Michael Sher

South Africa: Part 3 of our International Students Series

April 07, 2016
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For Michael, growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa meant that almost every middle-class home featured high-perimeter walls, cameras, and security guards—his own home, and his friends and neighbors’ homes, included. The crime rate in South Africa being as high as it is, heavy home and personal security is “a must” for every Jewish family, remembers Michael.

And yet, Sher’s childhood was a fairly relaxing one, he admits. Children had 2-3-week vacations every few months (as the school year started in January and ended in December), and Sher’s family would often go on safaris with their uncle, a licensed game ranger. “He knew every bird, every sound, every bird chirp, every lion, ad every animal’s call in southern Africa. Quite often, when we would go with him, we’d sleep in a tent, with elephants, lions, everything around us.” 

“Life was seemingly amazing,” reminisces Michael. “Except for the crime, obviously. Your neighbors on both sides are being held up. People are coming into their houses with guns. People are being hijacked. And you see all of this.”

So why don’t people leave?

“Until it happens to you, it’s a different story,” he says.  

One Chol Hamoed Sukkos in 2003, criminals attacked Michael Sher’s family. After a harrowing few hours in which they were tied up in their own home, they, thank G-d, made it out alive. “It was a neis niglah,” says Sher. But the incident was traumatic. “You just can’t sleep in the same house after something like that has happened,” he says. So—after visiting Canada that week to check it out—they packed everything up in suitcases and immigrated for good.

As a 12-year-old, moving to Toronto was quite a culture shock. “We came in September and missed the first two weeks of school. Everyone sounded different. School starts from like 7 in the morning, you finish at 5, and now you have to start work. There’s school on Sundays, all day. Cold winters, so you can’t go outside. But at least, when you’re walking on the streets, you don’t have to be afraid that somebody's going to put a gun to your head at any moment.”

Future plans: Following in his mother, father, and uncles’ footsteps, the pre-med major (who started working for Hatzala this semester) wants to become an optometrist. He’s already been accepted to several optometry schools.

Advice to incoming students: “It’s a hard question, because every student who comes in is going to have different desires and needs throughout his 2, 3, 4 years here in Landers. So the best thing to do is speak to people in your area, major, shiur. The best advice you’re going to get are from them.”

Why he chose LCM: “In Toronto, we don’t have a place where we can learn and take general studies at the same time. So that narrows us down to a few places. But I know that I excel in smaller shiurim, to have that personal relationship with the professors, teachers, and rebbeim, and so I chose LCM.”

The best part about it? “the chevrah.”

To read the other entries in our International Student Series, click the markers in the interactive map above, or find them here:

Part 1: Shmuel Yudelzon, Bulgaria  

Part 2: David Borochov: Austria  

Part 4: Jacob Bouskila, France 

Click on the pins to read other stories in the series.