Celebrating its 70th anniversary in tandem with Israel’s 70th anniversary is Telfed, Israel branch of the Zionist Federation of South Africa.
Telfed, the oldest immigrant organization in Israel, was established to provide services for 804 South African volunteers who came to fight in the War of Independence and to help with medical and other services.
A 20-member delegation of Telfed volunteers and professionals met Tuesday with President Reuven Rivlin to express not only pride in the organization and its success in conjunction with that of Israel, but also in the fact that Rivlin, like most of them, was raised in the Betar Movement and in the spirit of Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Rivlin, in welcoming the group, made a pointing of saying he was the president of all citizens of Israel. He loudly repeated the word “all,” to emphasize his own feelings about recent chaos caused by the enactment of the Nation-State law, which he had cautioned against before the vote was taken.
Unable to resist hinting at his tribes of Israel philosophy, Rivlin, who usually talks about secular, haredi, national religious and Arab sectors, said there was a fifth tribe composed of Diaspora Jewry which had been instrumental in advancing Israel.
Rivlin quipped that he envied the former South Africans for their ability to be true Zionists. “You came on aliyah,” he told them. “I’m a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, so I couldn’t come on aliyah.”
He also noted former South Africans, or people with strong South African connections, such as Shmuel “Muli” Katz and Eliyahu Lankin, who had been the commander of the Altalena, had been members of the first Knesset. Both had been high-ranking commanders in the Irgun. Katz had been married to fellow South African Doris Kaplan, who later married Lankin. Lankin was appointed Israel ambassador to South Africa.
Katz, one of the founders of the Herut party, was a prolific publicist whose op-ed articles frequently appeared in The Jerusalem Post until the time of his death a decade ago.
Doris Lankin was a legal expert and for several years the law correspondent for the Post.
Leading the delegation was Batya Shmukler, who is the first woman to head Telfed and a former head of Betar. Telfed CEO Doron Kline deliberately wore a traditional Zulu shirt, telling Rivlin it was the garment worn by Zulus on special occasions, as it was momentous for him to meet with the president of Israel.
The organization has several responsibilities in taking care of new immigrants in Israel. This includes meeting new immigrants upon arrival and maintaining contact for their first years in Israel; providing financial and emotional support; granting more than 400 scholarships a year to the total value of NIS 2 million to immigrant students from any country; and providing three-year scholarships to South African students who study in Israel and have not yet made aliyah.
In addition, Telfed owns 105 apartments in Tel Aviv which are rented out to new immigrants at 30% below market value.
Shmukler and Kline both noted Telfed takes care of Australian immigrants as well. Some 300 immigrants arrive each year from South Africa, and about 180 from Australia. Kline said it was natural for Telfed to care for Australian olim since 40% of them were originally from South Africa.
Shiri Berzack, who came from South Africa six years ago and represents the young adult generation of South African immigrants, noted the shift of younger community from Ra’anana to Jerusalem in recent years.
Berzack said that in South Africa when she had a problem, she went to her father, but in Israel she goes to Telfed.