Veterans - The wonder years

Ivan and Robynne Rendel From Johannesburg via Efrat to Kochav YAIR, 1980

Ivan and Robynne Rendel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ivan and Robynne Rendel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israelites wandered for 40 years. We have had 40 years of wonder in Israel.
The story of our aliyah began on a wintry Sunday evening in June 1978 in South Africa. A friend convinced me to join him at a disco for Jewish students organized by the Jewish Student Association of the University of the Witwatersrand. Reluctantly, I went.
I walked into the event and saw Rodney, a B’nei Akiva friend, schmoozing with a small group of people. He introduced me to his cousins, Peter Mark and Robynne. She, too, had been schlepped by Rod and Pete to this JSA event.
In an effort to show my goodwill to my good friend, Rod, I chose to have the first dance with Robynne, an attractive young woman and qualified physiotherapist, who had recently returned from a two-year trip to Europe, the UK and a stint on a kibbutz in northern Israel. One of the first things she spoke about was her positive impressions of Israel and her desire to live there. In fact, she declared that she had returned to South Africa to seek out a husband who was partial to aliyah! I, being an enthusiastic B’nei Akiva member, couldn’t believe my ears! I, too, had volunteered on a kibbutz just after the Yom Kippur War and aliyah was on my wish list.
By September, after a whirlwind relationship that surprised our parents, friends and mainly us, we got engaged and were married that December, two days after my fifth-year final exams in oral surgery. I still had six months of study to complete my dental degree at Wits, so we rented a reasonably priced flat in suburban Yeoville. Robynne, who was working at the Jo’berg General Hospital, was the breadwinner.
The day after completing my studies in July ’79, we left for London. Like most South African dentists, I went there not only to gain practical experience as a dentist on the National Health, but to live in a metropolitan city, vastly different in every way from insular South Africa. After about 18 months we returned to Africa with our baby girl, who we named Lehava, readying her for her upcoming life in Israel.
Two of my dreams were about to actualize simultaneously: aliyah and specializing in orthodontics. I was accepted to the international postgraduate orthodontics program at the Sackler School of Dentistry at Tel Aviv University. 
We lived with our parents in Johannesburg while we packed our lift and left the country of our birth for our homeland on December 31, 1980, arriving in Israel at midnight as the date rolled over to January 1. There to meet us, ironically again at a dramatic moment, was Peter Mark, Robynne’s brother and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Julie, who were studying at the Tadmor Culinary, Hotelier and Tourism School. Security was not as stringent as today, and we could see each other through the glass window as we cleared our luggage. They took a rather blurred B&W photo of us pushing a baby and lots of baggage. A young couple with a baby, taking the gamble of their lives!
After being issued our blue Teudot Oleh with sequential ID numbers by a tired night official, we were whisked off by an assigned taxi, paid for by the Ministry of Absorption, to our first residence, Beit Brodetzki, an aliyah maon in Ramat Aviv, near the university. From then on things moved at a dizzying pace! On Sunday morning, instead of sleeping in, as we did in our former lives, I started my studies at 8 a.m. at the dental school. 
Friends of ours from a gar’in we had formed in South Africa had committed to live in the then almost non-existent town of Efrat. In our second week in Israel, we traveled by bus to meet friends and survey Efrat. Within a week, we had already chosen a plot and signed the contracts with the development company building Efrat, then a desolate windswept hilltop with a few tractors preparing the infrastructure. Before we knew it, we found ourselves at a Bank Tfahot, signing papers till our hands ached and our signatures became scrawls while our baby crawled under the mortgage manager’s desk. I do not know how we had the blind chutzpah to do all that, purely on the encouragement of our gar’in co-members. To this day, we are all guarantors of each other’s mashkantas. If only the bank knew the risk they were taking!
In Ramat Aviv, we thought we’d be alone, with no friends or family nearby. Soon, however, every woman in the street was my wife’s adviser on how to look after the baby. Coming from South Africa, where people generally mind their own business, and after spending a year and a half in London, where both the weather and the people tend to be cold, we were overwhelmed by the care that every stranger afforded us. We were asked why our daughter toddled barefoot in the rain and scolded because she wasn’t wearing a hat in the sun! Who needs a mother-in-law?
After about a year, we moved into the South African Zionist Federation building in Givatayim. I served for 18 months in the IDF as an orthodontist at the military dental center at Tel Hashomer, and passed through medical officers’ school, guided by my newfound mentor, an American doctor, who to this day is a close friend of ours. 
Soon after being released from IDF, we moved into our semi-detached home in Efrat, joining our friends from the gar’in. We made lifelong friendships with new neighbors, sharing facilities during the building phase and bringing up each other’s children. By now Shevi, our second daughter had joined the Rendel gang!
Five years later, with two more Israeli kids, Naftali and Nitsan, we moved to Kochav Yair, closer to my ever-expanding practice in Bnei Brak.
After about 10 years of being a stay-at-home Mom during our childrens’ developmental years, Robynne returned to practicing physiotherapy at the local Kupat Holim Leumit clinic. She retired recently, much to the disappointment of her patients, and now has time to play the piano and teach our grrruff Israeli grandchildren to speak English properly!
Our time in Israel has been amazing. Every step of the way – finding work and neighborhoods to live in and bring up our young family – has been guided from above.
In 2001, Robynne’s parents, Dr. Bozzie and Yvette Fehler came to Israel to join us. They lived happily in Protea Bakfar until their passing in recent years. We were thankful that they, too, were able to enjoy a wonderful life experience in their sunset years in amazing Israel, close to their Israeli grandchildren.
On January 1 this year we celebrated our 42nd wedding and 40th aliyah anniversaries. Corona-conscious, we met the family, now a tribe, in Park Canada to celebrate these two momentous occasions. We’ve lived through wars: Lebanon 1 and 2, the Gulf War, Gaza operations and the intifadas, and most recently the COVID epidemic. Never once did we regret coming to this beautiful motherland. We have visited relatives in Australia, the UK and the US several times, but came running home every time.
We were privileged recently to have our second vaccination, probably among the first people in the entire world to be immunized against this terrible pandemic that has plagued humanity for the past year. Despite the continuous Israeli balagan – writing backward from right to left; driving on the wrong side of the road – we are proud to be an integral gear in the mechanism called Zionism that ticks on despite all those who have tried to stop our clock!