Written by: Samara Gordon
Goodness I am not really sure where to start my story but I guess most stories start at the beginning. For me the question is where is my beginning to this story,
so please bear with me while I try to find a thread to start from.
I was born in Cape Town in 1961, to a half Jewish Mother and a Christian father. So effectively, I was a ¼ Jew and something I was very proud of growing up, even though I had to attend Sunday school and church every Sunday.
All the hell fire and brimstone was never really for me and right from when I can remember, I
always felt Jewish, I looked Jewish (if there is such a thing) and I had the motherly
instinct of every Yiddishe mama, in that I wanted to feed the world and heal all
the sick and just spend my life doing mitzvah's even when I did not know what a
The problem was my mother. Her mother, my grandmother, was a Christian, my
grandfather came from a family of ultra-orthodox frum Lithuanian Jews and even
if my grandmother converted they would not have accepted her. When my
grandmother and grandfather got married my great grandparents sat Shiva. So we
were off to a pretty bad start as far as the Jewish lineage was concerned. My
mother was an only child and was brought up as a Christian in a
predominantly kosher Jewish household.
At the time of my and my sisters appearance in this great big world, my
grandparents were living with my parents hence our house being kosher as well. I
was very proud of my Jewish heritage and would tell any one who cared to listen
that I was a ¼ Jew. When it came time for me to be, what we called confirmed, in
the church, the minister was not very keen to confirm me as he felt I was not
serious about my religion, and he had hit the nail on the head but to please my
parents I had to conform and confirm.My grandfather was 1 of 9 children so even though my
mother was an only child, we had all these Jewish cousins all over the place and they adored
their gentile cousin and always made a terrible fuss of her the same as they did with my sister
and I. I remember visiting my Auntie Mara and Uncle Julian Gesundheit on many
a Sabbath for Shabbat dinner in my teens and later when I was older and I always
said I was more Jewish and that I am going to convert to Judaism as these were
my people and this is where I felt I belong. Ironically my mother spent the last 15
years of her life as the head teacher of Biology at Herzlia High School in Cape
However, when one leaves school and you are suddenly an adult and you have the
world at your feet, (well I certainly wanted my feet to trample the world), religion
and conversion somehow took a back seat in the process and I went off and
embarked on 23 years of travelling and exploring all the corners of the earth, but
interestingly enough, I never visited Israel. It was as if I was saving it, it was this
sacred place and the time was never right to come to Israel. I returned to South
Africa and met my husband to be. As it turned out he was Jewish and not
particularly religious and when his parents came to South Africa,(they are British) to meet me,
my future father-in law said he had no objectionsto us marrying but please we must not marry in a church.
It was then I decided the time was right for me to carry through my life long dream and convert and
become Jewish as I really should have been from birth had it not been for a Christian twist of fate.
My husband supported me throughout the conversion process and once I had converted I totally immersed
myself in Jewish life and the Synagogue and found that my life truly had a new meaning and I just loved and
still love being Jewish.
The master plan was for my husband and I to come and retire in Israel.
unfortunately after 8 years of marriage, my marriage fell apart most ungracefully and so did I, ending up with
a nervous breakdown and suddenly just bolting from South Africa.The original plan was to emigrate to the UK
and going on a patriality visa (my fathers, father being British) but whilst I was waiting for the visa I just needed to get away from South Africa and I ran off to Iceland. I had lived there during my twenties and had not been back in 17 years, so it was fantastic re-connecting with another part of my past. I so loved being back there I applied to stay and was issued with a residence permit but no work permit, although they did allow me to appeal the decision which I did, but the process was to take months. Not having planned on being there for an Icelandic winter, I was ill equipped clothing wise and I hate the cold, so decided to head south back to South Africa and the beautiful South African summer.
By this time I was also seriously looking into the possibility of making Aliyah and
after doing a fair amount of research I went in the March of 2010 to see the
shaliach in Cape Town and get the ball rolling. Getting an unabridged birth
certificate took close to 3 months to obtain. Once I had all my documents ready, I
went back to the Shaliach. My mind was made-up the time was now to make
Aliyah, why wait?
Lo and behold the very next day I received the news from Iceland that my appeal
had been successful and my work permit as well as residence permit had been
granted. It was no contest, the Icelandic economy was so shaky and their
currency was worthless that the more I thought about it the more I realised as
much as a part of me loves Iceland, I had done my time there. The overriding
deciding factor was that there is not a single synagogue, (not even a Chabad
representation) in Iceland, even though the President of Iceland is married to an
Israeli Jew. There are only about 10 Jews in Iceland and sadly, they all seem to
have been assimilated.
So Israel here I come, or so I thought until the Shaliach asked me where I want to
go and live in Israel. Well that kinda knocked the wind out of my sails, I thought I
would be sent somewhere to live, that is when he dropped the bomb shell and
told me I must tell them where I want to go and settle in Israel. This was so unexpected
and out of the blue I told him I would have to think about it. Just as
well I had never heard of Ra'anana fontein, or I might just have bolted there for
safety in numbers! With this breakdown that I had, I was very anxious, and could
not handle noise and traffic and was quite a nervous wreck. I knew I wanted to be
at the sea and not in a town too small that I could not earn a living. I first thought
maybe Haifa but the 1st picture I saw of Haifa, made it look like an industrial town,
so that was immediately a no-no. Somehow just the names Ashkelon and Ashdod
did not appeal, sounded a bit Russian to me......I then saw that Eilat was quite
small, on the sea and had year round summer, my fate was sealed. Eilat it would
be. I immediately phoned the Shaliach and advised him accordingly, he was quite
surprised and asked me how I came to choosing Eilat as if no-one would choose
Eilat. Well in the end by the time I got my papers and my Aliyah was approved, it
just so happened that and Aliyah flight was leaving the following week and I was
There were 4 of us coming to Eilat, 3 guys and myself. We all met on the plane
flying over. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Since having converted I
was totally immersed in Jewish life and faithfully kept Shabbat, attended
Synagogue and had a very full schedule belonging to various Synagogue
committees and doing Jewish community work, so I was terribly excited about
coming to live in the Holy Land.
On arrival we were taken to Jerusalem and received our Israeli citizenship right
away. It was stuff of goosebumps, I cannot even begin to try and explain the
emotions that were running through me. We were taken to the Kotel and just to
have the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall was so emotional for me, I just
knew after the horrendous year I had been through, it was now my turn to rise
from the ashes and live my life as a Jew, which I felt had been denied me, through
most of my life, purely by error of marriage if nothing else.
The following day the 4 of us travelled to Eilat. The 3 guys were all going to work
in the hotels on the Isrotel programme while I had absolutely no idea what I was
going to do. I had made a contact prior to coming to Eilat and he had very kindly
assisted me in finding accommodation before I arrived, so at least I had a roof
over my head, and I suppose that was a start. I kind of could not get my head around Eilat
being at the sea, but all the same still being in the desert and that I was 4kms from Egypt
and 8kms from Jordan!
Absolutely amazing that when I look down at the sea, Jordan is right there ...Sjoe!
I think like most other foreigners be it refugees or those who have made Aliyah, if
you end up in Eilat, you end up working in the hotels, it just seemed natural for
me to follow suit. I tried housekeeping but that lasted a week, it was just not for
me. Believe me having spent 10 years working in a fish factory, I am not afraid of
hard or menial work, (When you want to travel the world, you learn to work in all
kinds of jobs no matter how humble).
After my disastrous start in housekeeping, I moved to the kitchens. A job I was
much more suited to. I have always had a passion for working with food and loved
cooking and entertaining at home, so this was not really work it was more like fun,
although the hours were very long and in the beginning the actual bones in my
legs were hurting from having to stand for up to 13 hours a day. It was sheer
exhaustion and arriving here in the last week of July, the height of summer and
one of the hottest summers Eilat had had in years was a shock of mammoth
proportions. After a month of being in Eilat and surviving temperatures of 55
degrees and sometimes more, I had to go to Ulpan in the evenings. By this time 2
of the South Africans had left Eilat, one for a kibbutz and the other for the bright
lights of Tel Aviv. So it was only Yehudah and myself left and we just stuck together
like glue even though there is a 20 year age gap between us, we still stick together
changing jobs together and basically anything that concerns out future is
discussed by both of us and we decide what is best for both of us.
Due to the long hours and the exhausting work in the hotel kitchens, Ulpan fell by
the wayside as I kept falling asleep after the 1st hour and just lagged so far behind.
Yehudah also eventually dropped out. Something that has bothered both of us a
great deal as our Hebrew is going no where fast.
In April I had a work accident that has put me totally out of contention for kitchen
work. My left arm is quite badly damaged, and it is going to take many months of
physiotherapy and hydrotherapy to hopefully correct the damage. Because I have
not been able to work it has given me time to think about my future here in Israeland the
one conclusion I have come to is that without Hebrew you are absolutely
lost. During my conversion to Judaism, I was not required to speak Hebrew only to
read Hebrew, so that I could read the siddur in Synagogue.
On the 1st of September I am moving in with an 81 year old lady who does not
speak a word of English, I am going back to Ulpan and I am determined to learn to
speak, read and write Hebrew. I am also starting work as a care giver which is not
so demanding and not as many hours so I should be able to manage the 4 hours of
class 5 nights a week. My ultimate goal is to have my own business and to achieve
this goal, I have realised that Hebrew is so important I just have to master it.
Reflecting back on the past year, I would say it has been a very hard year, due to
work, there was not much time for making friends other than just a few passing
acquaintances, a situation I intend to remedy this coming year. It has also been
hard for me as I have absolutely no family in Israel and my only living relative is my
sister in South Africa. I am looking forward to my 2ndyear in Israel, I think the 1styear was
just a year we had to get through and try and find our feet, now that we have done this, it is
time to integrate with the rest of Eilat. I am very glad I had never heard of
Ra'anana fontein aka little South Africa, I think I would never have learnt Hebrew
and things might have been just too comfortable with all the South Africans there.
Making Aliyah is such a rewarding experience, Israel is where all the Jews belong
and wherever possible those who can should make Aliyah, not only is it our right
but also our duty as Jews to return to the land that G-d had given us.
I will however recommend that before you make Aliyah, if you do not speak
Hebrew, take some lessons and get the basics, I think if I could have spent the 6months prior to
moving to Israel studying Hebrew I would be much further down
the line with my master plan here in Israel than where I currently am.
As an “Ola Chadesha” there are so many opportunities and there is so much
support from the government in so many ways that no matter how hard it is at
times there is always some kind of assistance out there both financial and
emotional and there is always someone willing to assist you when times are tough
and thank goodness for Facebook, I have met most of my Israeli friends though
I must mention that having made Aliyah from South Africa where crime has risen
out of all proportion and you daily run the risk of being robbed, hi-jacked, raped
or murdered, coming to Israel is like living in paradise. Especially down here in
sleepy hollow Eilat! You would never say there are other parts of the country
fighting off rockets, suicide bombers and terrorists on a daily basis as our little
enclave is so quiet and safe. I can walk the streets any time of day or night without
fear. I can sit at a restaurant without having to worry that my bag will be snatched
if I am not looking or that the restaurant and its patrons will be robbed while I am
dining. I do not have to worry that the ATM's flimsily plugged in outside café’s all
over Eilat will be blown up or driven off by some robbers. These things just don’t
happen here. Eilat simply put is an Idyllic haven where we have summer
Lastly if you still have doubts about making Aliyah and you are South African,
ponder on this bit of information....An Israeli passport is worth far more than a
South African one. You become a citizen the day you arrive in Israel. With your
Israeli passport there are very few countries that require you to apply for a visa
and the countries that do, do not ask you every last detail down to the colour of
your underwear. You can travel to Great Britain without having to pay a R1500
visa fee. If you want to go to Europe there is no Spanish inquisition with bank
statements, letters from your employer, foreign currency receipts, travel
insurance, hotel bookings etc. etc. It is just a matter of see the price, buy the
ticket, fly to your destination and enjoy! No Visa's period.Living in Israel is an experience
I will never give up, no matter how many Arab
missiles are pointed at me, I love my country and I will die here. At last I have
Written by Samara Gordon nee Faleckie