A Happy Aliyaversary – reflections from an Olah Vatika?

Dedicatedto my family and friends.

I cannot believe that today is the anniversary of my aliyah! They say that time flies when you are having fun but sometimes this past year seems to be just a blur. The 20th December 2010 marked the end of my time in South Africa and the start of my Israeli journey. To mark my aliyahversary I thought that I would share some musings and observations – and a few tips for those wanting to commit aliyah. Yup, committing Aliyah is the right turn of phrase because a) you have to be committed to all facets of change it brings with it  b) some days you feel like you should be committed to some kind of institution!


It is no great secret that I made Aliyah for Zionist reasons. Having said this, one of the best pieces of advice I can give potential Olim is sometimes you need to separate ideology from the reality of day to day living.  In order to navigate your day to day challenges you need to realise that no amount of Zionist fervour is going to help you – a cool head and sense of humour might. Especially when attempting to park (or rather shuffling) your car into a tiny space or trying to understand why all trolleys seem to roll sideways. Or just trying to have a coherent conversation in Hebrew. Israel is different to your country of origin. Keep repeating that mantra!! This is a country that has absorbed immigrants from over 80 different countries – we are not going to see eye to eye on everything and you may encounter several different cultures a day. I still amuse the baker at my supermarket and my colleagues everytime I say “banana” in my thick South African accent. While you are accepting that Israel and certainly Israelis are different, embrace those differences! They are what makes this country unique – not to mention extremely funny. This is Israel. People will sing at the top of their voices for no reason, have passionate opinions about all kinds of issues and forget about lines and queues – we Israelis have perfected the ticket system. We can find cures for obscure diseases and invent all kinds of ground breaking technologies but we will not be herded into orderly lines. Forget it!



This has been a great year to be in Israel. In the past year I have stood in silence to remember the 6 million, visited the cemetery to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I can live in freedom as Jew in our country. Everytime I see members of our armed forces and especially those close to me who serve, I pray for their safety – and I thank G-d for their existence. I have rejoiced in our Independence as a State and my flag still proudly graces the balcony. I observed with great interest the “Cottage Revolution” of the summer. I took pride in the peaceful and democratic way my fellow citizens demanded change. And their contribution to tent sales! I am particularly grateful that as a citizen, I  have the right to criticise my government if I wish. Even though controversial legislation is discussed about the future of our democracy, I am confident sense will prevail. Hey, this is Israel! What good is having issues if you cannot debate them! Preferably over coffee and a game of sheshbesh (backgammon). Arguing is our national sport! Without doubt the highlight of the year was joining my fellow citizens when we welcomed Gilad Shalit home. Free after almost 6 years of captivity. This is what I love about Israel. Like most families, we argue between ourselves but ultimately it is our show of strength and solidarity that makes this country special.


And I have discovered another national treasure.  Crembo. You can tell when  the season’s are changing. Not by the leaves on trees changing colour but by boxes of Crembo lining the shelves of supermarkets. What is Crembo? Delicious chocolate covered squishy marshmallow type stuff. For the South Africans, it is very similar to a Sweetie Pie but much more delicious! Food is a great part of Israeli culture and Olim Chadashim, if you learn to do one thing fluently in Hebrew, learn to order your coffee and pastry. Mmmmm pastries. It is Erev Chanukah (Eve of Chanukah) and as someone so rightly said, perhaps our greatest threat to national security is not Hizbullah, Hamas or even Iran, perhaps it is all the bakeries we have – especially now when every conceivable doughnut flavour is available. Halva, vodka filled, mousse filled – you name it! Bakeries are on constant standby ready to launch their weapons of mass consumption to a nation that is ruled by its appetite! This really IS the promised land!


It has not always been an easy journey. Separation from family and friends is very difficult. Nothing prepares you for the paralysing sorrow you feel when a loved one experiences a loss or when family gathers for a simcha (celebration) and you cannot be there. Whoever invented Skype – I am eternally grateful for your efforts.


Tonight is the start of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Traditionally, it is the time of year to express thanks. I am thankful for a multitude of blessings – for a year blessed with achievement beyond expectation, for family and friends who provide stalwart support and for many other things to numerous to mention. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the Israel Centre in South Africa who set me on my aliyah journey.


No blog post about surviving Aliyah would be complete without mentioning Israel’s most famous feline olah – yes people, Miss Weave is doing just great – she really had a purrrrrrrrfect homecoming.


Wishing you all Chag Chanuka Sameach and for those celebrating Christmas, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



Roro’s Top Ten Tips for Potential Olim/Olim Chadashim


These are some of my personal tips for surviving aliyah. Olim Vatikim! If you have any other tips, please add them in the comments section.


1)      Yes you HAVE to know Hebrew. As someone who has embarrassed herself on a magnificent level and still perseveres, it really is worth it to master the language. English will get you by – but you will never truly fit in unless you learn to speak Hebrew. You wouldn’t live in France without learning French, so when in Israel….Ivri, daber Ivrit!

2)      Own your Aliyah experience – your personal achievements and challenges are different to anybody else’s. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Know that what you are experiencing is your own – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to talk to someone to get perspective, go for it!

3)      Be involved! One of my regrets is not making aliyah at an age when I could serve my country in the army. So I volunteer! I was very proud to be involved with WIZO (Women’s Zionist Organisation) in South Africa and even more proud to serve in their army of volunteers for my fellow countrymen. Volunteering is also an excellent way to make friends and find your own voice. And I have to give special kavod to the Media Team Israel – consider me your Israeli satellite office…

4)      Have a sense of humour. You are going to need it.  A lot.

5)      Leave your country of origin behind – be proud of your roots and background but you have embarked on the ultimate journey of change. Understand that Israel is different and the processes that you are used to may not work the same here. Embrace the change and don’t compare. It will just frustrate you.

6)      Build your support system – I am most grateful for my family and  friends (near and far and you know who you are!) who have been with me every step of my journey . Pay it forward to those who need help and support.

7)      Befriend technology. During those moments when you really miss family and friends, there is nothing like the bleeping of an incoming Skype call or Facebook message or sms to make you feel better.

8)      When in doubt, remember why you are here.

9)      Attitude is everything – shut out the negative naysayers and concentrate on the road ahead. It is your journey.

10)   ENJOY! ENJOY! ENJOY! This is without a doubt, a most special country to live in. Tough but rewarding.  Well worth the commitment.




13 thoughts on “A Happy Aliyaversary – reflections from an Olah Vatika?

  1. First and foremost I want to wish Rolene and her husband(and cat, as my wife and I made aliyah with 2 cats who are still upset that they don’t have their own Te’udot Z’hut) hatz;acha u’ bri’ut b’ moledet he chadash(success and health in the homeland).
    Many of your points are very well taken and I would just like, if you do not mind(as we Israelis all have to put in our 2 shekels) to add a few words, especially to our fellow Jews in the Western countries.
    Israel, for all its modernity, is still a middle eastern country with an Eastern European mindset in many ways-sort of a hybrid. There is the rush of traffic and the interminably slow mail service.
    Patience, patience, patience will make you crazy-perhaps that is why the Hebrew word for “patience” is “Savlanut” which is derived from the verb meaning “to suffer.”
    Here, you will find places that use computers that you will not find anywhere else, yet the local grocer still has a scale hanging from a rafter and a pencil behind his ear-yet, you will still have to bag your own groceries at the supermarket or be smart, and start shlepping the ever present basket we all carry to the market.
    Israel is NOT an inexpensive place to live, so the best advice I can give you is BRING MONEY! There are no revolving credit cards here, checks are frowned upon and cash is king! As the old joke goes, if you want to make a small fortune in Israel, come with a large one.
    But all kidding aside, there is something magical in living here. Judaism comes alive on the lips of children playing street games in the tongue of the prophets, and you’ll never have to explain a Jewish holiday to anyone, ever again. And when you heard, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish,” tell that to the bus driver that my wife and I had coming back from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last week, who wore a knitted kippah and was reading a book in his native language, Mandarin Chinese.
    I also regret coming here at an age when service in the IDF is beyond my years(and my waistline) but we can contribute so much just by living here-we contribute our strength, our commitment, and mostly, we give thanks for being home at last.


  2. I am so very very proud of you my Roro.
    What a magnificent journey you have undertaken adn with strength and that ever present sense of humour (chicken breasts anyone?).
    I thank Gd every day for Skype! I love that even though we are a world away we get to talk nearly every day.
    Hopefully one day soon we will be with you Roro, and you can show us the ropes 🙂
    Love you my friend!


  3. Once again, your blog is so wonderfully written. I laughed and cried as I read it. Although there is not a day that passes when my thoughts do not travel to Israel and I think of my two very special people (and cat) there. I miss you so much but I know that in my heart you two have done the right thing. Making Aliyah is a difficult challenge and I am so happy that you both seem to have settled down now and are beginning to make a new life for yourselves. Your description of your first year there brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the first few conversations we had in the early months of your Aliyah. I felt for you whenever we spoke of the difficulties and obstacles that crossed your path and that you were experiencing. And look at you now!! A year has passed and you have climbed the ladder to success even though it might only be on the lowest rungs of said ladder. I know that you both will blossom and will eventually lay your “Marks” wherever you may go.

    Love you, my very special children.


  4. This is worthy of publication, and should be made into a little booklet to hand out to everyone who gets onto that ‘plane at the start of their new lives in Israel. Wow!!! Roly, you never fail to blow me away… you knock my proverbial socks off.. you are truly a gift – and I can just imagine how your mom, dad and Elaine are ‘kleibing naches’ from you. *BIG proud hugs*


  5. What an incredible achievement. I am both so proud of you and so happy for you – you have done what so many of us long to do – Kol hakavod and lots of love Monessa


  6. Darling Ro As always you approach your life with humour,insight and tremendous resilience! I am so proud of your achievement which is not for the faint-hearted…so olah vatika, keep writing and may all your musings be a book one day! We are all off to the UK tonight to see my beloved boy,Dan, cannot wait! Chag Channukah Sameach!!
    love to you both Deb


  7. Mazal Tov on your Aliyahversary and Happy Chanukah!!! As for advice from a vatikah, I 100% agree with having a sense of humor. You need it. The other piece of advice I can offer is the first word I learned upon landing in Israel 5.5 years ago. Gamish! Be flexible! You won’t survive unless you learn to roll with the punches!


  8. Hey Ro,

    Loving your latest offering. You have a real knack of telling it ‘tachlas’ and I think it’s bloomin’ marvellous. Israel is richer for having you as a citizen, WIZO is blessed for having you as a volunteer and we are ‘chuffed to mintballs’ to have you as our friend.

    If I had a team, Ro – I would make you the captain.

    Kol hacavod and nishikot

    Tricia and the cheeky one xx


  9. What a wonderful relay of your experience and how you now are part of the Israeli culture. I had not doubt yuo would “do it”and survive. Well done to you and Sa andI am very very proud of you. Keep up the good work .
    Lots of love


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