Moving to the Homeland: South African Jews in Israel

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This article focuses on Jewish South African immigrants migrating to Israel. It examines motives for migration, the ways by which migrants organized their move to the new country, and the types of resources (individual and institutional) on which they relied to make and implement their decision. Our study suggests that both push and pull factors explain South African Jewish migration to Israel. The unstable socioeconomic and political situation prevalent in South Africa was the main push factor explaining the desire to leave the country, whereas a strong Jewish and Zionist identity acted as a strong pull factor driving South African Jews to Israel. In addition, the existence of social networks and institutional frameworks linking the two countries helped perpetuate the migration over time. Two salient conceptual points emerge. First, theories that stress the economic aspects of migration alone are not helpful in explaining South African Jewish migration to Israel. We must also consider how ethnic identities related to the host society (e.g., their Jewish and Zionist identity) affect potential migrants' decision making. Second, in order to understand the process of the migration of Jews to Israel, it is important to refer to the communal and social structures in the countries of origin and of destination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-277
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the J. Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at Cape Town University in South Africa. I am deeply indebted to Prof. Milton Shain and Shirley Bruk at the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies, Cape Town University who provided guidance and support during these years of data collection and analysis. I am very grateful to all interviewed partners who shared their time and life histories with us. I thank Research Success Technologies, which under the direction of Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz oversaw the fieldwork required for the interviews. I wish to thank Miri Schwartzvald, Orit Avital, and Ariane Ophir for their help with data preparation and analysis.


  • Israel
  • Migration motives
  • South Africans
  • institutional resources
  • migration decision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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