How do you sum up a year of change, adventure, excitement, happiness, sadness, loneliness, frustration, nostalgia, work experiences and more in a short exchange of words? This is my attempt, but more detailed versions can be found on my personal blog.
Prior to making Aliyah (literally “going up”, in my case, “going north”) last July, I had never considered moving to Israel. I love South Africa; it’s a magnificent, diverse, cultural hub of activity with amazing people and beautiful places. And half my family (the rest is in the States) and many amazing friends still live there.
I have visited Israel twice. The first time was for six weeks when I was in my 20s. It was an amazing experience, but a small part of my year of exploration overseas. I returned in January 2006 for a leadership seminar organized by Saltz Education Centre and sponsored by the South African Union for Progressive Judaism (SAUPJ) and the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).
Most of the seminar took place in Jerusalem, with a day in Tel Aviv and a few days in the Negev and Arava deserts visiting Kibbutzim – Sde Boker, Lotan and Yahel. That was the first time I experienced rain in the desert – at Ben Gurion’s grave overlooking the magnificence that is the desert.
I fell in love! With the country, with the people, with Jerusalem, with the culture, the spirituality, the Jewishness… And I vowed to come back… for a year, maybe two, to study, to work, to experience life in Israel. Then life took over, my business started growing, I bought a townhouse and continued with Israel a distant memory.
In March last year, my brother and his family visited South Africa. We had a wonderful family reunion in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful places in the world. My life was at a crossroads and I needed to make changes. My plan was to sell up and move to Cape Town to be by the sea. In one of our discussions about the plans, my brother said to me: “Why Cape Town? You’ve been talking about Israel for years!”
This got me thinking once again of Israel and the seed was planted - again. In April, I started doing my research. In May, I had my interview with the shaliach and put my house on the market, in June, I packed up my house (well, most of it) and closed down my business, and on July 4, I was on the plane – hugely overweight (luggage), highly stressed, but incredibly excited. I wasn’t going on a holiday. I was moving to a new home! I was making a new start!
You may ask how a person can change her mind about emigration in such a short space of time. But once the seed had been planted, I realized the ground was very fertile. Subconsciously, I’d been ready and waiting for a change like this to happen, for a jolt in my life to make me realize I wanted to be in Israel. I had lived in the country of my birth for over 40 years – happily (mostly) – but now it was time to explore my Jewish roots and make my way in the “homeland”.
“Making Aliyah - for me - is the possibility of ‘change and renewal’. The starting of a new life, the putting down of new roots, and the creation of new hopes and dreams.” (Taken from my speech at the Kotel, 5 July 2009 - read the full speech or watch the video.)
It certainly has been a year of “change and renewal”. Of finding myself and sometimes losing myself, of making new friends, seeing new places, experiencing new things… Having survived living on a kibbutz in the desert for a year – and turning it into a place I call my “First Home in the Homeland” – I am amazed at how positive a change it has been.
The past year has been an exciting and wonderful time in my life. I have felt alive and happy, challenged and creative and, at times, frustrated, stressed, miserable and lonely. I’ve missed my family and friends more than I could’ve imagined, and I was incredibly sad not to be in SA for the amazing experience of the World Cup… but I know that this is the place I want to call home for the next 40 and more. And I plan to make the most of this opportunity in every way I can.
All the best!