Recovering the Satellites

Zoe Sternberg celebrating her second birthday in Camps Bay with her grandparents, Michael and Leora.

South African Jews are leaving our shores for greener pastures. Yet in reality, a new wave of young Capetonian Jews are returning to South Africa to settle with their families. Here, some of these ‘returnees’ share their stories, and discuss why there really is no place like home.

“Cape Town is part of my DNA, and I had to return,” explains Allen Jaffe, who has since begun a successful business after returning to Cape Town from Miami. “Home is where your friends and family are. The friendship circle I have in Cape Town is priceless, and can’t be replicated.” Kelly Berman, who returned from New York, agrees: “Cape Town was always my gold standard of how I wanted to live: the weather, the magnifi cent beauty, the more laidback lifestyle. But it was more than that: I couldn’t make my peace with living in NYC
forever. It was wonderful to be exposed to so much newness but at the end of the day, I missed my home. I have no idea how people transplant themselves into new homes and feel okay with it. For me, home was always South Africa.”

Allen and Kelly’s experiences are indeed becoming the rule, rather than the exception. While young Capetonian Jews have left for job opportunities and experiences, when it comes to where they want to live their lives and raise their families, they are choosing to return to Cape Town. As Marc Sternberg quips, “we didn’t want to subject our parents to remote-grandparenting!”

He and his wife Tanya returned to Cape Town from Sydney, and have found that the rewards of moving back have been numerous — even the smallest things make the biggest difference. These include their family being closer; watching the Waratahs lose at Newlands; keeping in touch with friends around the world — ‘the Aussie timezone is a killer’; and being part of the dynamic South African society and exposed to our rainbow nation’s people, fl avours, ups and downs!”

Others cite the rewards of moving back as varied and numerous: Says Allen: “I met my future wife a few months after moving back. We are now happily married with a baby girl. I live very close to my Mom and get to see her often,” while Jason Sive, who returned from Sydney, says that biggest reward has been “without a doubt, being able to spend time with my family — especially my grandparents, two of whom passed away within three years of me returningto South Africa. This time was very important to me.”

A community like no other The Cape Town Jewish community may be small, but it is one of the primary factors that draws people back to Cape Town. Jonathan Osrin, who lived in Israel and London for a collective twenty years, says that one of the greatest rewards of moving back was “slotting into a warm, familiar community that we relate to easily; identifying with Jewish and Israeli traditions and festivals in a relaxed and inclusive environment; and seeing our kids interact with and learn about the value of community, such as delivering mishloach manot in Purim costume to the residents of Highlands House.”

Ultimately, he feels that the community is “much more cohesive [than overseas], has a sense of communal responsibility, and is very tolerant.” His children are at Herzlia and Alon Ashel, and his family has received a lot of support from the school. In fact, he regards Herzlia as one of the biggest bonuses of returning to Cape Town. Ryan Goodman, who lived in the States and Australia for 15 years before returning, says that the Cape Town Jewish community is “smaller and more intimate — the result of having to band together against great existential challenges,” while Jason says that “when you have grown up in a specific congregation, the familiarity makes it very ‘homely.’ It’s that simple.”

Marc points out that while “Cape Town has a very well organised Jewish community with many entry points, we found it hard to find these entry points on returning. Sydney had a wonderful programme where the central Jewish community would place you at organisations where there was a match between your skills and their needs.” He advises that there should be a new arrivals or returnees initiation day, where an overview of the community is provided and where re-integration is prioritised. Ryan recommends that the community introduce a Career Placement Programme specifically aimed at returnees. “A programme that seeks to engage with local businesses in matching expat skills to available positions would be useful.”

Better lifestyle and opportunities
With their collective experiences of living in first-world countries around the globe, all of these returning xpats
testify to a better quality of life and job opportunities in Cape Town. Kelly says that in Cape Town she has been given “a sense of security that I’m where I want to be; a fantastic job — the likes of which I would not have been able to get in the US; more time in my day to do things because the distances to travel are less; and living a life that is more integrated with nature.” Jason says that “South Africa offers exciting opportunities compared to a more saturated and competitive Ozzie market.”

Ryan has found “business opportunities and support networks allowing the freedom to take risks” in South Africa and Marc says that “it’s easier to balance work, family, friends and sport, there is less traffic, and it’s easier to get things done.”

Jason adds: “When it’s time to consider long term career and family, your priorities change. I find South African living signifi cantly easier than most overseas countries from a general lifestyle and convenience perspective,” while Ryan sums it up: “Cape Town has a lower living cost and greater natural beauty.”

What would these ‘recovered satellites’ say to other South African expats who are thinking of moving back to Cape Town? Says Marc: “Come — none of us have regretted it!” Jason explains that “if you have taken the decision to emigrate, I think you need to commit to the head space of emigration. If after a certain period, you are still struggling to settle, perhaps it is time to reconsider?

But returning blindly is dangerous; I think you also need to believe in the future of South Africa, not just relish in the comfort of returning home.” “Don’t wait 20 years like we did!” says Jonny, while Ryan has the last word: “Take the risk. I was overseas for 15 years and there’s simply no place like home.”

With grateful thanks to Herzlia Alumni Association Chairman Marco van Embden and Marc Sternberg for envisioning and initiating this article, and for helping bring it to fruition — CJC.