James Galfund

The Global Journey of Laura Orzy, from South Africa to October 7

October 7 will forever be a point in time when everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the horrifying news.

For Laura Orzy, it was her global journey, spanning South Africa, Canada and Israel, that brought her to a tense Ahavat Shalom synagogue in Caesarea the morning of October 7.

Prior to Shabbat services, Laura’s son-in-law had said a major attack had occurred in the south but didn’t have many details. At the synagogue, people were whispering something terrible had happened, and everyone was in shock.

Laura and her husband Rick quickly walked home, where her son-in-law shared updated information. Although he had yet to receive call-up orders, he was already preparing to leave. “We were very nervous,” Laura recalls. “We didn’t know what was about to unfold.”

Growing Up in the Era of Apartheid

Laura’s road to that fateful morning began in Cape Town, where she was born, and, subsequently Johannesburg, where she grew up. She recalls an idyllic childhood, saying she had “no idea” of the nature of apartheid. “My parents were center-left. We were taught to treat all people exactly the same. Our help, and their extended family, were considered an integral part of our family. We were white and they were black, but I never saw any difference. My father was very involved in the black community, He owned a spice mill, and would go into Soweto – where the presence of a white person was unusual –  for sales calls.”

Ultimately, the decision was made to leave. “Apartheid was ongoing, and it was a very challenging time.” Laura was 25, and, she explains, “I didn’t want to put down roots and raise children there. We decided we had to go. It was difficult, but it had become very dangerous and uncomfortable on a human level.”

Laura and her siblings in Johannesburg

Toronto and the Jewish Community

Her family left for the U.S., where her sister lived in Washington, D.C., her brother in Rhode Island, her parents in Cincinnati and Laura in New York. She went to Toronto for a wedding, and a friend from South Africa invited her to a party being thrown by a lawyer named Rick Orzy.

Rick was deeply involved in the cause of Soviet Jewry, necessitating frequent travel to New York, and they started a long distance relationship. The relationship became permanent when Laura moved to Toronto and married Rick, raising two sons and a daughter.

Rick was Laura’s entrée into Toronto’s Jewish community, particularly Israel Bonds. Her eldest son was approaching his bar mitzvah, and, wanting him and other children to receive what she called “a gift with meaning,” Laura became active with the bar/bat mitzvah program started by Toronto Israel Bonds. She went from school to school promoting the initiative.

Her success led to greater participation and prominent Israel Bonds leadership roles, including Women’s Division chair, International Women’s Division chair and, currently, membership on the organization’s international board.

Laura, co-chair of the 2019 Israel Bonds Prime Minister’s Club Dinner, addresses hundreds of international Bonds supporters

Although Israel Bonds provided Laura with extensive highlights, she singles out visits to communities in North America and Europe. “The reception and friendship that ensued, creating excitement, ideas and opportunities to succeed as women, was wonderful.” She points to a flourishing international Women’s Division in Brazil, Mexico, France, Germany and the UK, noting, “Their passion for Israel is incredible.”

Aliyah and October 7 

Laura made her first trip to Israel in her early 20s while still living in South Africa. Traveling by herself, “I was in awe of the country.”

Following her marriage, Laura and Rick, who had a long history with Israel, visited the Jewish state numerous times. In 1997, Rick took a sabbatical, and they spent several months there with their very young children. They promised each other that one day, they would make Aliyah. “We loved Israel. After each visit, I couldn’t wait to go back.”

In 2018, Laura and Rick made good on their promise and made Aliyah. They were preceded by their children, Ilan, Noa and Zev, all of whom served as lone soldiers in the IDF.

She admits integration into Israeli society “was definitely a cultural adaptation. I knew the best way to integrate was to host. We joined a synagogue even before making Aliyah, as well as the Lions of Judah Israel, and, through these communities, as well as Nefesh B’Nefesh, AACI and others, we would host new friends. That has been a part of our successful integration into Israel, and helped make our move easier.”

Happier times: Laura and Rick visiting the Gaza Envelope on Valentine’s Day 2021 for the blooming of the anemone

Then came the terror of October 7. In its aftermath, Laura has helped displaced individuals from the south who arrived in Caesarea, where she and Rick have a home. In the first few months of the war, she assisted with preparing Shabbat meals for dozens of people, “helping them get back on their feet. In the beginning they were in shock, but after a while we became friends, and it was a wonderful opportunity to make a difference.”

Laura and Rick also provided personal financial support and mentorship to many organizations assisting the victims and communities of October 7. The attacks also impacted them on a personal level. Their youngest son is serving in the IDF, and their son-in-law was wounded twice in Gaza, but is recovering. Their daughter gave birth to her fourth child in December 2023, with her husband having spent most of the last two months of her pregnancy in Gaza.

Additionally, Laura maintains an active social media presence, bringing, she says, “awareness from my perspective, and providing information that people living outside Israel may not know.” During her monthly Israel Bonds International Women’s Division meetings, she gives updates and explains how women can make a difference through Israel Bonds.

Reflecting on a post-October 7 Israel, Laura is undeterred in her optimism. “One of the things I have been most pleasantly surprised by is the resilience and leadership of the younger generation. This is something I’ve never seen anywhere. Without any questioning, they fought for this country, and some have paid dearly for it. The strength of this generation should be celebrated and revered. Their example gives me hope that Israel will survive and succeed in a very big way.”

(Photos courtesy Laura Orzy)

About the Author
James S. Galfund is former National Director of Marketing & Communications for Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds.