When the Six Day War broke out in 1967, Itzik Maron was in London taking qualification exams to become a licensed pharmacist in his native South Africa. His fiancée, Vivienne, was waiting for him at home. But he decided to fly to Israel to see how he could help.
With the war over by the time he arrived, Itzik went to speak with the head pharmacist at Sharon Hospital in Petah Tikva about employment opportunities in Israel. Then he toured the country before flying to Johannesburg, just in time for his wedding.
Itzik and Vivienne, who’d met in pharmacy school in Johannesburg, raised three children in Cape Town. Aliyah was always in the back of their minds and they visited Israel often. However, says Vivienne, “We kept trying and for various reasons putting it off.”
And then a traumatic event in 1997 propelled them to act.
Their daughter, who had moved to Israel several years before, was home for a visit. She was working on her computer late at night when the phone rang – uncharacteristic for that hour – and just after she went to answer it, two Molotov cocktails came crashing through the window, demolishing the computer.
“Had that phone call not gotten her up from the computer, I shudder to think what could have happened,” says her father.
That attack turned out to have been prompted by the publication in Israel of a photo the local Cape Town Muslim community found offensive. A mob had tried to attack the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish nursing home to no avail, so turned its fury on the Maron home, which was listed as the contact address for the Jewish Book Center of the Claremont Synagogue.
The fire caused by the bombing damaged the house severely, though Itzik noted that the mezuzah on one destroyed doorway remained intact.
The Jewish community came to their aid, bringing food to their rented apartment and helping them salvage what they could. The Israeli Foreign Ministry sent two advisers to help the Marons through their trauma. Eventually the house was rebuilt with strong security installations.
But Vivienne had had enough. She didn’t want to continue living in a place where she was always looking over her shoulder. In the summer of 2000, she told Itzik it was time to make aliyah. He agreed on the condition that they could sell their house “for a decent price.”
Within three weeks, a cash buyer appeared and paid their asking price. The Marons arrived at the absorption center in
Ra’anana just before Rosh Hashanah.
The transition from a luxurious house to a leaky little apartment – in a land where they didn’t speak the language well – was softened tremendously by volunteers from TELFED, the South African Zionist Federation, which caters to the needs of Southern African immigrants.
“We are really indebted to them,” says Itzik.
In fact, for the next six years the Marons rented an apartment in the same building as the TELFED office in Ra’anana and Vivienne volunteered there. “The people were amazing in Ra’anana. For four years we didn’t have a Shabbat meal on our own,” says Vivienne.
They shared some amusing anecdotes from those early days. There was the time Itzik was in an elevator with a couple who were having a heated argument in Hebrew. At one point the woman said to her companion, “This gentleman is listening to every word we say. Please speak in English!”
One weekend, they saw a cloud of storks flying overhead on a Dead Sea beach. “It was magnificent,” says Vivienne. “A few days later at my exercise class I was trying to tell the other women what we had seen, and I said there were a whole lot of ‘hassidim’ circling in the sky,” using the wrong plural for hasida. “They laughed and said, ‘You mean hasidot!’”
Another time, Itzik inadvertently walked out of a supermarket without paying for two chickens he’d put into a bag over his shoulder. When he went back inside and explained his error to the cashier, she said, “Nu, az ma?” – basically, “So what?” He had to insist on paying.
“In South Africa I would have been sitting in the policeman’s office,” he said. “I didn’t sleep that night; I had visions of the mishtara [police] coming to put me in handcuffs for stealing two chickens.”
They can have a good laugh at these misadventures and chose to take in stride even the more frustrating roadblocks to their absorption. Their pharmacist qualifications were not accepted in Israel, and at age 60 they had no desire to start over at university. Instead, they sought employment in other fields.
“We had a few bad experiences, but with a positive attitude it all worked out,” says Itzik, who currently works for a cosmetics company in an administrative position.
Until her retirement, Vivienne cared for English-speaking Alzheimer’s patients in the mornings and looked after two little girls in the afternoons.
“We managed. You have to realize that you just have to take what comes,” says Vivienne.
When they felt ready to buy a home, the Marons opted to move near their daughter and her family in Modi’in, a city they found to be affordable, “lovely and green, fresh and new.” They have lived there happily for nearly 13 years.
Every year they visit their two sons and their respective families in South Africa. Over the past year they ended up going three times due to a grandson’s bar mitzvah and the arrival of a new baby.
They are never tempted to return, even though they do miss the higher standard of living in Cape Town and the everyday courtesies that Israelis tend to lack.
“In South Africa we were part of a wonderful community but it’s not the same as being here, amongst your own,” says Vivienne. “I feel safe here,” she adds, which is no small point given what happened to them in 1997.
“It is all a matter of attitude,” says Itzik, who enjoys sunrise walks in the park without a care. “The glass is never half empty; it’s half full.”