(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield )
Kati and Genadi Zobin are truly satisfied immigrants. Making aliya from Leningrad allowed them to express their religious identity, advance academically and professionally and give their children freedom of educational and vocational choices. The couple speak enthusiastically of their first years here and above all are grateful for the welcome and social network provided in their synagogue, a predominantly Anglo community in Ahuza, Haifa. Kati and Genadi are the epitome of the idealistic Zionist Russian Jews who fought for so many years to get here.
The couple met at university in Leningrad where they both studied electrical engineering. Kati would have preferred to be a librarian, but Jews had more chance of being accepted for university if they chose the technical professions.
"My father firmly believed in the practicality of technology and brought me up to go in that direction," says Kati, dressed modestly in a beautifully coordinated turquoise skirt and shirt and with her hair covered.
"There are 40 universities in Moscow and Leningrad," continues Genadi, "but the examinations are oral and in a policy to fail Jews, questions were changed according to who was sitting before the examiner."
Kati comments, "In [Vladimir] Putin's time, there has been more awareness of the contribution of Jews to academia."
Kati and Genadi made aliya with their two children, together with Kati's mother and sister.
"It was a sort of vacuum" says Genadi. "We had to start from the beginning, finding work and accommodation, settling the children."
Kati started work immediately, cleaning houses, but soon was accepted for immigrant courses in computers, bookkeeping and office management. She worked at the Absorption Ministry office until she was ready to return to engineering. Today she works in Yokne'am in a recycling technology industry, most of whose products are exported.
Genadi spent the first year as a technical assistant at the University of Haifa and used the time to learn technical Hebrew. Since then he has worked full-time at Intel.
Both Kati and Genadi are fluent in English and at first their new Anglo friends communicated with them in that language. But realizing they needed to improve their Hebrew, they made the effort to speak only in Hebrew and were soon comfortable with the language.
Looking for cheaper properties and with Kati working in Yokne'am, they settled in this growing development area.
"It was like making aliya all over again," says Kati, describing the social isolation they felt at that time. "There was a less religious population. The synagogue was a place to go and pray but not a community where we could meet people, as we had in Ahuza."
This has changed during the time they have lived there and they have begun to make friends.
The extended family arrived with nothing, leaving behind a town apartment and house outside the city. At first they struggled together, sharing a rental apartment. Until they got jobs in their professions, and with their priorities set on good education for their children, it was hard to make ends meet. Buying a property in their area of choice was impossible and the move out of the city was a challenge in terms of finding a new social circle and getting the children to school.
Kati's mother, Maya, worked during the first years of her aliya as a caregiver. Now 79, she continues to live on the Carmel, speaks Hebrew fluently and enjoys a full social life, going to concerts and lectures, the swimming pool and the gym. The sister is single and lives close to her mother.
The decision to send the children, Danny and Hasia, to religious schools was not without problems. "In Russia it was not possible to be really religious," says Kati, "and in embracing this lifestyle in Israel we had to learn a lot from the children."
Danny continued school in Haifa even after their move to Yokne'am and Hasia commuted to a school at the religious moshav of Sde Ya'acov to get a better religious Zionist education. Organizing the journeys between their working schedules was a challenge, but they considered their investment in the children's education a major priority.
Danny is now 27, and after serving in the army graduated from the Hebrew University in mathematics and computers. He specializes in the field of cognition medicine. Hasia at 23 is married and living in the Samarian outpost of Amona, graduated in art and preschool education. Her husband is a religious immigrant from Moscow. Kati and Genadi are awaiting the birth of their first grandchild.
The family connections are important to the Zobins. "We felt like strangers in our birthplace," says Genadi. Both of them lost grandparents in anti-Semitic incidents in the 1930s.
"We don't know what happened to so many of our relatives," laments Genadi who still has a brother living in Russia. Kati's mother had a clandestine library and even as a small child she knew that it was forbidden to speak of it. "If we went to synagogue, we were thrown out of university," she recalls.
Although they now live outside of Haifa, Kati and Genadi frequently spend Shabbat with Maya and meet with their friends from the synagogue, the people who had so helped them in their absorption.
"This community was amazing," says Kati. "They helped Genadi prepare his work resume, came to the bank and helped us fill in forms. We were invited every Shabbat and festival."
They also have several friends who made aliya from Russia and are now getting to know their neighbors and synagogue members in Yokne'am.
We went back to Russia once for work," says Genadi, " and we felt uncomfortable there. It is a one-way ticket. There is no possibility of return."
Kati continues, "I can't believe that we lived in such hard times. It is true that there is less discrimination today in work and study."
Genadi adds, "The Russian people have others to blame for their troubles, not just the Jews. In Israel the national problems are ours, painful as they are but we must get through them."
Genadi agrees that there is much despair and disillusionment in Israel today and that the corruption is tragic.
"There is a loss of belief and religious values, but we have to do our best and project a positive influence," Kati concludes. "We have not discarded the good things in Russian culture, but are satisfied with our choices when we look at our children and consider what would have been had we stayed in Russia.."
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