A voluntary move

Lesley and Yonatan Kaplan, 48, from Johannesburg to Jerusalem, 1990.

Lesley and Yonatan Kaplan, 48 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lesley and Yonatan Kaplan, 48
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 When Yonatan Kaplan went to Ashdod to oversee the inspection of his family’s shipment from Johannesburg, the inspector asked, “Why did you come here? Why did you leave the luxuries of Africa with all your servants, tennis courts and swimming pools?’ Twenty-four years later, Yonatan recalls his reply: “We never left servants, tennis courts and swimming pools. We simply came home.”
This year is a special milestone for Yonatan and Lesley Kaplan: They have now lived half their lives “at home” in Israel.
The Kaplans have raised five children in Israel, ages 24 to 15, and are now grandparents. Yonatan built up a successful physiotherapy and sports-injury practice in Jerusalem, while Lesley founded L.A.K. Creations & Consulting, which creates promotional products, personalized favors and unique printed gifts, and has a separate consulting and workshop division.
Now or never Though Lesley and Yonatan both grew up in Johannesburg, they went to different schools and traveled in different circles. Lesley, a student at a coed school, was a member of Betar, while Yonatan was a yeshiva day school graduate. They met during a bus ride to a Jewish camp when they were in college; mutual friends had advised each to seek out the other. A year later, they were engaged.
“When I met him, he said, ‘I’m going to live in Israel,’ so I knew if I was dating him I would end up in Israel,” Lesley says.
“Since I was a young boy, I wanted to live here, and I had come numerous times as head of the Jewish Student Society on campus,” Yonatan explains. “We came before we got married on a look-and-see, not a looksee- and-decide! The day after I handed in my thesis for my second degree in sports medicine, we made aliya.”
By that time, they had a 10-month-old daughter.
“We had intended to wait until we made some money, but we realized it was either now or not at all,” Lesley says. They put all their savings into items for their future home.
Learning Hebrew on the job The first six months, they lived in an absorption center in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood. Yonatan had previously made contact with the South African-born medical director of a Jerusalem Meuhedet health clinic and he was working within a week of arrival.
Two years later, he opened a private clinic. “Throughout 22 years, nearly everyone I’ve employed has been an oleh hadash, including the secretarial staff – about 20 Anglos from different countries over the years,” says Yonatan.
About 10 years ago, he established the first sports-medicine clinic in Jerusalem and began studying for a doctorate in sports medicine through the Belgian University of Ghent.
Soon after aliya, Lesley got a job as an office assistant at Hadassah University Medical Center. Coming from a human resources consulting and retail management background, she realized she’d need to change direction temporarily due to her lack of Hebrew. She was hired as an English-speaking assistant; though on her very first day, the Hebrew assistant was out sick and Lesley had to fill in. Moving to Ma’aleh Michmash, where the Kaplans were the second Anglo family at the time, took her Hebrew to fluency.
They stayed until 1997 and the English-speaking population there grew. Yonatan traveled to South Africa on behalf of the settlement and the Zionist Federation, to encourage aliya-minded families to consider Ma’aleh Michmash.
About a year before they moved on, Lesley founded L.A.K. Creations, which evolved over the years into L.A.K. Creations & Consulting.
“As an organizational and HR consultant, my passion is in business and self-development. We provide these services via a range of workshops that I design on different themes, and tailored consulting to organizations and small businesses.”
They built their home in the city of Ma’aleh Adumim. Lesley’s widowed father came on aliya six years ago, and lives across the street with his second wife, whom he met after making aliya.
Contributing to society Yonatan heads a volunteer committee that manages the social hall of one of the neighborhood synagogues. Lesley is the volunteer co-program director for Emunah Women events in Ma’aleh Adumim. She also volunteers for Telfed (South African Zionist Federation in Israel).
“Those who give often get more out of it than those who receive,” Lesley says. “I have a busy career and family life, but I really wanted to contribute in some form. If something is important to you, you find the time and do it.”
Yonatan lectures on sports medicine topics internationally.
“Even though we seem to think Israel only has negative press, the real world respects us very much,” he claims.
“I’ve never had any negative reaction – in fact, quite the opposite. At a conference in Thailand recently, the organizers heard I was coming from Israel and arranged, at great expense, to fly in kosher food from Australia without my requesting it. On many occasions, my lectures are inadvertently put on Shabbat.
Despite difficulties, but without exception, the organizers have always agreed to move them to a weekday.
On a one-to-one level, Israel has a very positive influence and image in the world.”
He adds that in his younger years, he was more critical of Jews staying in the Diaspora.
“As I get older, I realize that human beings make decisions of where to live as a result of their personal situations, and idealism is sometimes overridden. I’m more understanding and realistic about that today, although that does not discourage me from trying!” He believes that “every single person who lives here has the ability to change the face of society. The rich cultural Western background that many olim come from only enriches Israel.”
Yonatan cites a small example of what makes his adopted homeland so dear: “Where in the world does the national radio broadcast at 6 a.m. commence with Shema Yisrael, close the week with ‘Shabbat shalom’ and begin the week with ‘Shavua tov’– regardless of the announcer’s religiosity? “This is the home of the Jewish people – you feel it in the air, hear it on the streets, feel it in your heart and see it in your children and grandchildren.”