Telfed: Making Israel home

The strong Zionist sentiment in the South African Jewish community is decades-old. Aliyah from South Africa began prior to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. With the establishment of the State of Israel and the concerted attack on the fledgling state, it was no surprise when over 800 South African machalnikim (mitnadvei chutz la’aretz or overseas volunteers) headed to Israel to participate in the war effort. An ad hoc committee of former South Africans was created to support these young men and women. In partnership with the South African Zionist Federation, the Israel office of the South African Zionist Federation was established.   

In addition to providing financial support for the Machal volunteers, the newly established organisation centered on creating a home for them in Israel. No postal services existed at the time and, in partnership with Peltours, mail was delivered to and from these volunteers and their families and friends in South Africa. The mail was delivered to and collected from the offices of the South African Zionist Federation, Israel located in Tel Aviv.

Over the years, Southern Africans continued to head to Israel and, as an organisation founded on the values of Zionism, community and Aliyah promotion, the Fed served as intermediary between the South African community and the Jewish Agency. Housing projects were initiated, beginning with the Hostel in Amishav St., Tel Aviv. The South African Zionist Federation, Israel worked in collaboration with South Africans in establishing a number of communities across Israel, including the design and creation of the city of Ashkelon.

Frequenting restaurants and coffee shops was less common in the earlier days and the Fed’s office in Tel Aviv became the central meeting point for South Africans living in Israel, as well as South African tourists in Israel. The early days of the SAZF, Israel with its cafeteria with sea views, a clubhouse and a community, is fondly remembered by Olim.

The Telex machine served as a primary mode of communication between the South African Zionist Federation’s offices in South Africa and Israel, and the Tel Aviv office’s abbreviated telex name – Telfed – eventually became the more commonly used name of the South African Zionist Federation, Israel.

Over the decades, Telfed’s services have evolved to meet the changing needs of Olim. Telfed has worked closely with Zionist organisations, the Jewish Agency and the SAZF in promoting Aliyah to Israel and assisting new Olim with their integration and absorption.

While some services are no longer relevant, other services continue to this day. Welcoming Olim, guiding them as they settle in Israel, offering housing at below market-value, providing a community, supporting lone soldiers, encouraging volunteering and providing support and assistance when needed remain central to the work we do.

In celebration of Telfed’s 70th anniversary, the history of Telfed and the Southern African Jewish Community in Israel has been documented in series of interviews, articles, memorials and more. 

To learn more, visit Telfed: 70 years of stories.