Making aliyah to give kids their best life

“That’s become quite special to me to be part of that fabric,” said Brandon Treger. “It’s amazing how we’ve been accepted by everybody.”

 WITH FAMILY. (photo credit: Courtesy Treger family)
(photo credit: Courtesy Treger family)

A coffee shop isn’t a typical itinerary item for tour groups. But tour guides know their clients will enjoy the aliyah story behind Power Coffeeworks on Agrippas Street in Jerusalem no less than they’ll enjoy its coffee. 

“I’d like to be able to say I made aliyah because I’m a religious Zionist, which I am, but the truth is I made aliyah because we felt Israel was the best place in the world to grow our children,” Brandon Treger tells visiting groups.

This is an extraordinary statement because children weren’t in the picture for Brandon until he married at nearly 40.

Until then, he’d led a larger-than-life life in Cape Town, working as a security consultant and paramedic. “I’ve seen and done everything,” Brandon said.

He even died for a short time when he was 29. During a deep-sea mixed-gas diving expedition, something went terribly wrong. Brandon says he was clinically dead for about 18 minutes before the dive team rescued and resuscitated him. 

 IN POWER Coffeeworks. (credit: Levi Greenberg) IN POWER Coffeeworks. (credit: Levi Greenberg)

He believes it was a supernatural occurrence especially as it happened on Shabbat Shuva (the Sabbath of repentance before Rosh Hashana). As a newly Sabbath-observant Jew, he took it as a Divine message about his priorities.

Brandon continued his paramedic work until 2013, when he was summoned to a swimming pool where a four-year-old boy had drowned. The incident triggered PTSD symptoms including hyper-anxiety about his own kids, leading to his decision to leave this line of work. 

“Paramedicine had been my whole life and all of a sudden my whole life was being a father,” he said. “I was ready for a change.”

He and his wife, Stephanie, had four kids (including twins) between May 2010 and May 2013. As their oldest approached first grade, they thought back to a pivotal month they’d spent in Israel in 2008, when Stephanie was studying toward conversion. 

Left-wing relatives in Israel had warned Brandon against taking his non-Jewish fiancé to Hebron. She would be subject to racist remarks, they said, especially from right-wing politician and activist Baruch Marzel. The couple disregarded this advice.

“We ended up at Baruch Marzel’s house Friday night, and he was the kindest man we’d ever met,” Brandon said. Marzel took Stephanie the next day to the tomb of Ruth, explaining the story of how this Moabite convert was the matriarch of King David. 

“In my mind,” said Brandon, “the actual conversion happened there in Hebron. We both felt very connected with Eretz Yisrael for our own reasons and felt we needed to be there.”

The prospect of their daughter being one of only a handful of girls in the local religious Jewish school put the aliyah plan into action. 

“We wanted something better for her. Eighty percent of the decisions in life are about what is best for your children,” said Brandon. 

ON A PILOT trip, they chose to live in Efrat. Brandon was offered a job in security that would have required frequent travel to Africa, so he opted instead to make a business out of his passion for coffee. He learned all he could before their aliyah in August 2016.

The Tregers reasoned that Mahaneh Yehuda would be a good location for their shop. “We’d only been there as tourists, and we had a romantic image of what it would be like to open a business there. Soon we realized it wouldn’t be so easy. We only were able to open a year after making aliyah and were completely broke by then.”

Reluctantly, they signed a contract on a commercial space in a building across the street from the shuk. “It was an absolute dump,” Brandon said. “But Stephanie said she’d make the premises proper if I could roast the best coffee in Jerusalem.”

Only then did they learn that the building had a reputation for being cursed. Brandon’s rabbi advised that if they couldn’t get out of the deal, he should seek a blessing from a certain local rabbi before stepping foot inside.

Brandon was shocked to discover that such a blessing was given with no suggestion of a bribe. The rabbi predicted that the Tregers would be successful and that gave them the confidence to open Power Coffeeworks in August 2017.

“We put both our feet in this business,” said Brandon. “It’s Stephanie’s flair that brings the atmosphere to the shop. I just work on the quality of coffee.”

Customers range from a transgender rabbi to Satmar Hassidim and everything in between, he says, emphasizing that the Tregers strongly feel part of the ingathering of the exiles and the tapestry of the evolving nation of the Jewish people. 

“That’s become quite special to me to be part of that fabric,” said Brandon. “It’s amazing how we’ve been accepted by everybody.”

Meanwhile, the couple added two sabras to their family. Their children are now aged 11, 10, 8 (that’s the twins), 3 and 1, and another is on the way.

“We had two maids in South Africa and a mature business with managers and drivers. Now it’s the two of us struggling to manage the household and the business,” Brandon said. 

“Like all immigrants, we and our kids have been through phases. By December 2019 we were making money in the business, and then in the beginning of 2020 we were shut down with corona and had a year of struggling with lockdowns, and when you’re under pressure it adds difficulty to the kids,” he said.

“But Efrat is an unbelievable place. It’s hard to describe the effort that has been made to support our kids when they were academically behind and needed assistance at school. The system really worked for them; the teachers really cared.”

A big-brother-big-sister program called Perach proved “absolutely amazing,” Brandon says. Their oldest daughter was matched with a Jewish Indian student who helped her blossom, as the name of the organization implies. 

“The whole point of aliyah was that my kids would have the best life, and they do, even with all the hardships and struggles,” Brandon said. “This is an amazing country.” ■

BRANDON TREGER, 51From Cape Town to Efrat, 2016