Goodbye Cape Town – looking back at three years of shlichut

Gilad, Michal, Ofir and Lior Ilan

By Michal Ilan

I remember being asked three years ago why I am going on shlichut and what it is that I hope to achieve in the three years in this Jewish Community at the tip of Africa.

Back then, I had a long answer which pretty much explained what it is that I hope to bring, teach, do, explain and connect. When I think back to this period, there was definitely a lot of that. A lot of doing. But, when sitting down to write my last article for the Cape Jewish Chronicle, all I can think about is not what I did but what happened to me in these three years, what happened to us as a family and all that we got from becoming part of this unbelievable community.

A month into our shlichut (and I write OUR because I feel like my husband and kids were shlichim as much as I was, if not more sometimes), my kids, ages seven and nine at the time, set me down one evening and asked me to explain something to them.

After spending a few weeks at Herzlia Weizmann Primary School they started to get used to the uniform, to the structure and even began to learn a few words in English but something left them very confused. “Ima, are the kids at school all Israeli?” was the question they asked me. I didn’t understand where that was coming from and I asked them why they thought the kids were Israelis. They answered that kids here learn Hebrew and even pray in Hebrew every morning.

That conversation was the beginning of a long journey of learning of what people-hood is all about and what it is to be Jewish.

On the first few Shabbatot they would ask me WHY we were going to shul. In Israel we never do. After a few weeks the WHY changed into WHICH shul are we going to!

There was also the wonder of being acquainted with so many different ways to express your Judaism. I know that some people in this community feel that there is no tolerance and closeness between the different streams of Judaism but we found something different. Coming from Israel, where you grow up surrounded by people who are all like you, go to either a secular or a religious school with kids who are exactly like you and live in neighborhoods where everyone else is exactly like you, coming here and attending Herzlia was so refreshing.

This was the first time my kids had some friends who wear a Kippa and don’t drive on Shabbat and some who do, some friends who are Orthodox, some who are Progressive and some who are not even Jewish. Some friends who eat kosher, some who only eat kosher at home and each one of those meetings and friendships sparked a conversation, learning about another aspect of our new growing diverse and dynamic Jewish family.

Yes, there were events and talks, a film club and lots of P2G programmes. There were educational initiatives, delegations, ceremonies, conferences and much more, but what we are going to take back home to Israel with us, is that there is a big Jewish world outside of Israel. Vibrant, flourishing communities who do so much good.

Our shlichut now is to convey this message to our fellow Israelis and to encourage them to reach out and open their minds and hearts to overseas Jewish communities.

I want to end with a huge thank you! First and foremost, to the SA Zionist Federation (Cape Council), who chose us and welcomed us on this adventure. To our adoptive families, who took us into their homes and treated us like family, to Herzlia for taking in our kids and letting them grow in more ways than one, to all the families we met through work and school, who hosted us, went on holidays and trips with us and became our friends. To all the Rabbis, teachers and Jewish organisations who invited, partnered, hosted and participated with us.

And last but not least, the amazing staff of the SA Zionist Federation (Cape Council) and Israel Centre who became not just colleagues but close friends. I want to thank every single one of you for making our experience so impactful. I hope that our contribution to the community was meaningful.

There’s no other way to end than לשנה הבאה בירושלים — Next year in Jerusalem.

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