Although everyone calls the Israel office of the South African Zionist Federation by its nickname "Telfed," many in the Southern African community in Israel are unaware of the roots of this moniker. Sidney Shapiro, who has been involved with the immigrant association for some 35 years and spent the last 20 as its director, explains: "It derives from the '50s and '60s when we communicated with South Africa by telex. Our telegraphic address was 'Telfed,' short for Tel Aviv Federation. Much to the chagrin of some of our Jerusalem members who feel insulted that it's not Jerfed or something, that's what stuck. But it's not our official name."
The organization, which has no official membership but offers services to all Southern Africans in Israel and their families - plus potential immigrants from Southern Africa - moved its headquarters to Ra'anana in 1998, some years after the city had become a hub for the community. Shapiro says they have some 5,000 families on their books, which they extrapolate to an estimated 22,000 souls, including immigrants from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Established in 1948 to assist the 800 Southern Africans who volunteered to fight in the War of Independence, Telfed initially helped those who chose to remain in Israel find housing and Hebrew study; it has subsequently evolved into one of the most active and effective immigrant associations.
"We were very much trailblazers," says Shapiro, citing models for housing immigrants such as klita yeshira [direct absorption], which he says were pioneered by Telfed and later adopted by other bodies, including the Jewish Agency and Israeli government.
Today, the organization employs immigration and absorption counselors who work in Ra'anana, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and a social worker. Telfed also provides subsidized rental housing, new building projects, university scholarships, grants, loans and other assistance to the Southern African community in Israel - and sometimes beyond.
Funding, once provided in part by the Jewish Agency, is now dependent on income from trust funds administered by the organization and from fund-raising. For more information, go to www.telfed.co.il (
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