froman – the driving force behind the Israel Tennis Centers – credits representing South Africa at the 1961 Maccabi Games in tennis – having competed in the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 1955 – leading to him to making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) shortly thereafter. As a young graduate in dentistry “I fell in love with Israel” and then got his teeth into tennis instead of dentistry!

FAMILY AFFAIR

How important is the Maccabiah today?” was a question I put to veteran Israeli squash player Stanley Milliner originally from Cape Town. A multiple Maccabiah medal recipient over five Maccabi Games – including gold – Stanley says that “While there is a lot of feeling in Israel that the Maccabi Games has passed its time,” he disagrees. “It brings together Jews from all over the world. What’s more, it bring them together IN ISRAEL. This remains so important today as it affirms the centrality of Israel to global Jewish life in such a warm and entertaining way.  There is nothing like sport to achieve this. It creates this feeling of ‘mishpocha’ – of getting together for a ’family affair’.”

Super Siblings. Holders of multiple Maccabi Games medals, including gold, former South Africans Stanley Milliner for squash and sister Jillian Milliner for tennis will be again proudly competing for Israel

Stanley elaborates that this feeling was all-pervasive at the opening ceremony attended by Biden, “who we knew was there but we did not see.” Says Stanley:

 “You have never seen these people before  from all over the world, speaking different languages  and yet you feel you have known them all your life. This is what I mean – like long-last family coming together.”

What was interesting, continues Stanley:

 “was that for some of the Israelis in squash who had never before participated in a Maccabiah, it was a new experience for them. For the first time they realized that they were part of a huge Jewish global experince. “

Staying within ‘the family’ is Stanley’s sister, Jillian Milliner who has also participated in five Maccabiah and is a three time Israeli gold medalist in tennis. Now playing in the 65-plus age category, I caught up with Jillian following her hard-fought victory against a  Chilean in the soaring heat. She collapsed and required treatment from the para-medics, “but only after I won the match in a tie-breaker!

Striving for gold both in singles and doubles, Jillian is “so proud to be again representing Israel. For me it’s very meaningful. I was speaking with someone from the US delegation that said it was the largest US delegation in history – over 1,600 athletes and this is in the age of Covid.  They so much wanted to come, to be in Israel. This is the spirit of the Maccabiah. Despite the cynics and those who want to denigrate and pull Israel down, the Jewish world with Israel at the core is thriving.” While looking for gold on a personal level, “for the Jewish world,” says Jillian, “this is our Golden Age.”

SHOOTING STARS

Manning the kiosk at the Maccabiah Netball venue in Ra’anana was  Carol Levin, Treasurer of Netball in Israel, Carol was not exaggerating when she said:

 “This place is rocking.”

I had not yet stepped into the hall but could hear the high pitch screaming. Then entering, I was met by a kaleidoscope of colour and a cacophony of cheering supporters. I understood this is what Carol meant when she said only minutes before:

 “What a VIBE!”

This “vibe” represents netball’s popularity at the Maccabiah and in Israel which has come a long way since its founder, Jodi Careira,  arrived in Israel over 25 years earlier with her family “and a netball that I got for my Bat Mitzvah. My friend Yoni Weil called me and said let’s go play outside and here we are at the Maccabiah, with Israel competing with top teams from all over the world.  Who knew then, what would be today?”

Who would indeed!

Golden Girl. Prime mover for netball in Israel,  gold medalist Jodi Carrera at a rugby match at a previous Maccabiah.

UPROAR IN THE STANDS

It was a treat watching – or ‘experiencing’ – the rugby at Wingate.

Irrespective of who was playing or the scores, it was refreshing for Israelis who instead of arguing over divisive issues plutzing the nation, could plutz instead over the decisions of rucks, mauls, scrums and lineouts – “important stuff”. After all,  the ref couldn’t see what us experts were seeing in the stands enhanced in our observation skills by copious tall glasses of  frothing beer from the pub that was doing a roaring trade!

Having a Field Day. South Africa beats Israel in a round robin match on the 15 July 2022 at Wingate. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Sitting in the stands at the semi-finals, I noted with the banners, giant flags and national team T-shits there was always the Magen David – Star of David –  reflecting the ultimate victor – the Jewish people.

Following  the first Friday afternoon’s packed match between South Africa and Israel, everyone shook hands – nothing to do with the rugby. Spectators from across the world were wishing each other “Good Shabbos”.

Cruising while Watching the Bruising. Supporting Israel – as well as the local pub – at the rugby at Wingate are former South Africans (l-r) Leigh Freedman, Barry Kornel and Phillip Levy.
 

Beyond the sights and sounds, the message of the Maccabiah is clearly – A Jewish world divided by geography is united by history.

I only hope, Max Nordau is a “spectator” watching and smiling from above.





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).

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HOTEL

Reflecting on a South African ‘dreamer’ and ‘doer’ at Rosh HaNikra – Israel’s rocky border outpost with Lebanon

By David E. Kaplan

I started the week with a visit to Rosh HaNikra, the scenic grotto with a cable car reputed to be one of “the steepest in the world”. It’s the most northern point in Israel’s Mediterranean coastline – next stop lies an historic enemy – Lebanon.

Poetry in Motion. A kaleidoscope of colours and sounds pervades the alluring grotto at Rosh HaNikra.

A turbulent past of thunderous shelling, this day I was happy to absorb the thunderous crash of the waves on the rocks which reminded me of those onomatopoeic lines of  W.H. Auden in his poem ‘On This Island’:

“…Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide
….”

These words resonated as I listened to the “pluck” of the wave as it receded within the grotto back to sea and then returned with a crashing “knock” against the rocks. It was an endless noisy battle from time immemorial  – much of what transpired only metres above as armies ‘crossing’ from the ancient to the modern world physically crossed here on the coastal road. Among them were the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, the Crusaders up to and including the British who in the 1940s paved a rail line between Haifa and Tripoli in Lebanon. Bombed by Jewish fighters in June 1946 in the prelude to the War of Independence, it was at this rehabilitated relic of a railway line – today a historic site – that I was looking at when I noticed in the information plaque of the contribution of the South African engineers as part of the South African Engineering Corps. It was then that I remembered that this was the very spot that Norman Lourie, the founder of the South African Habonim youth movement in 1930, had come to cover as a war correspondent attached to a South African engineer unit.

Stopped in its Tracks.  The railway line at Rosh Hanikra from Haifa to Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon that was inaugurated in 1942 but abandoned only three years later.

Was it fortuitous, I thought, that the Habonim movement reached its 90th in 2020 but due to COVID, will be celebrating this milestone event this coming October 2022 in Israel?

While studying at university in the UK in the late 1920s, Norman Lourie heard a young man like himself, Wellesley Aron, speak about starting a Jewish youth movement in the poor East End of London. So inspired, Norman returned to South Africa with his ‘dream’ and what emerged was to become the largest Jewish youth movement in Southern Africa. Initially modeled on the scout movement, it soon emerged into an ideological powerhouse, whose young bogrim (graduates), would settle in Israel making a superlative impact in every field of human endeavour.

Eye on the Future. Holding his camera, South African visionary Norman Lourie was a poet, war correspondent, pioneer film producer, successful hotelier in Israel and the founder of the Habonim Jewish youth movement in South Africa.

Some  would emerge recipients of the country’s highest civilian award –  the  Israel Prize – for reaching the pinnacle in their field. This year, on Independence Day, Prof. Ruth Berman who was born in Cape Town in 1935, and grew up in Sea Point and attended Habonim – which she says “influenced my decision in 1954 to make Aliyah” – was awarded the Israel Prize for her trailblazing work in linguistics.

In an interview with the SA. Jewish ReportProf. Berman (née Aronson)  expressed that she dedicated the award to her fellow South Africans:

 “who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, who haven’t always received acknowledgement for their tremendous contribution to building Israel. This is especially in regard to those who came from the Zionist youth movements and went on to become leaders in their fields, from medicine to academia to the arts. This award isn’t only mine, but theirs.”

Riveting Ruth. A graduate of the Habonim movement in Sea Point, Cape Town, Ruth Berman is an Israeli linguist, Professor Emerita, Tel Aviv University and the 2022 Israel Prize laureate in linguistics.

One such individual from this early period deserving of recognition is Norman Lourie, whose dream of the youth movement was to influence the lives of so many.

But Norman himself had another dream. While Habonim means ‘the builders’, it was about building in Israel, that Norman’s next dream physically took shape and not too far from where I was standing at Rosh HaNikra.

The seed of that dream germinated during World War II, when Norman, as a war correspondent attached to a South African engineer unit tasked for maintaining the stretch of rail from Haifa to Beirut, found himself on a train that stopped at a sandy station “in the middle of nowhere.

Norman alighted.

Where are we?” he asked.

Shavei Zion,” someone told him. He quickly learnt it was a moshav on the coast started by German immigrants who fled Nazi Germany in 1938. He instantly fell in love with the place and pledged to return.

After the war, he returned and negotiated with two sisters for the purchase of their small hotel that in their advertisement, boasted “running water in each room.”

Norman’s dream was to transform it into a luxury hotel. He formed a syndicate of South African investors and over the next few years built a 5-star hotel, called Dolphin House (Beit Dolphin).

It became the summer home of Israel’s state presidents and a favourite resort for visiting dignitaries and celebrities.

Hollywood in Holy Land. Dolphin House , the meeting place for visiting celebrities to Israel, didn’t just bring Beverly Hills style living to Shavei Zion (Return to Zion), it raised the entire quality of life of the moshav.

Israel’s presidents of the fifties – Chaim Weizmann and Yitzhak Ben Zvi – mixed socially with the likes of Danny Kaye, Sophia Loren, Ralph Richardson, Israeli actress, singer and model Daliah Lavi who was born on Shavei Zion, and many others of the movie industry’s celebrities – most notably, the entire cast of the movie blockbuster – Exodus.

5-Star Hotel for the Stars. The famed Jewish film star Danny Kaye at Dolphin House in the 1950s was a “regular” at the hotel on moshav Shavei Zion.

Dining with the Stars

During the filming of Exodus, another South African fell in love with Shavei Zion and experienced a brush with stardom. In 1960, Ivor Wolf of Ra’anana was in Israel as a volunteer in Nachal. The movie’s director, Otto Preminger, had negotiated with the IDF, to hire some Israeli soldiers to play the part of British soldiers stationed in Acre during the famed breakout scene of the prison, where on May 4, 1947, 28 Irgun and Lehi prisoners were freed. “I was one of those British soldiers and was happy to let the Jews escape,” laughs Ivor. During shooting, Ivor would frequently share meal tables at Dolphin House with the likes of Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo, Hugh Griffith and Ralph Richardson.

All ‘Set’. Staying at Dolphin House, Paul Newman and director Otto Preminger on the set of the film Exodus (1960).

Shavei Zion had also a more direct connection to the movie’s plot. Following the breakout of the Acre prison, all the prisoners killed in the action, were carried by the escapees and buried on the moshav, the first refuge on route following the escape.

Well into the 1960s, Dolphin House was riding a crest of a wave, “actually a metaphor,” says Ivor, “because it still stands next to one of Israel’s finest beaches.” On Sundays, an orchestra used to play on a band-stand and people from all over the north came to enjoy open-air music “in this piece of paradise.”

The movies and the music however did not last. The ‘final curtain call’ on this era came when the property was acquired by Kupat Holim Klalit and turned a 5-star resort into a medical facility. Even this use of ‘Norman’s Dream’ had its time as the property fell into disuse until Ivor again stepped into ‘the picture’, this time not as a ‘walk-on-part’, but as a major actor in the on-going saga of Shavei Zion and Dolphin House.

Shifting Currents. The Prime Minister of Ghana at Dolphin House, the first African country to have diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.

Representing a group of investors, like Norman had done before, “we bought the premises comprising the old, desolate hotel and adjacent buildings and built 22 fully-equipped holiday bungalows called Dolphin Village.”  Norman’s vision was restored – from Dolphin House to Dolphin Village.

Ivor, who had been a leader in the Betar movement in South Africa before making aliyah, is proud of promoting a project that was the brainchild of the founder of Habonim. “After all,” says Ivor, “the bottom line is that our youth movements at the time were all about promoting and building a strong Jewish state. This is what we did, and this is what I feel I am still doing today.”

Shavei Zion is a far cry today from when its founders absorbed the illegal immigrants off the ships evading the British blockade, or when Norman Lurie alighted from a train at a stretch of dirt and saw a property that prided itself on offering “running water”.

‘Sign’ of the Times. Joshua Malka (right) watches as the Prime Minister of Burma (today Myanmar),  one of the first countries in Asia to recognise Israel, signs the guest book at Beit Dolphin (בית דולפין / Dolphin House.)

It is somewhat poignant that  Norman Lourie, who would go on to become as well a prizewinning filmmaker was born in South Africa in 1909 – the same year the first Tel Aviv dwellings were erected on empty Mediterranean sand dunes.  But there is another striking meaningful coincidence. When in 1935, Norman captained a team of South African athletes to the second World Maccabiah Games in Palestine, he met Lord Melchett (Sir Alfred Mond, Bt), a British industrialist and ardent Zionist, who wrote to Norman’s father on his behalf urging him to allow his son to remain in Palestine. Although it would take another decade for Norman to follow his dream and settle permanently in Palestine in 1946, Lord Melchett’s support was never forgotten and when in 2014, a luxury boutique hotel named after Norman Lourie called ‘The Norman’  opened in Tel Aviv, its location was none other than on the corner of –  Melchett Street!

The Norman Conquest. Drink a L’Chaim to Norman Lourie at Tel Aviv’s top boutique hotel ‘The Norman’ named after the visionary who founded the South African Habonim youth movement in 1930.

Tel Aviv today is not short of good bars and pubs but when the former members of South African Habonim  from all over the world gather in Israel this October to celebrate the long-awaited 90th anniversary, they may want to pop into the Champagne and Wine Bar  or the Library Bar at The Norman and toast a L’Chaim to their founder.

EPILOGUE

Staring at the long unused railway line at Rosh HaNikra – a casualty of war –  one can only add to the ‘dreams’ that one day in the not to distant future, that line that Norman came to film will be reopened as Lebanon gets on track in pursuing peace.

But that’s a script that still needs to be written by future dreamers and doers.





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).

ISRAEL’S FUTURE UNCERTAIN 

Overseas volunteers in 1967 ‘certain’ where they needed to be

Following Lay of the Land’s article ‘SIX DAYS IN JUNE’ by its editor celebrating 55 years since the Six Day War of 1967 that secured the future of the State of Israel,  a lively conversation began with calls and emails of seniors who recalled the days  of their spirited youth when they suddenly put their young lives on hold and volunteered for Israel in its hour of need.

It was a momentous moment in Israel’s history; it was a momentous moment in the personal lives of many who volunteered from abroad. One such is Allan Wolman today from Israel but in 1967 was a young man in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This is his story.

(Editor David E. Kaplan)

RECOLLECTIONS OF A 1967 VOLUNTEER

By Allan Wolman

“On the 5th June 1967, the Six Day War broke out between Israel and her Arab neighbours. Tensions between Israel and Egypt began building up about 4 – 5 weeks prior to the outbreak of war and as these hostilities increased, it seemed that war was inevitable. I had heard that South African volunteers might be accepted to go to Israel and immediately signed up. The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) occupied a building in downtown Johannesburg and was a hive of activity in those weeks leading up to the war. It was an exciting time with daily visits to the centre to see when we would be sent to Israel. After a selection process and obtaining army and police clearance and a host of other necessary documents, we were ready to leave.

Seeing is Believing. Only a year after the new Knesset building in Jerusalem was dedicated on August 30, 1966 (background) and only days after Jerusalem was reunited and restored to Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years, volunteer Allan Wolman explores Israel’s reunited capital.

When war did break out on the 5thJune, I felt a sense of disappointment as one group had already departed for Israel, and I was not part of it. With ears glued to the radio constantly, as well as almost camping at the Zionist Fed, the  days ticked by until I received the call to be ready to leave that evening!

The excitement was overwhelming. I called my parents and next my Dad arranged $300 – money that he could ill afford at the time – and rushed around to pack and get ready to leave.

Relic of War. Allan Wolman leaning back on a burnt out Jordanian Jeep on a tour of the West Bank shortly after fighting ceased

All the volunteers for that evening  – the second flight out of South Africa – congregated at the office of the Zionist Fed and bussed together to the airport. Parents and friends made their own way to the airport which was bedlam with thousands of people coming to wish our group well. Our SAA plane was a Boeing 707 that took about 250 passengers – all full of volunteers! The excitement at the departure hall was so memorable with proud Dad, tearful Mom and all my ‘envious’ friends who clubbed together and gave me $100 – a fortune in those days!

As SAA in those days was prohibited from overflying African countries, to get to Israel we were forced to fly round West Africa with stops at Luanda, Lisbon and Rome where we were allowed off the aircraft and walked around Rome airport in wonderment  – this was for most of the group their first trip out of South Africa. After Rome, we flew on to Athens where an EL AL aircraft was waiting to take us to Tel Aviv with a fighter jet meeting us en-route to escort us in as the war was not yet over.

My first impression disembarking at then Lod Airport was a bunch of bearded rowdy looking soldiers looking fearsome. After the necessary arrival requirements, our group was bussed to a senior citizen’s home in Herzliya – by that time it was already dark, enhanced by the enforced blackout. I remember those first few hours so vividly – the residents of the home were clapping and cheering us. After an almost 24-hour flight and the excitement of landing in Israel, some of our group walked down to experience a swim in the Mediterranean and then –  even with the war and the “blackout”–  hitch that evening a ride into Tel Aviv.

Sometime before midnight, we arrived at Dizengoff Street – the only place we had heard of – when the cease-fire came into effect and the lights were turned on and the euphoria was simply indescribable. After six days of anxiety, the nation breathed a sigh of relief.

Having a Field Day. Fellow volunteers of the writer (including Raymond Lowenberg and Peter Edel) join a group of  army Nachalniks working on kibbutz Kvutzat Schiller’s cotton plantation.

The following morning all the volunteers were assigned to where they were needed, mostly on various Kibbutzim to assist with agricultural work as most of the men were still in the army. Arriving on kibbutz Kvutzat Schiller  (Gan Shlomo) was like landing on another planet. Following orientation, I was billeted in a room with three other young guys from England, two of which have remained lifelong friends. There were also a few South African chaps in our group, Alan Heitner and one or two others. After some weeks, Peter Edel and Raymond (“Rafi”) Lowenberg joined ‘our’ Kibbutz. Peter, Raymond and I eventually shared a room for some months which were some of the most memorable times spent in Israel. Raymond remained in Israel, married, but was tragically killed on the first day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. I have hardly ever missed a memorial day in honour of Raymond – a brilliant guy, had his matric before he had a driver’s license and a degree at age nineteen.

Dig This. Sitting on a destroyed Jordanian military earth-mover, are (left-right) volunteers Allan Wolman, Peter Edel and Raymond Lowenberg.

Such incredibly vivid memories of those times in Israel, touring around with those wonderful friends and discovering the country on our own was an adventure in itself. One time we decided to visit the Suez Canal (not too long after the war ended) and witnessed the endless lines of destroyed Egyptian army trucks and tanks. We hiked through Gaza, and Gaza City was a dingy backward town with no building higher than two stories. Also hiked to El Arish, again a pretty backward little town. We never made it to the Canal but pretty close as it was a military security zone. Hiking back to Israel proper, Peter, Raymond, Alan and I were given a ride by an Arab Taxi who en-route back, decided to turn off the road into an Arab refugee camp, which was a pretty hostile areas for Jews to venture in. Anxious and afraid of what lay ahead for us, we discussed in broken Afrikaans to knock the driver unconscious and take over his car to avoid the danger we feared lay ahead. Such bravado, came to nought as the taxi stopped outside a house where his wife and children came out to collect fruit and vegetables he was delivering to his family. We felt ashamed for suspecting the worst. 

What struck me was the coming together of everyone in support of each other. There was such unity. This was so visibly evident when traveling around the country and seeing at every town or settlement, refreshment tables set out by the women of the area preparing sandwiches and refreshments for the soldiers who were either leaving or joining their units as the army remained on full alert.

My time in Israel in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War was one of the most profound and memorable experiences of my life. Firstly, this was my very first trip overseas and in a country celebrating (with much relief) one of the most astounding military victories in modern warfare, the mood was one of exuberance and happiness after the anxiety leading up to the war. Most of the time was spent working various jobs on the Kibbutz from working in the chicken sheds shovelling chicken ‘sh..t’,  to working in the various orchards and apple packing plant and weeding the cotton fields. You knew you had ‘made it’ – I am talking here serious ‘upward mobility’  – when you were trusted to drive a tractor. This was a status symbol; a far cry from the chicken coup!

Evenings were amazing, a living metaphor of the sixties. We sat around our rooms drinking coffee and socializing with the girls; Raymond would be playing his guitar and we would listen mesmerised to the music and lyrics of the latest Beetles classic –  “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band”.

For sure, we were anything but ‘lonely’; we all felt part of something great happening, so much bigger than ourselves.

Field of Dreams. Having “lots of fun, laughter and discussing girls” says Allan Wolman (left) followed by Peter Edel and Raymond Lowenberg while picking apples in the orchids.

But all good things must come to an end and one morning I came to the realization that if I didn’t get off the Kibbutz, I would remain there for the rest of my life, so I packed and said my goodbyes and left to spend a few weeks with my cousin Cyril Swiel in Tel Aviv which proved a real learning experience seeing the other side of life in Israel. I met up with some friends from South Africa and decided to travel through Europe and “see the world”.

But “seeing the world” was unlike “being in Israel” in 1967

The impact of this experience sowed the seed for eventually, decades later, settling in Israel.



About the writer:

Birds of a feather4

Allan Wolman in 1967 joined 1200 young South Africans to volunteer to work on agricultural settlements in Israel during the Six Day War. After spending a year in Israel, he returned to South Africa where he met and married Jocelyn Lipschitz and would run  one of the oldest travel agencies in Johannesburg – Rosebank Travel. He would also literally ‘run’ three times in the “Comrades”, one of the most grueling marathons in the world as well as participate in the “Argus” (Cape Town’s famed international annual cycling race) an impressive eight times. Allan and Jocelyn immigrated to Israel three years ago.





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).

Israel – Kaleidoscope of Cultures

Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, we look at the country’s incredible diversity

By Rolene Marks

Israel is a land of many paradoxes. In this glorious juxtaposition of the ancient and modern, you can walk in the footsteps of the prophets but also be amazed by some of the world’s leading cutting edge technology, you can hear the church bells toll at the same time you hear the muezzin call the faithful to the mosque to pray; all while hearing the steady prayers in Hebrew at the Western wall. Israel’s cities have their unique personalities that serve to reinforce the country’s history, position in the region and story.

As Israel celebrates 74 years of Independence, we cannot help but marvel at all the achievements, extraordinary history and enduring legacy.

But it is Israel’s people who are the country’s true treasure. Israel is a kaleidoscope of cultures and much like a kaleidoscope, if you seek to look at a different, vibrant picture, all you have to do is adjust your focus.

Flight to Freedom. Over a million citizens of the former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrated to Israel since the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and now make up 15% of the Israeli population, transforming Israeli society.  

While Jews have had a presence in the land of Israel for millennia, we have been joined over the centuries by other nations, some have stayed but most have left and following the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, the country has served as home not just for the many Jews who have been here through the generations; but to those who responded to the invitation from Prime Minister Ben Gurion, to participate in the ingathering of the exiles.

From all four corners of the world they have come. Diaspora communities from every conceivable country, some voluntarily – but many because the threat of persecution meant they needed to leave – and leave quickly.

Israel’s modern history is a tale of daring and chutzpah, in the attempt to rescue Jewish communities under threat. No sooner than the State of Israel had been declared, then 850 000 Jews from Arab countries were forced to flee. Many made Israel their home and today the majority of Israel’s population trace their roots back to Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and other Arab countries. One of the great advantages of the recently signed Abraham Accords is that many Israelis of Morocco descent now have the opportunity to revisit and trace their roots.

True Magic. In 1949,Israeli transport planes flew “home” 250,000 Jews from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet. The operation was secret and was released to the media only several months after its completion.

Following the devastation of the Holocaust which saw the genocide of two thirds of Europe’s Jews, many of the survivors who had lost their families and loved ones and saw no future for themselves on a continent that felt hostile, made their way to what was then British Mandate Palestine, joining the ranks of those pioneers that would help defend and build the fledgling country in the years after Israel was declared a state. Slowly, the exiled were returning home.

Hearty Hug: A cross-cultural embrace of a rabbi and Palestinian greeting each other as they meet at the Gush Etzion junction to hold prayers together in the summer of 2014. (photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In the decades to come, Israel would send rescue missions to Yemen and Ethiopia to bring distressed communities home.  The result today is an Israel that has absorbed Jews from all corners of the world – from India and South Africa, Australia and America, Ethiopia and Russia – 82 countries, with many different languages and cultures all calling Israel home. Israel is once again helping the distressed come home. Over the last two months, thousands of Ukrainian Jews, including many Holocaust survivors, have found sanctuary away from a brutal war that is ravaging Ukraine in Israel.

Out of Africa. New Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia exit an airplane during a welcoming ceremony after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel, Aug. 28, 2013. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Image)

Jews are not Israel’s only citizens. At least 20% of the Israeli population are Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs are fully franchised members of Israeli society and have contributed enormously to the country. While there are still many areas that need improvement, Israeli Arabs are represented in the Knesset, holding ministerial positions, lead civil society, serve in the military and are amongst the IDF’s most decorated officers, serve in the judicial system as judges, head multi-billion dollar corporations and more.  Arab Israelis follow either the Muslim or Christian religions. Arab Israelis are exempt from compulsory military service but recent statistics released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) see a steady yearly increase in the amount of volunteers from the community signing up to perform national service.

Seeking Sanctuary. Fleeing the war in Ukraine, passengers disembark from an airplane carrying Jewish immigrants upon arrival in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on March 6, 2022. – (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

“A covenant of blood”. The relationship between Israel’s Jewish and Druze population is so sacred that it is referred to as bond forged by blood. Israel’s Druze population makes up about 2% of the population and are fiercely loyal to the country. There are other significant Druze communities in Lebanon and Syria and Israel’s community live mostly in the Golan region in the north. Not much is known about the Druze religion but recent Pew research revealed that nearly all Druze (99%) believe in God, including 84% who say they are absolutely certain in their belief. But there are no set holy days, regular liturgy or obligations for pilgrimage, as Druze are meant to be connected with God at all times. Druze are active in public life and subject to the military draft. In fact, for more than four decades, the Israeli military had a primarily Druze infantry unit called the “Herev”, (sword battalion).

Coulourful Culture. Druze soldiers in the Israeli Army behind the Druze flag which combines 5 colors representing the 5 prophets of the Druze secret religion.

Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the Christian community is growing. Christians face persecution in many parts of the Middle East and constitute at least 2% of Israel’s population and this number is expected to grow. Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population, and 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab. The largest Arab Christian population centers in Israel are Nazareth (21,400), Haifa (16,500) and Jerusalem (12,900). Arab Christian women have some of the highest education rates in the country.

Israel is often maligned in the media and definitely misunderstood but on closer inspection, this tiny, vibrant country is not only fascinating because of all its many paradoxes packed into a small patch of land but because of its people, the greatest national treasure.

This Yom Ha’atzmaut we drink L’Chaim to this plucky, innovative, passionate and diverse country and her people. The future looks bright for Israel – no matter what view you choose to see this vibrant Middle Eastern jewel from.





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).

Foreign Affairs

Finding love in Israel but also finding oneself in a new country – help offered!

By Oren Ben-Arieh

“What’s love got to do with it” so goes the Tina Turner classic. Well everything in my case!

Let me begin – I am a born and bred Israeli. When I began my academic life – a Batchelor degree in geography and humanities, and an MA in City Planning at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – I decided to pursue a minor in Latin American studies.

Why? Well, as I was fascinated with different cultures I wanted to understand how they could contribute to my life as well as their impact on Israeli culture. Little did I know that years later, I would fall in love with a woman from Peru that by fate was studying for her MA at Tel Aviv University. Our paths crossed and now we are journeying on the same road together.

We are hardly alone on this journey!

Nowadays, more and more foreigners are romantically involved with Israelis, and many decide to settle here in Israel. This, of course, requires the foreigner to adjust to life in a country that can be complicated even for those of us born and raised here. Even though numbers are on the rise, it appears that the phenomena is rarely talked about, and hence hardly addressed. To prove my point, just consider: there are no statistics as to the number of non-Jewish partners living in Israel today.

I find it crazy that this growing trend is largely ignored.

Experiencing the bureaucratic process together with my now Latina wife of obtaining a temporary residence permit so she could start her life with me in Israel, opened my eyes to Israel’s burgeoning diversity. It also  at the same time revealed that these new arrivals are hardly recognised and do not have a voice.  They are, after all, part of our society and deserve to be included in every aspect of it.

Man with a Message. The writer, Israeli Oren Ben-Arieh and initiator of ‘Mixing it Up’ with his wife Ana from Peru.

After speaking to several such people, I learned that many feel excluded not by society but our public institutions. This was further proven – after all it takes two to tango – when I spoke to a number of their Israeli partners. This drove me to action. I realised they needed a platform, a warm comfortable and friendly ‘meeting place’ to exchange views, talk about their situations and learn from each other’s experiences.

The result is a podcast that I have created called: MIXING IT UP, that  will serve ‘MIXED’ couples in the Holy Land.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

What is so important is also that we Israelis need to hear from the foreigners how they feel about living in Israel; what they like; what they don’t like; what they miss from their native countries, and what they have found here in Israel that excites them. We Israelis can learn from this experience. It is not only the foreigners that need to adjust to their new environment.; we too may need  to mend our ways to accommodate the new additions into our society. Its love that has brought them to settle here and so we need to embrace that love and spread it.

So far, I have found the initiative loads of fun but more important it has proved illuminating as couples open up with their stories. For instance, I’ve discovered that Indians and Israelis have much in common; their cultures revolve around close family ties and  are obsessive about their kids. We sure are. I’ve also learned – and this was a surprise and amusing – that some see Israeli culture as “laid back” ! Really?  Us – laid back?

Another revelation from many of the partners in relationships coming from counters all over the world, was less of a surprise and so  true  – the personal safety on individuals on the streets of Israel – particularly at night. This is not a given in most cities around the world today. As Mariana Salas, formally from Mexico, remarked recently:

 “Leaving my home after dark is a new experience altogether; in my hometown this would be out of the question – unthinkable; it was simply not safe.”

Her next observation I found stunning as Israel is like one big construction site, with building going on all the time and all over the country. Mariana continued that while living here, she for the first time in her life walked alongside a construction site. When I asked why is that a big deal, she replied that where she is from, there is the perception – not unwarranted – that construction sites are dangerous for single women to be near as they are likely to be harassed.

You can listen more about her experiences on the soon to be published episode #3 with Mariana Salas.

In another episode, you will hear a European perspective on life here in Israel, as a British interviewee from Manchester explains how different things are here. This is just a taste out of the first of many interviews to understand what it means to be a foreigner living in Israel. So If you – locals or foreigners – wish to learn how it is to live in Israel while building a life with your Israeli partner, enjoy listening to our podcasts and contact me; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can find us in Instagram and follow us on Spotify, as well, if you wish to contact me directly, you can email me at obenarieh@gmail.com

Teaming up with an Israeli you are contributing to Israel’s beauty by contributing to its diversity. You now have an online meeting place where mixed couples can all learn from each other.

Whatever the season in Israel – “Love is in the air” and we would “love” to hear from you.



About the writer

Oren Ben-Arieh who holds a BA in Geography and humanities, an MA in City Planning, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is presently pursuing a PhD.

He has lived in Jerusalem most of his life, apart from a few years living in the USA. He has worked in both the public and private sector in the city planning world, where he currently serves as an environmental consultant in a private firm.

Oren is married to his Peruvian wife, Ana, who he met when she was studying for her MA in Tel Aviv. Both now reside in Jerusalem and are avid readers. Under her influence, Oren has been exploring Latin American writers, along with classic Latin musicians and typical foods.  





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).

The Great Aliyah of Soviet Jewry

By Jonathan Davis

Recently, a popular Israeli singer composed a song called “Kakdila”.  Many Israelis   interpreted this song as an insult to the character of Israelis of Russian origin. In my opinion, this song was uncalled for. The many wonderful contributions of Russian Aliyah to the State of Israel is well known. Their economic, cultural, and demographic impact on the country and to Israel, the Start-Up Nation, has been profound. However, this controversy led me to travel down memory lane on a personal and nostalgic journey. What I experienced on this journey refutes everything this song implies.

Forty three years ago, I was an Aliyah emissary of the Jewish Agency for Israel, based in the office of the Consulate General in Boston. I was approached by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Nativ Organization to travel on a mission to the Former Soviet Union to visit Jewish activists and refuseniks. In 1979 there were of course no diplomatic relations between Israel and the Soviet Union.  My partner on this mission was Mark Sokoll, then the regional director of the American Zionist Youth Foundation for New England campuses, and later served as the President and CEO of JCC Greater Boston.  Our mission included visits to Moscow, Leningrad, Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand.

Men on a Mission. Posing as university lecturers, Jonathan Davis (left) and partner Mark Sokoll in Tashkent, one of the many places in the Former Soviet Union they visited to engage with Jewish activists and ‘Refuseniks’.

Our cover story was that we were university lecturers in the USA.  We were briefed on how to behave during our few weeks as “tourists” in the Soviet Union. For example, we were told to not bring written lists of the activists, but memorize them instead; do not talk about anything sensitive in the hotel rooms as they may be bugged and that our tour guide was probably working and reporting for the Soviet Government.  We were instructed to update the activists on current events in Israel and encourage and reassure them that we in Israel were fighting for their freedom.  Strange as it may seem now, we were to provide them with duty free items from the local tourist shop called the Birioska, as gifts for their livelihood. At night we were to quietly reach out to the Jewish Activist destinations in the most subtle way possible.

Free at Last. The writer enjoying a meal and kosher wine with a Jewish family in Bukhara who he would meet again five years later, free in Israel.

We were honoured to participate in this Zionist mission.

Amongst many memorable experiences was celebrating in Leningrad a Pesach seder – somewhat poignant as the Passover festival spotlights ‘freedom’ by celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt . The seder was held in a small apartment, with at least 70 people squeezed in.  We had brought Matzot and wine from the USA, a real treat and delicacy for the locals. We led the Seder with great vigour including singing traditional songs, “Let My People Go” and “Next Year in Jerusalem“.  This was a Seder I would never forget. To my amazement the guest of honour at the Seder was Yuli Kosharovsky, the famous refusenik and Jewish activist who had been released from jail just 24 hours earlier. What an honour it was to meet this Jewish hero. Yuli was an outstanding engineer in the Soviet Union, but his ‘crime’ was to request the right to make Aliyah.

Celebrating Freedom. The writer (right) with Yuli Kosharovsky famous refusenik and Jewish activist who had been released from prison 24 hours earlier (left) and family at Seder in Leningrad.

As a result, he was persecuted and imprisoned. Together with other engineers, they clandestinely taught themselves Hebrew and prepared their Aliyah (immigration to Israel).  In every way, this hero exemplifies the qualities of a modern-day Joseph Trumpeldor, embodying courage, tenacity, leadership, and Zionist values. Ten years after our visit at the Seder, Yuli managed to receive his permit to come to Israel, where he succeeded in becoming an important advisor to the Jewish Agency and helped found a political party.  Yuli, of blessed memory passed away in 2014, but his Zionist values and spirit lives on with his family and grandchildren.

Risky Business. Trying to revive Jewish national life by teaching Hebrew, Judaism and Zionist values in the Former Soviet Union was a dangerous activity. Here, under the noses of  the KGB, the writer  (Center: fifth from the left) meets with Hebrew teaching activists in Moscow

In Moscow we had the opportunity to address 30-40 Jewish activists packed into a small apartment to help explain the current events facing the State of Israel in 1978.  They were hungry for knowledge and were carefully taking notes. Each of them was teaching Hebrew to a few dozen activists and were going to repeat what they perceived to be our Zionist words of wisdom to their students. Years later, when visiting the Knesset, the late Member of Knesset Yuri Stern, a refusenik and Zionist activist in the Soviet Union came up to me and told me:

Jonathan, you were the first paratrooper I ever met in person“. 

Memorable Moment. Hitting home the enormity of the success of the mission to the Former Soviet Union was years later when the writer bumped into  famed former  refusenik and Zionist activist, Yuri Stern at the Knesset. Then an MK, he reminded the writer that he was once one of the many sitting in a parlor meeting in Moscow listening to Jonathan and said  the impression it made meeting the first Israeli paratrooper in person.

I felt proud that he remembered.

Ten years later while working for the Jewish Agency for Israel I was sent on a special mission to Italy.  My assignment was to reach out to tens of thousands of Russian Jewish refugees in Ladispoli, Netuno, Santa Marinella and other locations to create awareness of the importance of living in Israel.

Full Circle. Jonathan Davis (right) in a fundraising event with an orphan of a fallen Israel paratrooper preparing to jump  from a Hercules aircraft in the sea off Haifa was later picked up in a rubber dinghy with the outstretched hand of a Navy Seal born of Russian immigrant parents.

It was a hard job to compete with the “easy life” in the USA, Canada, or Australia.  It was an almost impossible mission, but in the end together with a dedicated team, a few hundred families emigrated to Israel. They were mostly young couples with small children, and professionals in the fields such as medicine, music, art, engineering, and others.

Their life choice to become Israelis has certainly enriched our country. 

In 2000, I participated in a parachute jump into the sea, near the Dado Beach in Haifa.  Lt. General Shaul Mofaz led this fundraising event for orphans of paratroopers. Each veteran paratrooper jumped with an “orphan buddy“.  Navy seals in rubber dinghies were awaiting to assist us back to shore. A tall and handsome navy seal with a Russian accent assisted me. He was born in Novosibirsk and had been living in Israel for less than a decade. The navy seal, son of Russian immigrants who chose to serve in one of the most elite units in the IDF, was lending me a hand. This brought me full circle in my appreciation and recognition of an immigration which changed the face of the State of Israel.

Fruits of one’s labor. Today as head of the international school at Reichman University, Jonathan Davis savors the joy of having an ever-increasing number of students  from the Former Soviet Union.




About the writer:

Jonathan Davis is head of the international school at Reichman University (formerly the IDC) and vice president of external relations there. He is also a member of the advisory board of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Mr. Davis also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel (Res) in the IDF Spokesman’s office.






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).

A South African Lunch at Israel’s Reichman University

It left much to chew on!

By David E. Kaplan

As one neared the wooded deck of the cafeteria at Reichman University – formerly IDC, Herzliya – the alluring aroma of the “boerewors” (special South African sausage)  directed this writer’s nostrils like a GPS. I was headed in the right direction and then the all too familiar South African accents assured me I was in the right place – a picturesque setting for the Hanukkah ‘braai’ (barbecue) for the over 100 South African students at the Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS).

Tomorrow’s Leaders. South African students at Reichman University enjoy a Hanukkah boerewors braai (barbecue) and send the message: “Life is Good.” (Photo Yaron Peretz)

If one needed any further affirmation  of – right place, right time – this was provided by the displayed bottles of superlative Western Cape wines on each table shaded by Eucalyptus trees.

If it was the aroma of the ‘boerewors’ directing me, there were far more profound reasons ‘directing’ and an ever-increasing number of Jewish school-leavers to leave South Africa and chose to come study in Israel. It was also a case of “right place, right time” – for the majority of these young South African Jews who the vast majority are opting for Reichman University where there are over 2000 overseas students from over 90 countries. All studying together in English, one third of the student body is American, one third from countries across Europe, and the rest from Latin America, Africa, Israel and Asia.

For most the students this is largely the attraction – to be in a top global academic environment, interacting and networking with their peers, exploring the present, preparing for the future. Located in the midst of Israel’s ‘Silicon Wadi’ – with the highest number of hi-tech companies per capita of any region in the country – “the Reichman University enjoys a very strong connection with these companies,” says Jonathan Davis, head of RRIS and Vice President, Reichman University. “They provide cooperative hands-on education as well as offering internships.”

Boerewors Bonanza. The boerewors (sponsored by Meatland, Ra’anana) was a treat for the South African students at Reichman University as well as this writer who addressed the students. ( Photo Yaron Peretz)

Cooperating with top universities in the US, notably the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, University of California, Berkley, Washington University in St. Louis, Syracuse University and Harvard, Reichman University  – Israel’s first and only private, non-profit university  – is ranked first of 66 Israeli academic institutions “in terms of student satisfaction” for four consecutive years.

As I arrived, I joined a group of students who were in deep animated conversation with Prof. Uriel Reichmann, the university’s founder and President. I thought to myself, at what university in the world, would undergraduate students – many of them first year –  not only have the opportunity to meet but to socially interact with the President of a university. Casually attired in blue jeans, Prof. Reichman was engaging the students, enquiring:

Where do you come from?”

What are you studying?”

How you managing, particularly during Covid?”  

The students were doing most the talking, Reichman was listening attentively.

When Reichman formally addressed this lunch, he revealed in anecdotes and insights much about himself and the university – but all with the emphasis on the students. “When I conceived the idea of this private non-profit university based on the ivy-league universities of the US, people thought I was crazy. It cannot in Israel be done. Well, look who is crazy and look what has been done.” As he said these words, I looked out  beyond and above the deck to a massive new construction going up – it will be the new ‘Building of Innovation’, sponsored by the Franco-Israeli businessman and telecommunications mogul Patrick Drahi, who also owns in Israel both HOT TV and i24NEWS.

If Israel today is so much about “INNOVATION” and aptly termed the “Start-Up Nation” for its outside-the-box entrepreneurship, then Reichman University feeds and fuels this national aspiration and direction. Reflecting on this trend, I noted that I had earlier parked my car outside the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship!

“Island of Opportunity”. President and Founder of Reichman University, Uriel Reichman (right) engages with South African students at the Hanukkah boerewors braai (barbeque) at Reichman University. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Continuing, Reichman emphasized the care and welfare of the students that does not end on graduation. “We ensure you find your right place in the labour market. We are there for you always.”

The writer too had the honour in addressing the group and recounted how over the years the number of South African students at Reichman University had grown from  four to over 100 making it today the number one university in Israel with the most students from South Africa.

Soon it will have a competitive rugby team,” I quipped!

So what makes Reichman University so appealing to South Africans?

Commenting on how well the South African students do academically, Davis’ praises the educational system of the Jewish Day Schools in South Africa. He sites as an example that “Twenty-seven students were accepted to our prestigious Computer Science programme of which nine are from SA. This is impressive.”

Universal University. With students from over 90 countries around the world, Jonathan Davis, head of RRIS and Vice President, Reichman University addresses the South African students. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Davis was happy to go on record saying that “the South African Jewish Day School education, particularly its matric mathematics  is of a much higher level than in the US.”

He further noted that the South African students “are rich in Zionist values and stand out, showing great leadership qualities.” Despite  the negative perception that Zionism is not as strong as it once was in South Africa, “That flame has not been extinguished. Far from it. The SA students here are a testament to this!”

 On this note, I set about to tear away some of the students from their boerewors and chicken kebabs to interview them.

First year Computer Science student Aaron Osrin from Cape Town, followed his sister who graduated the previous year in Communication. “I saw how much fun she had studying here and knew this is where I wanted to be.” Asked about the ‘uncomfortable’ atmosphere for Jews on South African campuses in recent years over anti-Israel activities, Aaron says, that “while thankfully I had never been exposed to it, many of my friends and cousins have; it’s scary and all it does is further force Jews in their bubble.” Here, on the other hand, “We are free but not in a bubble.”

The Global Connection. First year Computer Science student Aaron Osrin from Cape Town, praises the networking potential from connecting with fellow students from all over the world. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

I could not escape the though of how Ghettoization – the scourge once for the Jews of Europe – has found a nuanced presence on South African campuses!

In Israel only two months, Aaron has made friends from all over the world. “I have made connections that I would never have made had I studied in South Africa.”

Raising a glass of his Cape wine and toasting to his life in Israel and Reichman University, “It’s been a brilliant experience.”

Twenty-one year-old Melissa Moritz from Cape Town in her first year at the School of Psychology, first went to the Israeli army for two years.

It was unbelievable; it was tough in the beginning;  I did not really know Hebrew when I came to Israel; so firstly serving in the IDF gave me the confidence to be a leader; I now have the tools and feel prepared.”

Her parents back in Cape Town are extremely proud. “It was their dream as well and still is and will happen within the next few years.”

Marvelous Melissa. Thriving on challenges, 1st-year psychology student Melissa Moritz from Cape Town, first served in the Israeli army for two years. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Melissa feels that by coming to Israel and “going to the army and then studying here, offered me a sense of challenge which was not the case if I stayed in South Africa where the pathway is predicable  ….. coming to Israel threw a spanner in the works;  made things more challenging but for the better. Also, there is a lot of meaning being here and doing what I am as a Jewish woman.”

Melissa then introduces me to her brother Dan Moritz, who says he was sold on the idea of studying at Reichman University when he visited the campus with his parents at the age of sixteen. “We were on holiday from Cape Town and we toured the campus. My Mom and Dad were already looking ahead for our education, and when I saw the Communications School, I was sold and here I am in my second year specialising in an intensive interactive track – designing websites and applications.” This reminded me of my tour around the School of Communication some years earlier when our guide told us of a student who had designed an app for a class project. A few months later an Israeli hi-tech company bought his app for a whopping $2 million!

Not bad – better than the usual student waiter jobs!

On Track. Studying at the School of Communication, Capetonian Dan Moritz is specialising in an intensive interactive track – designing websites and applications. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Yaron Eisenberg made Aliyah six years ago also from Cape Town, has also served in the Israeli army and is a  second year psychology student. Raised within a very Zionistic family, in 2017, Yaron volunteered for Tzanchanim (parachute brigade), finishing his service in 2019. “I don’t regret a single second.” He says living in the campus dorms during corona was an eye-opener about the nature of Israeli society. “The way people genuinely care for you. People would come during quarantine an offer food and ask what they could do for us. It showed how Israel is like one big family. When the chips are down, people are there for you.”

Yaron presents his perspective on his Jewish peers in South Africa. On his return visits to Cape Town representing Reichman University, he has addressed pupils at Herzlia High School and students at the University of Cape Town (UCT), speaking about life in Israel.

Master of his Destiny. Having proudly served in Israel’s prestigious parachute brigade in the IDF, Yaron Eisenberg from Cape Town is a 2nd year psychology student. He already has his sights set on pursuing a Masters. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Today, the Jewish community in SA is increasingly diverse. There is an alternate Jewish community who think differently to that their peers of 10-15 years ago. I have Jewish friends  who subscribe to the BDS narrative and there are others  who are looking forward and seeing South Africa is no more a place  for Jews and view Israel as an option.” Affirming this trend, Yaron’s twin sister has since made Aliyah and his younger brother is following, starting soon his service in the IDF. His parents are destined to follow.

I planted the flag.”

Even from the small towns in South Africa where there is hardly any Jewish life, young Jews are finding their way to Israel and Reichman University.

Josh Buchalter is from Knysna, a coastal resort town in South Africa’s famous Garden Route. Apart from Josh’s parents, “there may be another three Jewish families” living in this town of some 76,000 residents. In 2013, as a teenage student, Josh came on the Encounter programme that planted the seed.

After school, life’s journey took him to Miami where he worked for a number of years on cruise ships until the corona pandemic closed down the industry. Returning to Knysna to reassess  “my  future”, Josh thought back to his “ENCOUNTER” and decided to apply to Reichman University. The rest is history and the future. For someone like me, who did not grow up in a Jewish community, I could not think of a more lifechanging trip than Encounter; it really was lifechanging. If I had not come on that 2013  trip I would not have the friends I have today at Reichman and I would not have had such a strong connection to Israel.”

Imagining the different direction of his life had he instead  gone to a South African university, Josh believes:

 “I have gained diversity – the ceiling is a lot higher;   maybe there is no ceiling here – the sky is the limit.”

Chucking, Josh concludes:

I think getting on a plane with a one-way ticket to anywhere, the concept means you have booked a passage for opportunity, excitement, growth, learning and uncapped experiences. I believe I have gained this all here.”

Even though Tel Aviv was recently ranked as the most expensive city in the world, it  does not deter the likes of Josh. “For someone in their 20s and 30s, there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. And if it’s so pricey, does that not indicate that everyone wants to be here?”

21-year-old Yaron Peretz from Johannesburg has a fascinating pedigree that includes Moroccan, Israeli, Greek, South African and Lithuania lineage. “This is what I love about being Jewish,” says Yaron. “It is not just one nationality. It does not matter where you come from in the world, you are Jewish…. And you are part of the Jewish nation and so I look forward to contributing to this society in spreading Israeli creativity.”

L’Chaim (“to health”). Toasting to a healthy, peaceful and enriching future are Communication students, Yaron Peretz (left) from Johannesburg and  Josh Buchalter from Knysna. (Photo D.E.Kaplan)

The official photographer at today’s lunch, Yaron is a visual communications student and is “into movie-making to scriptwriting and all that stuff….I am loving it so much.”

Yaron, who recently made Aliyah, says:

 “I was sold on studying here since I first visited the campus in 2016 on Habonim’s three weeks ‘Shorashim’  (”roots”) tour and then what clinched it, was listening to a student address us at King David School, Victory Park. What appealed to me  was the idea of being together with students from so many different countries and the potential for networking.”

He admits:

 “it’ was a leap of faith  but one that paid off. I feel a sense of belonging. This is where my heart feels at home.”

Fun in the Sun. Enjoying today and inspired about tomorrow are Rebecca Breger, who is studying Psychology and Skye Solomon studying Business and Economics, both from Johannesburg. (Photo Yaron Peretz)

I had a sense that this sentiment was shared by all the South African students I met who although were far from home geographically, felt at home spiritually. The boerewors and Cape wines were fine – it represented the pleasant past.

Far more exciting they now had a taste for the future full of opportunity and adventure in Israel.







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).