katsav immigrants 298.88.
(photo credit: Beit Hanassi)
Outside Beit Hanassi on Monday, two tour buses bore signs in Russian. Inside the grounds, visitors from the former Soviet Union were not tourists in the true sense of the word, though there was no doubt that since their arrival in Israel on May 2, they had extensively toured the country.
But they came to Israel as parents of young men and women serving as lone soldiers in the IDF. Brought here by the Jewish Agency with the help of the Philadelphia Jewish community and New Jersey philanthropist Steve Beilowitz, the 130 parents, some of whom had not seen their soldier sons and daughters for as long as five years, hugged them and sat with their arms around them, knowing that all too soon they would be separated again.
This is the ninth year that lone soldiers and their parents from the CIS have been hosted at Beit Hanassi, and the sixth year in which the hosts were President Moshe Katsav and his wife, Gila.
Expressing pride in the young people who have chosen to reconnect with their historic homeland and to play a part in the upbuilding of the State of Israel, Katsav told them that despite geographic and cultural differences, "We have the same history, we have the same heritage and we have the same destiny." To their parents he said: "I know that this is a wrench, and that it is difficult for you, but if you follow the example of your children and come and link your future with ours and make your homes in Israel, we will embrace you as we embrace your children."
Unlike some of the parents of earlier years, this group, though visibly appreciative, showed no signs of timidity, and came armed with sophisticated digital and video cameras to record everything they could see for the folks back home.
All leaned closer to their children when Katsav and Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski were talking, so that the children would translate what was being said into Russian.
Later, when the official part of the ceremony was over, and everyone crowded outside for the official group photograph with the president and his wife, the parents with cameras held high in the air converged behind the official photographers as if they were at a paparazzi convention.
Emotions were high, and even the president's security detail was sufficiently affected to give the parents a little latitude.
For police officer David Akutin, originally from Moscow, who hadn't seen his mother, Ylena, for six years, the reunion had been particularly exciting, yet painful in the knowledge that it was temporary. He couldn't say how much time would pass before he would see her again, but despite the homesickness for his family, he was resolute about remaining in Israel.
Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Stern, the head of the IDF's education branch, in commending "the quality of these young people who come to us and pass every test," noted how much more difficult it was for the lone soldier coming from abroad than for the Israeli who goes home sometimes as often as once a week.
Lauding the attitude and contribution of the young immigrant soldiers, Stern said: "I can't imagine the IDF without them."