Long luggage line at the airport.

Long luggage line at the airport.

The making of Aliyah takes months to plan. Where to live, which school to send the children to, what to take, how to take it, packing up a house, a life, saying goodbye. But when it actually comes to the day before going, I was still in denial about the fact I was going. It’s not really happening, I’m not really leaving, until I’m at the airport with a train of suitcases (and my African checked bags) which takes up a whole aisle at the Elal check in section.

‘I can’t believe we are doing this,’ is what goes through my mind. ‘I can’t believe we are doing this,’ I keep repeating to my husband. The last day in Johannesburg as I drive through the streets of tenacious trees that are shedding their last orange, red autumn leaves, glowing in the dancing light of the warm winter sun, it feels surreal. I can’t believe I’m leaving it all.

But we are, and we do. We arrive at Oliver Tambo airport in a borrowed truck and two cars. We pay porters to help transport our mountain load of luggage. We are hassled at the Elal counter over the weight as I bend every rule in the weight book. (‘Is 23.9kg, 23 or 24 kilos,’ the check in guy asks. ‘I only pay attention to the first two numbers,’ I reply.) The Elal manager, whom we eventually have to call, kindly waves us through, with all our luggage.

Our flight is a midnight flight. The airport at ten o’clock is eerily quiet. All the shops are closed. There’s something haunting about an empty, silent airport. It focuses me. There are no last minute jobs I planned to do anymore. Cape Union Mart is closed. Our flight is also mercifully empty, and we are at the back, which means we can grab a row for each of us, so that the children can sleep. We need all the sleep we can get. I hadn’t slept a full nights sleep for a week because of all the packing and nerves.

The people on our flight, who had witnessed our truckload of luggage, were incredibly kind. The Johannesburg Jewish community is a lovely, warm community and they were that to the very end on our flight.

We landed in Israel, after an easy Elal flight. (I love Elal flight attendants, they’re kind, kind, kind. Which is so important especially when you fly with small children.) We were greeted by a Telfed representative, Avraham, who was very calm, practical and of course welcoming. He lead us to get our Israeli identity papers organised, and medical aid. The process was smooth, the children play after being refreshed with juice and cookies, and we fill out the forms and documents, all of which are relatively simple. After an hour we collect our luggage, with the help of an Israeli porter. (One African bag opened up. For some reason it didn’t have the Elal plastic around it. Luckily I had packed everything in plastic boxes so our stuff was secure.) Telfed takes care of the taxi (who was a bit flustered, but nonetheless understanding about the amount of luggage), and Avraham sees us through to the very end.

We load our sim cards onto our phones, that we had organised on our last trip to Israel. (We chose Golan, because they have amazing rates for international calls.) Before we were able to phone my friends they began to phone us. I didn’t expect the incredibly warm welcome that we received.

Beginning with my brother, who brought my father’s cousin to greet us, and moreover helped us unload our never ending luggage. The garden apartment we are renting was furnished by our friends, the beds were made up with linen I had sent with a friend earlier. Another friend arrived with a hot lunch – hummus, mince meat and pita bread, my kids favourite, and hot chocolate cake for lunch. Another very good family friend came with beautiful, colourful flowers (that I didn’t think you could get in Jerusalem) in a glass vase, drinks, cookies. The love and kindness overflowed around us. We were welcomed with a generosity and kindness that felt so blessed. We left wonderful family and friends to come to wonderful family and friends.

So our first day, even though it was back breaking and beyond tiring as we unpacked, and dealt with very little sleep, was a complete blessing. We ended it off with a delicious family dinner at Caffit on Emek Refaim. (Our friend recommended their family meal, of fish and chips, pizza, pasta and a salad, all of your choice. Note it down for next time you visit Jerusalem.)

We walked home in the cooled summer night, after the children had their Aldo ice creams, still not quite believing that we had arrived. We were here in Jerusalem. Officially we had done it and made Aliyah. To which the locals here respond, Mazal Tov.