'This is the only place where I can fulfill my Jewish dream’
Rakhel Van Ellewee, who was born as a Christian in South Africa, joined Namibia’s Jewish tiny Jewish community out of curiosity; the close connection she felt to Judaism led to a decision to convert and immigrate to Israel with her son. ‘There are difficulties, but it’s where I want to be,’ she says.
The African country’s tiny Jewish community has less than 100 members, some of whom are Israelis who live in the country. There is no wonder that there are few immigrants who make their way to Israel.
Click here for the full project
Rakhel Van Ellewee, 38, is one of them, and not exactly a representative one. She was born as a Christian in South Africa, but spent most of her life in Namibia. The young Africa country declared independence only in 1990, after a long struggle to liberate itself from South Africa.
“I lived in the capital of Windhoek and it was relatively quiet,” she says. “Before the Declaration of independence, there were tensions and the presence of UN soldiers was felt on the streets, but most of the battle was waged along the borders. After the first elections, we embarked on an independent path.”
How was the Jewish community’s life in the country?
“The community is very small and made up of a number of Jews who were born in the country, people who arrived from South Africa and Israelis who work there and arrive for certain period of time. We had no rabbi and the community was led by a religious man who was in charge of the prayers and the religious activity.
“There is only one synagogue in the country, and most of the activities were held there, like welcoming Shabbat and holidays. Unfortunately, it has been sold and is no longer active. It’s one of the only countries in the world with no Chabad office, so the activity is run by local Jews.”
Van Ellewee joined the Jewish community out of curiosity and because she felt a close connection to Judaism. Later on, she decided to convert, but there were no rabbinical institutions for that purpose in Namibia.
At this stage, she had two options: To travel to South Africa and undergo a conversion process in the country’s Jewish institutions, or to ask a Rabbinate and Interior Ministry’s exceptions committee to let her come to Israel and convert there.
‘I don’t want to live anywhere else’After convincing the committee of the seriousness of her intentions, Van Ellewee arrived in Israel with her son about two years ago and underwent a conversion process at Machon Ora in Jerusalem.
“It’s very interesting. The lessons were fascinating and I was determined to undergo the process,” she says.
“I had to study very carefully, because I have to teach my son Judaism as well. In the meantime, he is studying in a religious school, acclimating and connecting. We recently completed the conversion process, received approval from the Rabbinate in Jerusalem, and we’re completing the procedures with the Interior Ministry to complete the final immigration to Israel.”
Rakhel lives in Kokhav Ya'akov, and although she says it’s a huge change from the life she had in Namibia, she is very satisfied and loves living here. “I don’t want to live anywhere else. Of course it’s different and there are difficulties, but it’s where I want to be.”
What’s your next goal after you complete your aliyah and officially become Israeli?
“I want to live a Jewish life in a Jewish state and I want my son to be happy. I want a Jewish family and life, and this is the only place where I can fulfill that dream.”