Oleksandr Zaslavskyi didn’t have the opportunity to learn much about his Jewish faith and heritage. But one thing he is sure of is that Israel is the place for every Jew, and he has been dreaming of living there for many years.
“We followed Jewish traditions while we were in Ukraine”, says the 56-year-old father from Kiev. “The family always honored Yom Kippur and we celebrated Rosh Hashana and Shabbat. We used to visit the Israeli Culture Center in Kiev and we even started learning Hebrew before our aliya.”
But, unfortunately, he says, the family didn’t know much more than that. “We’re the kind of Jewish people who didn’t have the opportunity to learn enough about the traditions of our own nation. A long time ago my grandmother used to talk with us about Judaism, but I was a little boy and I don’t remember much.”
But with the war in Ukraine, the increase in the cost of living and the family moving forward, they got the push they needed to make the decision to come to the land of their people, the Land of Israel.
“My mother had a serious disease and died. Eduard, our oldest son was finishing school. Ivan, our younger son, was getting older and he began to feel more and more Jewish. Sometimes he would ask us why the other kids called him offensive names because he was Jewish. All of this together pushed us in the direction of moving to Israel,” he says. “It’s thanks to The Fellowship that we’re going to learn more about ourselves and our people. The Fellowship has helped us find a place to live and is going to continue helping us during our transition period in Israel.”
The Zaslavskyis – Roman, the 78-year-old grandfather, parents Oleksandr and Tetiana, 41, and children Eduard, 17, and Ivan, 10 – have many relatives in Israel, but they don’t speak Russian so there wasn’t contact between them for a while. However, the family is eager to learn Hebrew as fast as possible and have an opportunity to restore connections with their family.
That’s why Oleksandr’s main concern about aliya is the language. “When we were trying to learn it by ourselves I had difficulties with it. I hope that my youngest son Ivan who will learn Hebrew in school will also help me learn the language.”
Despite the conflict in Ukraine, the Zaslavskyis’ financial situation wasn’t dire living in Kiev, which makes their pending immigration to Israel all the more patriotic. “Finances weren’t the main reason for our decision to make aliya,” Oleksandr says.
“Our financial situation somehow made us more confident in our decision. We even understand that we’ll probably be in a worse financial situation in Israel than we were in Ukraine. But we wanted to go to Israel long ago. And now we made the decision. The reason is probably because we want to return to the place where we belong.”
And no terrorism is going to scare them. “We understand, that’s there’s a war going on”, says Oleksandr, “but my older son wants to join the army. He wants to be a soldier in Israel. He’s ready to join the Mossad tomorrow if they make him an offer.”
The Bairash family from Kharkov, feels the same connection to the Holy Land. The father, Volodymyr, 56, worked in the Kharkov subway for 35 years. After he had cerebral hemorrhaging, neither his employer nor the government cared and he lost his job. His wife, Oleksandra, 45, quit her job as a government worker in order to take care of him.
But they’re not going to just be a burden to the Jewish state. In Israel they plan to look for temporary jobs in public service. They’re also ready to work in cleaning until they learn Hebrew well enough.
“I’d be happy to find the kind of job where I can help people”, says Oleksandra. “I hope Israel will open its doors to us. We’re ready to help Israel society in any way possible.”
“Our son has been studying in a Jewish school. He has become very interested in who he is and the Jewish religion. He was eager to move to Israel as soon as possible. He said, ‘Mom, life there is much better and father will be cured there.’ I totally agree. We read Torah together. Everything about Jewish culture attracts me, starting with the language. I’m sure my son will find his place in Israel, as will my husband and I.”
Oleksandra also says she’s a traveler at heart, but she never had the financial opportunity to travel.
“I also want to explore Israel in that way. From pictures I’ve seen, the country has stunning landscapes and an interesting culture.” She even has started learning Hebrew in Ukraine. “I can read and write, but I can’t speak. I hope in Israel I’ll learn to speak quickly.”
Tymur and Nina their three children, ages 13, 11 and six, are also getting ready to move to Israel. The family is making aliya to a northern kibbutz, where they believe they can acclimate as best as possible and learn Hebrew.
“We decided to leave Ukraine more than a year ago”, says Tymur. “The situation in our country was getting worse and worse. I was dismissed from my job. Looking ahead, we understood the situation will not get better. We feel that now is the time to leave. We have relatives who have lived in Israel for a while.”
Since the end of 2014, when Tymur was fired as a financial worker, the family has barely managed with their savings. They are also making aliya to get out of the war zone of eastern Ukraine.
“I don’t actually understand what the aim of the war is. Why should we stay there in a flashpoint, getting shot at in a place where the lives of those who died don’t mean anything? I don’t have much desire to fight under those conditions. However, the Israeli army is a different story. It’s one of the best armies in the world. It’s an honor to serve there. In Ukraine you’re only cannon fodder,” says Tymur.
The couple is already motivating their children to serve in Israel’s armed forces. “I want my children to grow up in a country where laws function in a proper way, where you always have a sense of self-dignity, where you and your children feel safe,” Nina says. “Our children were enthusiastic when they heard they’re going to live in a new country. Our six-year-old Yehor was extremely happy about the fact they we’re going to eat oranges straight from the trees in the winter – although I have no idea how this information ever came to his mind.”
The family has chosen to live on kibbutz for the first few months. “We want to expend as much energy as possible learning Hebrew,” says Nina. “Besides, we’ll feel more comfortable knowing our children will be close by. Parents in Ukraine have concerns about the safety of their children. In Ukraine there’s always the danger that something bad can happen, starting with an automobile accident. We believe the situation in Israel is much better in that matter than it is in Ukraine.”
Tymur says they plan to travel around while living on the kibbutz to see what opportunities there are for them. “We want to see how things are doing in Haifa, for instance. We want to look around the country to see where we can work. We have experience in the restaurant business – from the very beginning to the top-management.
“I’m a financier, but I learned an additional skill – I learned how to set up air-conditioners. I know that’s in high demand in Israel.”
The Pochynoks told the encouraging story of their 80-year-old grandmother who has already made aliya. “While she lived in Ukraine she was ready to die. But after she made aliya she found out that there are many activities for the elderly. She began to live a full life. Recently she even traveled to Prague and is now going to Australia,” says Nina.
The family is ready to start over from scratch. They are extremely grateful to The Fellowship for this opportunity. “We want to live a calm and happy life and help Israeli society,” says Tymor.
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