Many of us will know from those who’ve left South Africa to seek a new life elsewhere, that settling down as an immigrant in a different country doesn’t come easy.
In most instances, you’re on your own when you immigrate. But Israel stands out for the unique aid it provides to newcomers. In addition to government assistance — such as, free flights and Hebrew lessons — the South African community is active in providing helpful guidance and information to assist immigrants to cope with the many challenges they will face as they transition into a new life.
And Telfed plays a core role in this transition. The fact that it turns 75 this year, at the same time as Israel’s 75th birthday, is no coincidence. Telfed developed out of an initiative taken in 1948 when many in favour of a Jewish state volunteered to assist in the War for Independence. Over 800 South African volunteers risked their lives to secure the future of Israel, and many decided to stay on in the fledgling country after the Israeli victory.
According to Dorron Kline, Telfed CEO, “Telfed was established by the South African Zionist Federation to assist the volunteers during their stay in the new State but it continued its existence since many of the volunteers chose to remain in the country.”
Over the years, immigration from South Africa has tended to surge whenever there was a period of political or financial uncertainty: in 1960 with the Sharpeville massacre; after the Soweto unrest; after PW Botha’s 1985 ‘Rubicon’ speech; and following the Covid pandemic.
At its inception, the organisation’s main focus was securing accommodation for the volunteers who remained in the country. This was the beginning of what became major housing initiatives for South African olim. In fact, in the early years, Telfed was involved in setting up 28 residential centres, creating new towns — Ashkelon being one of the earliest — as well as kibbutzim and moshavim.
A primary focus of the organisation is the absorption of the new immigrants into Israeli society. This involves providing information prior to Aliyah to assist with making informed decisions, creating opportunities for social integration, and assistance with finding employment. In the earlier years, Telfed helped newcomers secure jobs, but, today, its work involves assisting olim to become employable in a different environment. “This includes relicensing for particular professions — ensuring that a South African qualification is officially recognised by the Israeli employer,” Dorron explains. “We have also recently embarked on a mentorship project — we match a new immigrant in a particular profession with someone from South Africa who’s in the same line of work but has already established themselves in Israel.”
A further element of the work done is the provision of material assistance to needy olim. In addition, through initiatives undertaken in the 1960s, Telfed administers a number of trust funds from South African donors, providing around 500 scholarships for academic study. Scholarship recipients are required to volunteer to support olim with their integration.
Dorron encourages South Africans keen to make a life elsewhere to consider Israel. “There are so many opportunities here,” he says, pointing out that, because of the country’s success in the technology field, anyone with tech or engineering skills is highly employable. “But make the decision as soon as possible. For youngsters, Israel is a fantastic place of opportunity,” he concludes.
• Published in the July 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.
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