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).

A Modern Miracle

In a hostile neighbourhood, Israel more than survives, it thrives

By Rodney Mazinter

Today, of the three Abrahamic faiths, there are 120 countries in which the majority of the population is Christian. There are 57 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. There is only one Jewish state, a tiny country, one-quarter of one percent of the landmass of the Arab world.

Israel is about the size of  my country, South Africa’s premier game reserve – the  Kruger National Park. Israel has done extraordinary things. It has absorbed immigrants from 103 countries, speaking 82 languages. It has turned a desolate landscape into a place of forests and fields. It has developed cutting-edge agricultural and medical techniques and created one of the world’s most advanced high-tech economies. It has produced great poets and novelists, dancers, artists and sculptors, symphony orchestras, universities, and research institutes.  As of 2021, it has also won 13 Nobel Prizes, with nine of the ten Israeli laureates since 2002, having been for either chemistry or economics. A pulsating powerhouse across so many fields, Israel punches way above its weight.

The Magnificent  13. Israel has won thirteen Nobel Prizes;  nine since 2002 in the sciences and economics outperforming larger countries with larger economies.

Wherever in the world there is a humanitarian disaster, Israel, if permitted, is one of the first to send aid. It has shared its technologies with other developing countries. Under constant threat, it has sustained a vibrant democracy, a free press, and an independent judiciary.

On the day of its birth, Israel was attacked by the armies of five states – Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. A country of a mere six hundred thousand people, many of whom were refugees or Holocaust survivors, faced the full force of nations whose population was 45 million.


Speaking of population displacement, at its founding – sometimes forgotten – is that at the same time some eight hundred thousand Jews were forced to leave Arab states, among them Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya. In many of them, they had lived for far longer than had the non-Jewish population of Palestine. The plight of the Arab and Jewish refugees was quite different. The Jewish refugees were absorbed immediately, most by Israel itself. The Arab refugees were denied citizenship by every Arab country except Jordan, to be used as pawns in the political battle against Israel.

Modern Day Exodus. A  Jewish Yemenite family walking through the desert towards Aden in their escape to the new state of Israel in the early 1950s.

The only nation ever to have offered the present Palestinians a state has been Israel. Prior to 1948, the Jews living in this region administered under the British Mandate were referred to as “Palestinians” and current The Jerusalem Post was called The Palestinian Post. Following Palestine renamed Israel in 1948, it was only in1964, that the term “Palestinian” was resurrected now referring to Arab residents with the growth of the pan-Arab movement.

Making History. David Ben-Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel in Tel Aviv on the 14 May 1948,  triggering a war of annihilation launched by five Arab states on the nascent Jewish state.

Every Israeli offer, every withdrawal, every hint at concessions has been interpreted by the Arabs as a sign of weakness and a victory for terror and has led to yet greater terror. If every Israeli gesture towards its neighbours is taken as an invitation to violence, then peace becomes impossible, not because Israel does not seek it, but because simply and quite explicitly,Hamas and Hezbollah do not seek peace with Israel but instead –  its destruction!

The Palestinians have blocked every Israeli move to establish peace:

  • The Oslo Accords led to suicide bombings
  • Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon led to the Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah.
  • The 2005 withdrawal from Gaza led to the rise of power of Hamas and the sustained missile attacks on Sderot and surrounding towns

Israel has often been accused of being a threat to peace. It is an erroneous accusation! Of the many two state proposals between the Balfour Declaration and today – all crafted around compromise – the Jewish leadership accepted them all.

Although bitterly divided over the plan, the Zionist leadership nevertheless agreed in 1937 to the Peel Commission proposals. The Arabs on the other hand, opposed the partition plan and condemned it unanimously.

When the UN General Assembly voted on Resolution 181, adopting a plan to partition the British Mandate into two states -one Jewish, one Arab – the Jewish leadership agreed. Despite that the borders of the proposed state were far from what the Jewish side had hoped for and left the Jewish population without access to key areas of national historic and religious significance, the Jewish leadership nevertheless responded positively to the international proposal. In contrast, Resolution 181 was violently rejected by the local Arab population and the Arab States.  A wave of attacks were launched against the Jewish population and when Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, five Arab armies invaded the new state the same night, seeking its annihilation.

David Ben Gurion had called for peace; the Arab response was war.

In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel made an offer to return territories in exchange for peace. The offer was conveyed on 16 June 1967. Two months later, the Arab League, meeting in Khartoum, gave its reply – the ‘Three No’s’:

no to peace, no to negotiation, no to recognition.

In 1969, Golda Meir became Prime Minister. Her first announcement was a call to Israel’s neighbours to begin peace negotiations. Within three days, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser delivered his rejection with the words: “There is no call holier than war.” In June 1969, Mrs Meir offered to go personally to Egypt to negotiate an agreement.

Uncompromising in Defeat. The 1967 Arab League summit  held on August 29 in Khartoum  in the aftermath of the Arab defeat by Israel in the Six-Day War  is most remembered for its Khartoum Resolution  known as “The Three No’s” –  No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. (left – right): Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Nasser of Egypt, Sallal of Yemen, Sabah of Kuwait and Arif of Iraq.

Between 1993 to 2001, during the Oslo Accords, Israel made its most generous offers yet, reaching the point at Taba of offering the Palestinians a state in all of Gaza, some 97% of the West Bank, with compensating border adjustments elsewhere, and with East Jerusalem as their capital. Again, the answer was ‘no’. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States and an active participant in the talks, said in December 2000, “If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won’t be a tragedy, it will be a crime”. No Arab country except Jordan offered citizenship to Palestinian refugees. The only nation ever to have offered the Palestinians a state has been Israel.

Faulting Arafat’s Failures. Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz was critical of Yasser Arafat for rejecting Israel’s overture towards achieving peace.

Every Israeli offer, every withdrawal, every hint at concessions has been interpreted by the Palestinians as a sign of weakness and a victory for terror and has led to yet greater terror. If every Israeli gesture towards its neighbours is taken as an invitation to violence, then peace becomes impossible, not because Israel does not seek it, but because, simply and quite explicitly, Hamas and Hezbollah do not seek peace with, but the destruction of, Israel.

Field of Dreams. Israeli pioneers transformed an arid land into fertile green farmlands and now Israelis are bringing the gift of water to nations around the world.

Israel has taken a barren land and made it bloom again. It has taken Hebrew,  an ancient language, and made it speak again. It has taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young again. It has taken a shattered nation and made it live again.

Not bad, I would say!



About the writer:

RODNEY MAZINTER, a Cape Town based writer, poet and author, who is involved in media activism on behalf of Israel. Past vice-chair of the South African Zionist Federation, Cape Council, he has held numerous leadership positions within a range of educational, sporting, secular and Jewish organisations. His novel “By A Mighty Hand” was favourably reviewed on Amazon. He has just finished writing the sequel called Ge’ula (Redemption).





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 IS ALL YOU HAVE

By Martine Alperstein

Read that title again.

Because believe it or not, this beautiful, complicated, tiny little country that is steeped with your ancestral heritage, is all you have.

I have never understood how people of Jewish faith could ever denounce Israel. I have never understood how some people imagine you can be anti-Zionist and not be antisemitic. Zionism and Judaism are intrinsically intertwined. The history of Israel and the story of the Jewish people, are the same story. And Israel exists because a Jew had a dream.

I am not sure if it is ignorance, naivety or the ostrich syndrome that enables any Jew to believe that without Israel, they would be safe and protected. Tonight we light a yahrzeit candle on Erev Yom Hazikaron in memory of the 23, 928 soldiers who gave their lives to protect our existence, which acts as a reminder of the price we have paid in order to ensure that the yahrzeit candle we lit last week on Erev Yom HaShoah in memory of the 6million Jews that were annihilated in the holocaust, will NEVER happen again. Ever.

Maybe it comes from being privileged, having never encountered antisemitism in any form? Maybe it is ignorance thinking it is happening to other Jews because of x, y or z but that it will never happen to you?. Maybe it is being raised in an environment that is desperate to blend in, to be part of the crowd, to be unrecognised? Maybe it is from having lost the  connection to your roots, to your traditions and customs out of necessity or something else?

Those who know me well, know that I despise conflict and will avoid it at all cost. I believe in the value of giving and the value of love. I teach my children that respect and tolerance are basic human rights, that people are all just people, irrespective of colour, race, religion, position, financial status, sexual orientation or political beliefs. We won’t change the world through hate, through violence, through arrogance, through intolerance or rigid barriers.

In order to make a difference on our planet, to be able to build bridges and stretch out a helping hand, you first need to know yourself, your roots, your history, your traditions and customs. You need to believe in yourself and your heritage. You need to understand that first you stand strong, you stand tall………..  And it’s from that place of confidence, strength and courage, that you can reach out and connect, lift up, assist, aid, collaborate, communicate and facilitate the change.

On an airplane we are taught to first put the oxygen mask on ourselves and to then help others because without that oxygen, you will be useless. The same is true for a Jew and Israel.

Denouncing, belittling, and removing yourself from Israel will not bring you any love, respect or acceptance, it will not make you courageous nor a hero. It will not make a difference and it will not bring change.

Earn your respect by being true to your heritage and to yourself. Show your strength by loving who you essentially are. Find your heritage, your individual and communal spark….honour those who came before you, and shine.

Shine your light.

Be true.

Rebirth of a Nation. David Ben-Gurion publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948, Tel Aviv, Israel, beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl in the old Tel Aviv Museum of Art building on Rothschild Street.

Take a good look at those who fought hard, sacrificed and suffered to fulfill their dream of aliyah, those who walked barefoot through a never ending desert, those who sat in jail, those who risk their lives to light Chanukah candles underground…. and those 23, 928 neshomot who gave their place on this earth to ensure that you have a home.

The Young and the Adventurous. A new group of young olim  (immigrants) arriving in Israel (Photo: Sason Tiram)

 

And from YOUR place of brightness and truth, start to close gaps, give with loving kindness and do the desperately needed tikkun ha’olam (Jews bearing responsibility not only for their own moral, spiritual, and material welfare, but also for the welfare of society at large).

A Homecoming. On February 12, 2021, some 302  immigrants from Ethiopia were flown into Israel on a specially chartered flight sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) despite Ben-Gurion Airport being closed and the borders being sealed off tight to lower COVID-19 infections.
 

 

Israel is the reason that you are. Israel is the reason that you can. Israel is the reason that you will always be able. Israel is the reason that we are free to be.

“Were you there when the camps were liberated?

Are you with us now as we rebuild?

Were you standing next to David Ben Gurion when a two thousand year old dream was fulfilled?”

Raise Your Hand – Julie Geller





About the writer:

Martine Maron Alperstein made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.

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)

From Bombs to Babies

Israel at 73

By David E. Kaplan

Not sure how the field of psychology would view it but there is something strangely unique in Israel’s character and calendar  that only a split second separates joyful Independence Day  from the sad day that precedes it. Possibly perplexing to non-Israelis – the shift from grief to joy in the space of a heartbeat  – but that is what Israelis do each year. For 24 hours we remember and honour those fallen in defense of the State of Israel as well as victims of terror, and the next 24 hours we celebrate the fruits of that sacrifice – an independent Jewish State after 2000 years of exile and unrelenting persecution. Coming a week after Yom HaShoah where we remember and honour the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Jews know the PRICE of statehood because  they also understand the NEED for statehood.

If the Jewish partisan and poet Abba Kovner wrote in a pamphlet  in 1942 “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” to inspire his fellow Jews in the Vilnius area to take up arms against their German invaders, then look only to the following year of 1943 and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II, the uprising by a civilian population, untrained and without sophisticated weapons – men women and children – held off the might of the Nazi invader for nearly a month. Very impressive when you compare it was nearly the same length of time as the trained Polish army took to be defeated by the German army – one month!

Lions not Lambs. Abba Kovner (center) with Rozka Korczak-Marla (left) and Vitka Kempner-Kovner after the liberation of the Vilna ghetto(Yad Vashem).

Far from “lambs to the slaughter”, they were heroes to a man, woman and child.

Twenty-four hours preceding Israel’s annual sound of  fireworks is the sound of the siren, when traffic stops and people stop talking in mid-sentence. Life in Israel is frozen for those two minutes encapsuling so many bitter and tragic memories. I for one always think first of the names of those I know who were either killed in uniform or perished in a terrorist attack – I rattle them off in my mind as I stand solemnly, their faces flash by as if flipping over the pages  of a cerebral picture album.

Defiant until Death. No military uniforms or helmets, Jewish fighters in civilian attire, take on the might of the German army during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

According to the Defense Ministry, the country’s total number of people killed in war and terrorist attacks now stands at 23,928 They are not numbers – their names and faces are known throughout the land – each and every one of them!

On the flip side, as we celebrate Israel’s 73rd Independence Day, and reflect  on the loss of 6,000,000 Jews mourned only a week ago on Yom HaShoah, today we can celebrate Israel’s population standing at 9,327,000 million – over a third more than was lost in the Shoah – and growing.

Light unto the Nations. The last public Independence celebrations before Corona, people watch fireworks during a show to mark Israel’s 71st Independence Day in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019.

If on a national note we take pleasure that 167,000 babies have been born over the past year, I take personal pleasure that one of those babies is my grandson. I take further pleasure that another is on the way.

Yes, the country can feel proud of its inventions and innovations from hi-tech to Smart Mobility but this Independence Day, I reflect on our successes in the baby manufacturing business that all Israelis are super active in.

Be Fruitful and Multiply. Israelis delight in fulfilling the divine injunction from Genesis.

What can bring more delight that looking upon these  ‘products’ in nappies under the ‘blue and white’ brand:

“Made 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)

Decked out in Blue and White

By Rolene Marks

I love this time of the year in Israel. The country is transformed into a blue and white celebration as the roads are lined and national buildings festooned with Israeli flags. There is a festive atmosphere as many decorate their balconies and cars with flags and of course, barbeques are sold out – all in preparation for the national holidays, Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).

This year as the country starts to recover from the global pandemic we are acutely aware of all that has been lost.  The feeling of celebration is a lot more subdued and pensive this year, many still fearful to gather in large groups but also immense gratitude that we are coming out of this difficult year – and for our world leading vaccination rollout.

This year our beloved country turns 73. Israel is several thousand years old but the modern state was founded in 1948. She wears the lines of her history with grace and integrity and a cheeky sense of humour. At times this is punctuated with a deep sadness and if you look a little closer, sometimes you can see a tear in her eyes.

It is no coincidence that the national holidays fall very closely to each other.  It was intended that way so we are aware of the price that we have paid to have this country. We are reminded of the pain of our past and the sacrifices of the many that ensure that we continue to live in our vibrant but flawed democracy. There is nothing Israelis value more than life and this is demonstrated with such heart around these holidays.

This week we commemorate Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror followed the next day by Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day. Last year, Israelis like many around the world were in lock down and this placed a heavy burden on bereaved families who were unable to visit the graves of the loved ones. Thank goodness this year, we have the go ahead to visit cemeteries and to have gatherings to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. We can return to our favourite national pastime (besides engaging in robust argument!) – the barbeque.

 This Yom Hazikaron we will mourn 23 928 who have fallen in defense of the state and hundreds of victims of terror. Every year, we immerse ourselves in remembering the lives that we have lost but also gratitude for their service. Their names; and the names of the wars and operations are etched in memory – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the wars with Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and the many others.

Their names are seared in our hearts.

And there are those whose names we will never know but whose valiant acts of bravery are the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we do.

At 20h00 a mournful siren will announce the start of Yom Hazikaron, followed by a ceremony at The Kotel (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. The time for remembrance and reflection begins.

Yom Hazikaron inspires in us a sense of awe and creates an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world, but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Our soldiers are not uniformed strangers who serve, but our children, spouses, colleagues, parents, friends and lovers.

They are the people we love.

Yom Hazikaron is also a day of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful we are for all who protect us on land, sea and air. Our brave warriors, these lions of Zion are our guardians and protectors. We are proud of them; we embrace them, and we love them.

There is nothing more important to Israelis than life. We revere it and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.

And then the whole mood of the country changes from one of somber memorial to that of celebration!

From the north to the south and everywhere in between, Israelis begin to celebrate!

One of the most special moments is the annual fly over of the IAF featuring planes throughout our history. This is a highly anticipated annual event and this year will be viewed with a lot more excitement and sentimentality because it couldn’t happen last year.

On this 73rd year of Israel’s Independence we have much to celebrate. Extraordinary achievements, historical peace deals, triumph over adversity and the temerity to face our ongoing challenges with the strength and gusto that has come to characterize the Israeli spirit.

We will continue to wear our blue and white with pride!

Am Yisrael Chai!







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)

New Land, New Life – Making it in Modiin – Part 2

Aliyah – immigrating to Israel –  is increasingly  on the radar of Jews around the world. In this the second of a  2-part ‘Aliya on the Agenda?’ series, Shelley Berman  relates her experiences in the transition from Glenhazel in South Africa to Modiin in Israel.

(Part 1 – Aliyah on the Agenda?)

We approached the whole investigation with a positive determination to find a way. In terms of practicalities, one important change was that after three visits to our children here, things were much more familiar. I was no longer so afraid of the change. I was overcoming my fear of the unknown.

Upon our return to South Africa, things moved at lightning speed. Before we had even had a serious discussion between ourselves about when or how to market and sell our home in Glenhazel, word was out in our community that we were making Aliyah, and within a week our home was sold to the daughter of an acquaintance.

The planning was exhausting and draining, both physically and emotionally. Clearing out and packing up our possessions was an arduous task, but we tackled it with the same precision that we tackled everything else. List  after list was drawn up, and all the admin of tying up our affairs was dealt with.

The 29th of December 2018 is a day that will be forever etched in my memory; the day that I left South Africa, my homeland, the land of my birth. It was with such a heavy heart that we bade farewell to family and friends. A very difficult goodbye was to my mother-in-law, who was in the Jewish old-age home in Johannesburg.

But the hardest of all was to our son and daughter-in-law and their children. By then they had been blessed with twins, and saying goodbye to those children before leaving for the airport was just gut-wrenching. Our final moments at the airport saw the four of us clinging to each other in an embrace that I wanted to never end, and left us running for the boarding gate in a haze of tears, literally at the last minute. It is my fervent hope that at some time in the future, they will decide that Aliyah is on their agenda too.

From Glenhazel to Modiin

The morning of Sunday 30 December 2018 dawned bright and clear as we disembarked at Ben Gurion Airport. My heartbreak and sadness lifted as I felt such enormous pride stepping onto Israeli soil. As a staunch Zionist ever since I was a teenager, this was, in its own way, a dream come true.

As we walked into the airport, we saw a familiar face standing and holding a sign that read “BERMAN FAMILY”, and my heart soared. Telfed – South African Zionist Federation in Israel – had notified us that he would be there to welcome us, and had sent me his picture in advance. What a thoughtful and helpful gesture that was!

Red Carpet. Ian and Shelley Berman are welcomed at the airport by Avraham (left)  – the representative from Telfed and the Jewish Agency – who guided them through all the bureaucracy.

Avraham guided us through all the bureaucracy at the airport, and we exited Ben Gurion as Israeli citizens, with our temporary Israeli Identity Documents and an envelope of cash given to us by the Israeli government. My sense of gratitude was, and still is, immense. I soon realised that our whole Aliyah journey would become a journey of gratitude.

We soon settled into life in Modiin. My daughter had found an apartment for us to rent, and we had signed the lease, trusting her judgment. It is a lovely apartment, and perfect for our needs. My daughter and son-in-law have been a solid rock of support to us. I am so grateful to them, not only for being there for us every step of the way, but for being the trail blazers who led us to take this journey.

With their help within the first few weeks, we had set up and moved into our apartment, and dealt with all of the bureaucratic red-tape that goes with making Aliyah. So many people had ‘warned’ us about how difficult it all is, and how we should expect problems here, there and everywhere. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Fell into Step

Every step of the way, we found people to be helpful, obliging and caring. We were welcomed and congratulated as new olim (immigrants), wherever we went. Every government department that we visited ran like a well-oiled machine. This was so refreshing for us, coming from a place where those offices are notoriously inefficient and unhelpful.

Of course, the language was a challenge, but we managed to get by with my imperfect Hebrew. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that most Israelis do speak at least some English, and in all government offices we were able to find someone who could help us in English when my Hebrew couldn’t cut it.

It only took a few weeks before we had received our permanent ID cards and drivers’ licences, and we had bought a car. Now, it’s all very well to have a car and a valid licence, but you may be wondering about the actual reality of driving here. Well, more about that later.

Certified Smiling Israelis. Newly arrived South Africans proudly flash at Ben Gurion Airport their temporary Israeli  ID documents on the path to receiving passports.

Things were going so well for us when we got a shattering phone call. My husband’s mother was seriously ill. We booked tickets and boarded a flight the next morning. Who would have believed that we would be winging our way back to Johannesburg, just four weeks after leaving?

Sadly, we lost our beloved Bobba Ros three days after we arrived. My husband sat shiva (week long mourning) with his siblings, and we returned to Israel enveloped in grief. This loss was a very hard aspect of our Aliyah. We had not yet found a shul that we felt we could call our own when my husband now needed a daily minyan (quorum of 10 Jewish adults). It was so hard for him to tackle this, and he had to do it alone.

Life  soon settled into a routine, and we felt calm and happy. Ulpan was going well, and we were both improving our Hebrew. Our grandsons were nearby, and our daughter was expecting her third child.

Walk in the Park. The Bermans with their grandkids in a local park in Modiin.

On Track

I found a part-time job teaching English at a school in Tel-Aviv, in a maternity replacement position. This was an eye-opener for me. Israeli teenagers are very far removed from what I was used to. But it was a great experience. The school was lovely, and my colleagues were very helpful.

Dealing with the Israeli Ministry of Education was a challenge, but eventually I was able to get my degrees recognised and I was so proud to be working and earning, only ten weeks into our Aliyah journey.

Taking the train to Tel-Aviv to go to work was such a treat for me. Israelis complain about the public transport system. They should only know how good they have it here. I still marvel at the efficiency and  the safety of the trains.

Getting crushed in the crowds on the station platform, and walking through the streets of Tel Aviv among the throngs of Israelis  – all talking on their cell phones  – made me so proud and happy to be a part of this society. This aspect of my day, which so many consider to be drudgery, gave me so much pleasure.

I was working three days a week, and going to ulpan (school for intensive study of Hebrew) twice a week, when I saw an ad for English teachers at an adult English school in Modiin. I sent them my CV, and they called me to invite me to an interview. After a lengthy interview process, I got the job.

Deciding Destiny. Only three months in Israel, new immigrants Ian and Shelley at a voting station in Modiin about to vote in a national election.

So now I was working three days a week in Tel Aviv, going to ulpan two mornings a week, and teaching English to adults three evenings a week. I was also, and still am, a very involved and dedicated Bobba, and spend as much time as possible with my precious grandchildren. (Our Israeli granddaughter was born six months after our arrival, and BH the three children keep us on our toes). I suppose you could say that I was very busy. But I was loving every minute of it.

The temporary school job soon came to an end, and life settled into a very comfortable routine. My work teaching adults was very satisfying, and I was really happy there. In terms of convenience, the school is in the mall, right opposite our apartment, so I couldn’t ask for more.

Towards the end of our first year, my husband was lucky to find a job that he really enjoys. He has a background in the retail world, and found a job at Superpharm, also in the mall. He is happy there, and we count our blessings that he found a job without too much difficulty. Many of the predictors of ‘doom and gloom’ led us to believe that it would be almost impossible for him to find work, because of his age and his lack of Hebrew. Thankfully, this was not the case at all.

Modiin Mall. The Azrieli Mall in Modiin where both Ian and the writer have found employment.

Shul and Socialising

One of the bigger challenges that we faced was finding a shul (synagogue) with a community where we would fit in. We came from a small, close-knit community in Johannesburg, where our shul was almost like an extension of our home, our community like family. We knew that we would never be able to replace this in Israel, and it remains a challenge for us. However, we have  joined a shul, an Anglo community in Modiin, where we feel really comfortable, even though most of the members are a lot younger than us. We were just starting to really enjoy shul, when Corona became the buzz-word and attending shul has become a distant memory. I really hope that we will be able to return to shul soon, as this is an important element to integrating as olim (new immigrants), and being accepted socially.

One of my biggest fears was my concern about making friends and building a social life. We knew exactly one other couple here (who have become good friends). While I was never a social butterfly, I do have numerous very close friends who have been my friends for many years. While they will always be irreplaceable in my life, I am also so grateful to the people who reached out and extended a hand of friendship to us here. We have been very lucky to build up a nice circle of good friends in Modiin, but Corona has made it difficult to cement new friendships. Please G-d, now that we have all been vaccinated, we will be able to start socialising again soon. 

Shades of South Africa.  In a familiar culinary posture,  Ian is ‘braaiing’ (barbecuing)  on his balcony in Modiin on Yom Ha’atzmaut. (Independence Day 2020)

Of course, shul and socialising are not the only aspects of our lives that have been affected by Corona. In March 2020, I was put on Halat, another buzz-word. Basically, unpaid leave. While I am still officially employed, I have not been working since the start of the pandemic.

Once again, I am deeply grateful to the State of Israel, for the incredible assistance offered through Bituach Leumi, or National Insurance. Registering with them and submitting my unemployment claim was a huge operation, but, with the help of my brother (who made Aliyah thirty years ago), fluent in Hebrew and familiar with the system, this too was overcome.

I have always been a busy, active person. I have always worked. It is not in my nature to sit around and do nothing. I have tried dabbling in a bit of content-writing, and would love to build up a practice for extra English lessons. It is my fervent wish that I will be able to get back to work soon. Now that the vaccination campaign is well under way, hopefully Burlington English will be allowed to reopen and I can go back to the job that I love.

Icing on the Cake. December 2020 saw the Bermans celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in Israel.

Shot in the Arm

Which brings me to yet another aspect of life as an Israeli for which I am deeply grateful. Vaccinations! I am proud to say, ‘Gam Ani Hitchasanti’, I have also been vaccinated. Nowhere else in the world would I have been amongst the very first group of people to be invited by my healthcare provider to have the vaccine.

Our healthcare provider proved another eye-opener. As South Africans, we were used to paying huge sums of money every month for private medical insurance. Sadly, it is a country where private health insurance is a necessity, not a luxury. We still marvel at the world class medical care available to us here, for a very small contribution. Sure, the Hebrew does sometimes make it daunting, and a little difficult to navigate the system, but we manage. And there is always help available if you need it.

When it comes to all the officialdom and red-tape, if you are really stuck and need help, the ladies at the Olim centre in Modiin are wonderful. I have reached out to them on a few occasions, and they are always willing to help.

In the Driver’s Seat

Unfortunately, the one difficulty that nobody could help me to overcome, was my fear of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This was something that I had to tackle all on my own, and I did. I never used to be a nervous driver. In Johannesburg, with some of the notoriously worst taxi drivers in the world, I drove without hesitation. I zapped around in my little car with the utmost confidence.

Sea Breeze. Closer to the sea than they were living in Johannesburg, “Modiinics” Shelley and Ian enjoying a night out at the Hertzliya Marina.

Do I now feel the same way here? No! But I am getting there. It has taken practice and perseverance, and I’m pleased to say that I can take myself wherever I need to go. But do I enjoy driving here? Suffice it to say that I could probably write a book entitled “101 Reasons Why I Don’t Like Driving In Israel.”

Thankfully, the aspects of life in Israel that I don’t like are few and far between, and insignificant in the big scheme of things. I have been cooking for forty years, but had never cooked on gas before. It took a lot of getting used to, and I still don’t like it, but I deal with it.

The water is so different. It is much harder, and is filled with minerals. The kettle gets all gunky and has to be descaled regularly, while the dishwasher leaves horrible streaks on everything. In the winter, everything is Wet Wet Wet, and I’m NOT referring to the popular soft rock band. Hang up your towel after your shower. Tomorrow night it will still be damp, while the mould spores are growing prolifically on the bathroom ceiling.

These are minor irritations. You get used to them. You learn to adapt. Yes, even I, so resistant to change, have learned to adapt. When I consider the bigger picture, I have so much to be grateful for. Over the last two years, there has not been a single day when I have questioned or doubted our decision to make Israel our home.

Face the Music

I have recently discovered the music of the late Tom Petty. When I listened to the album, Wildflowers, there were three songs with lines that spoke to me, that could in fact have been written for me and my Aliyah journey.

You belong somewhere you feel free”. For me, this is Modiin, Eretz Yisrael. To have the freedom to go out for a walk alone, late at night, without fear of being attacked; to see my grandchildren riding their bikes freely through the streets, with gay abandon; to live in a home with one lock on the front door, with no security gate, no alarm, and no electric fence; you cannot put a price on such freedom!

Aliyah is not for the faint-hearted. I will never make light of the enormity of the undertaking. It is without a doubt the most difficult thing I have ever done. But, to quote Tom Petty again:

 “What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing” But….

I’m not afraid anymore!”

Belonging in Israel. The lyrics by Tom Petty of the Heartbreakers that so resonated with the writer.





(Part 1 – Aliyah on the Agenda?)



About the Writer:

Shelley Berman and her husband, Ian, made Aliyah from South Africa in December 2018. She has always been a staunch Zionist with a strong love for Israel. With a degree in English and an English teacher by profession, she is passionate about education. She has also always loved writing, and has worked as a content writer. She is dedicated to her family, and is a proud mother and grandmother.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Aliyah on the Agenda?

Aliyah – immigrating to Israel –  is increasingly  on the radar of Jews around the world. Whether excited to be living in a thriving Jewish state, being a part of the “Start-Up Nation” at the cutting edge of the sciences and medicine, or as parents joining one’s kids and grandkids, folks are moving to Israel for a variety of – positive – reasons.

In a two part series, Shelley Berman from Johannesburg relates her thought process and experiences of the transition from Glenhazel to Modiin.


Part 1:

Leaving Glenhazel

By Shelley Berman

Aliyah? On my agenda? NEVER!

Or at least, that’s what I thought, until April 2016. But allow me to introduce myself and give you some background. I am Johannesburg born, a 60-something mother of two, grandmother of six, English teacher and writer.

My husband, Ian, and I were in our mid-to-late fifties, happily married for about 35 years, with two married children and two grandchildren. We were very comfortable in our secure (or rather, what we perceived to be secure) suburban life in Glenhazel, Johannesburg.

Family Ties

We had everything that we thought we needed: our children and grandchildren nearby, a very close extended family of siblings, nephews and nieces, a lovely home, good jobs, a warm community, and good friends.

Thank G-d we both enjoyed good health and were quite content with our lives and comfortable lifestyle. Aliyah, or any form of emigration, had never crossed our minds, was something that we had never considered, and that only other people did.

That is, until our daughter and son-in-law announced that they were going to be those other people. The rumblings first started one shabbat afternoon in early 2016, when we were having a general family discussion about emigration. I could see which way the wind was blowing in their minds, and fear gripped my heart.

The thought of my two precious grandsons being taken away from me made my blood run cold. I retreated to the bedroom and couldn’t face the rest of the conversation. I adopted an ostrich attitude, kind of like, if I don’t hear them talking about it, then it’s not happening.

But, as the weeks wore on, the rumblings became more of a constant topic of conversation, until they announced that they were going on a pilot trip, an exploratory mission to see if they could make this work.

Leaving their 18 month old and almost 3 year old boys with us for ten days, they went off to explore Israel, and the opportunities ‘She’ could offer them.

Emotional Roller-coaster

They came back with stars (of David) in their eyes, passionate about their decision to make a new life for themselves and their young family in Modiin, Israel. They started planning for a January 2017 departure, and begged me and my husband to join them on this adventure.

To say that this was a terrifying time for us would be to completely understate the emotions that were raging through me. To be parted from my beloved daughter and grandsons? Unthinkable!

But, on the other hand, to accompany them and, in the process, abandon my other child, my son and daughter-in-law, who at the time were going through their own challenges with trying to start a family? Equally unthinkable!

However, we decided to keep an open mind and go on a pilot trip ourselves, thinking that it would empower us to at least make an informed decision.

In July we took a trip to Israel. We rented a small apartment in Modiin for ten days, and made lots of appointments to see people whom we thought would be in a position to advise us.

Majestic Modiin. Once the place of the ancient Maccabees, the  city of Modiin today where Ian and Shelley Berman have joined their daughter and her family.

Sadly, this trip was not a success. The people we met with were mostly unhelpful and very negative, giving us the impression that this would be a bad move for us, and leaving us feeling quite hopeless that we could make it work.

How wrong they were!

If only I had known it at the time, we did not choose the right people to advise us. From a so-called financial advisor to a recruitment agent, to a realtor, they all only served to amplify and exacerbate my fears.

Fears of what, exactly?

Well, really, of everything related to Aliyah. But primarily, fear of financial insecurity, of parting from all my loved ones in South Africa, of the physical hardship of such a massive move, and the enormous fear of change.

We returned from that pilot trip totally deflated and deeply sad. Our babies would be leaving us, and we were utterly bereft at the thought of being parted from them. But we knew that we just had to accept the situation.

January 2017 came faster than we could have imagined. When Juliet said to Romeo, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”, she lied! There was nothing sweet about this parting. It felt like my heart was being ripped out. I was enveloped in a shroud of sorrow that lasted for weeks.

But my children were happy, and that is really what every mother wants for her children. Somehow, motherhood gives you the ability to overcome your own heartache by putting your children’s needs above your own.

We paid them our first visit over Pesach 2017, just three months after they had left. We could already see on that trip how they were starting to settle down and were enjoying life as Israelis in their homeland. We had a wonderful two weeks with them, and came again in December of that year.

A Walk in the Park. The local park in Modiin where the Bermans love to walk and have fun with their grandkids.

By that stage, we were becoming more familiar with Modiin, and were realising more and more just how much we loved Israel in general, and Modiin in particular. But nothing had changed in terms of our personal perspective.

Until April 2018. We were on our third visit, this time over Pesach (I had actually started a small home-based business to help to fund frequent trips to Israel, which thank G-d was doing very nicely). Pesach in Israel was so special. On this trip we finally concluded that this was the place we wanted to call ‘home’.

Aliyah was now seriously back on our agenda. We set up many meetings, this time with people who were better qualified and informed to advise and guide us, and by the time we stepped on the plane to go home, the decision had been made. We knew that our next trip would be on a one-way ticket.

So many people have asked me what, in fact, had changed that made us realise that Aliyah could actually work out. There is no definitive answer to that question, other than our attitude. On our original pilot trip, we came with an attitude of “Oh well, let’s see if there’s any chance that we could do this.”

I realise now that that was the wrong attitude. By April 2018, we knew that we had to find a way to make it work. Our approach changed from ‘Let’s see IF this can work’ to rather thinking ‘Let’s figure out HOW  this can work’.

“We are Home”. After collecting their baggage, Israel’s newest immigrants , Ian and Shelley Berman are welcomed by their daughter and grandkids holding up an Israeli flag.




About the Writer:

Shelley Berman and her husband, Ian, made Aliyah from South Africa in December 2018. She has always been a staunch Zionist with a strong love for Israel. With a degree in English and an English teacher by profession, she is passionate about education. She has also always loved writing, and has worked as a content writer. She is dedicated to her family, and is a proud mother and grandmother.



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)