Jews Leaving South Africa Cite Increasing Crime Rate

The Gavronsky family is one of many making the exodus from South Africa.

The family of four has one month to go before leaving for Great Neck, N.Y., and the father’s excitement is palpable.

“It’s an opportunity we can’t miss. We have our green cards and we’re going,” says Ian Gavronsky. “There is no future for Jewish children growing up in this country.”

Although an observant Jew with a deep love of Israel, he chose the United States rather than Israel “because of the language problem and, let’s face it, it’s hard there.”

Among his main reasons for leaving South Africa: the crime problem.

“Thank God, my family hasn’t been affected, but my children are always returning from school with stories of someone whose parents have been carjacked.”

South Africa’s persistent crime problem is also prompting Johannesburg dentist Clive Fisher and his family to emigrate. They are planning to leave for Melbourne, Australia, in June.

One of his patients, journalist Sandy Sher, says Fisher is the third dentist she has lost to emigration.

“I have also lost two doctors and half my family to emigration. They all left because of the crime and because they did not want to raise their children in a crime-ridden society.”

While Jews the world over spent Passover focusing on the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, a second exodus — that of South African Jews in recent years — was the topic of discussion at many a seder table here.

Everybody knows somebody who has left in recent years — or is planning to do so in the coming year.

While there are no official figures, Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris estimates that 80,000 Jews remain from a community that numbered about 150,000 people at its peak 30 years ago. The current figure excludes Israelis, whose comings and goings have been difficult to track.

Seymour Kopelowitz, national director of the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies, says that an average of about 1,500 members of the Jewish community left each year during the past three years.

“It’s clear that many people who leave South Africa do so for reasons of crime and violence,” he adds.

Of those emigrating, 50 percent choose Australia, followed by North America, Israel, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Harris says that Jewish community leaders try to encourage one of two decisions, maintaining the same motto they have used for years: “Come home [to Israel] or stay home [in South Africa].”

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