2018 was an eventful year, both for our ‘Israeli’ South Africans and for Telfed.
We celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, which coincided with Telfed’s 70th birthday. The South African commitment to Israel was lauded by President Rivlin himself, who invited Telfed representatives to meet with him at his Jerusalem residence. He praised ‘the true Zionists’ who both contribute to strengthening Israel or take the ultimate step of making Aliyah.
From the early days assisting South Africans who came to volunteer in the War of Independence, Telfed has evolved to meet the diverse and changing needs of our olim. What has remained consistent is the affection for Israel, with an 89% increase in Aliyah numbers (over the last four years alone). In addition to being greeted at the airport by a Telfed representative who walks them through the initial steps and bureaucracy, these new olim received ongoing, tailor-made guidance from Telfed on all aspects of life affecting their absorption (including accommodation and employment). In addition to 350 Southern African olim, we also welcomed 150 new immigrants from Australia (many of whom are former South Africans, who took the long route home).
We also oversee some 100 lone soldiers, who maintain the tradition today of the brave SA voluntary recruits who trod the same path in 1948, leaving family and familiarity in order to defend our lone Jewish State.
Weapons aside, we realise that tomorrow’s future depends on today’s education. Our Samson SASI Programme (Southern Africans Studying in Israel) not only offers a needs-based accommodation subsidy to foreign South African Jewish students at world-class Israeli universities, but also a social program that fosters their connection to Israel and a community spirit of volunteerism. This is one of three scholarship tracks offered by Telfed, where we processed over 1300 applications. In March 2018, 531 scholarships were awarded at a prestigious ceremony held at the Knesset and hosted by Member of Parliament Dr. Avraham Neguise, Chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.
70th anniversary celebrations took place throughout the country: we took a trip down memory lane with the Herzlia Vocal Ensemble and Khayelitsha Mambazo Choir; we were entertained by international baritone and SA import Colin Schachat and his son, Gabi, who performed with the Ra’anana Symphonette in a charity concert; South Africans reconnected with their 175 year old heritage at the ‘Goldene Medina’ Exhibition; and a multigenerational community birthday picnic took place at Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu. The ‘Solidarity with the South’ trip provided an opportunity to encourage Gaza border communities affected by incendiary terrorism and rocket attacks.
On a monthly basis, Telfed continued to provide food cards for close to 400 South Africans. Although the average rate of poverty for O.E.C.D. countries is 11%, Israel clocks in at almost double (21%) and olim appear to have it hardest, with a whopping 39% poverty rate (up from 36.6% last year).
Regardless of the cost of living in Israel, what makes our international community unique is the people in it, who give of themselves. Close to 300 volunteers throughout the country welcome olim to their neighbourhoods, mentor new arrivals, manage communal programs, visit lone soldiers and assist our elderly, inter alia. Our donors ensure that our community is cared for and our voluntary communal lay-leaders oversee that Telfed runs to the highest standard, so that South Africans can establish themselves and proudly make Israel their home, marking these milestones with us.
That’s what we call a team effort!