Returning citizen Sharon Taviv-Klass practices optometry with a whole new approach as she navigates the Israeli way of being

By Chandrea Serebro

Returning to her birthplace, Israeli-born Optometrist Sharon Taviv-Klass was given new eyes when she made Aliyah as a ‘returning citizen’ in 2021, seeking a brighter future for herself and her children.

Born in Israel to parents who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, Sharon’s family moved to South Africa when she was four. Her father’s career as a nuclear physicist led them to Johannesburg, seeking a lifestyle upgrade from the tiny two-bedroom apartment in Haifa, close to the Technion where both her parents were students, to a life amidst the sunny South African attitude along with a house manned by full-time housekeeper, a swimming pool, and a garden.

Fast forward to 2021, amid worsening conditions in South Africa, including prolonged power outages, concerns about job opportunities for her children due to Black Economic Empowerment, and escalating crime, Sharon decided to move to Israel, seeking a brighter future for her family in Beit Shemesh.

Despite the challenges of their arrival during the COVID-19 pandemic, with mandatory stays in quarantine hotels, and a near shutdown of the country, Sharon was determined to get her life up and running and her kids immersed in the educational system as soon as possible, as well as to begin practicing her profession and start working as an optometrist.

To this end, Telfed was there to assist, helping Sharon find a lawyer for document translations and offering her guidance on employment contracts when the time came, as well as supporting her in other ways.

Like her Aliyah, Sharon’s professional journey began with unconventional twists. Dropping out of high school, she worked as a receptionist for an optometrist, Michelle Hickman, who became her mentor. Inspired by the profession, Sharon faced a long and challenging path to acceptance into the Optometry program, eventually earning her qualification in 2010. Her duties range from optimizing visual acuity and fitting contact lenses to early detection of eye pathologies, emphasizing the importance of timely diagnosis in preventing vision loss. Sharon finds joy in witnessing patients’ excitement as they try on new spectacles, especially first-time wearers. The impact of her work is made clear to her when early diagnosis prevents irreversible vision loss, which also adds a profound sense of purpose to her profession.

Whilst working as an optometrist in Israel is not much different from the job requirements in South Africa, the process of converting her optometry degree in Israel presented its own set of challenges. A licensing exam, covering both theory and practical aspects, and which could include topics not necessarily related to clinical optometry, demanded proficiency in Hebrew. All prospective Israeli optometrists write the same test, regardless of how much experience one has, and while one is thankfully allowed to write it in English, the practical exam is in Hebrew. This is why Sharon highly recommends prospective optometrists thinking about coming to live in Israel to kick start their careers here by securing part-time positions for hands-on experience while at the same time learning Hebrew, a crucial skill for navigating the local industry.

Sharon had help along the way in many forms. Her gratitude goes to Dvir Tchelet, an ex-South African whom she worked for as a receptionist and who assisted her in achieving her goal, as well as to her study partner Mike Sklar. “It is the people along the way that help you along and get you to your destination.”

For professionals contemplating a move to Israel, Sharon’s advice is clear: learn Hebrew, gather all necessary documentation, stay abreast of advancements like OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography), and persist in exam preparation. Then, notwithstanding the hurdles one may have to face, the choice to practice as an optometrist in Israel will prove to be clear.