Ze'ev Elkin is top religious MK in Kadima

Elkin gave up a post-doctorate in the United States and a future in academia for the chance to be a parliamentarian for Kadima.

Zeev Elkin gave up a post-doctorate in the United States and a future in academia for the chance to be a parliamentarian for Kadima. Instead of continuing to hit the books, the 35-year old activist and academic is among the 41 new MKs who will be sworn into office on the 17th of April. Seventeenth on Kadima's list of 29 MKs, Elkin is the highest-ranking religious Knesset member in the new centrist party. He said this placement "increases the sense of responsibility" that he feels to help Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert maintain his connection to the religious Zionist Movement while executing further territorial withdrawals. "It's my most important mission," he told The Jerusalem Post in Hebrew. Knowing that entering politics would come at a high price, Elkin paused when approached by Kadima a few months ago to run on the list. Giving up the post-doc in history, Elkin said, meant that he was likely killing his academic career. But the lure of making a difference in Israel was too tempting for Elkin, who as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union had risked much to come here. "I said to myself that if I just wanted an academic career I could have done that in Ukraine. I came here for a reason," he said. Initially, he said, his first association with Judaism in Ukraine had been negative. It was the reason other students taunted him with anti-Semitic slurs in school. It also meant that certain doors in the former Soviet Union were closed to him. "As a child, I loved math and history, but I always knew that you could advance only in math and not in history," he said. So he chose to pursue mathematics instead. Upon arriving in Israel at the age of 19, he completed his first degree in math, but switched to Jewish history for his doctorate, which he plans to complete at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem this spring. Elkin recalled how he had first became intrigued by the Hebrew language in Kharkov, where he lived, when one of his high school friends gave him a small textbook she had received from her older sister. Soon he was studying Hebrew in secret. Even his parents didn't know he was pouring over illegal textbooks. "It was forbidden and dangerous. I knew they would be afraid for me," Elkin said. At that time, in the mid-1980s, one could be put in prison for learning or teaching Hebrew. But as communism waned, his opportunities to learn more about his roots blossomed. At 17, Elkin said, he was already teaching Hebrew. He created an organization for Hebrew teachers and a unit of the Bnei Akiva youth movement. He also worked to turn his home city's synagogue into a center for religious Zionism. As a result of his work, he fell in love with Judaism and Israel. He also found romantic love well. He met his future wife in a Hebrew class. When Elkin immigrated to Israel, he and his pregnant wife both knew the language so well that they were able to translate for the other Russian speakers who were with them. He recalled their chaotic arrival on the night of the fourth of December in 1990, which was one of the busiest moments of the large immigration from the former Soviet Union. "We were there the entire night until they got us on the plane," he said. When most new immigrants arrive in Israel, there is a kind of a psychological breakdown that occurs when they see how difficult it is to build a life here, Elkin said. But he had a more realistic sense of what to expect and that steadied him, he added. Elkin has a wide range of interests that he hopes to represent within the Knesset. No Knesset committee assignments have been handed out, but he already knows where his interests lie. As a father of two daughters, aged 14 and six, he is concerned with education. Quality education is the key to a successful country, he said. Elkin fears that if Israeli students continue to fare poorly, its high-tech industry will falter. He has his eye on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, because he believes that Russian-speaking immigrants like himself should be utilized to help Israel improve its relationship with Russia. In light of the Iranian threat, Israel should be "maximizing its connections to Russia," he said. Additionally, he wants to work on the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee to improve life for immigrants like himself particularly with respect to the issue of pensions. As a religious man who lives in the settlement of Alon Shvut, Elkin said, he also wants to build better relations between secular and religious Israelis and to improve conditions for the Gaza evacuees. It is important to treat the evacuees well, Elkin said, particularly since the government is likely to evacuate more settlements. If good solutions are not found for the Gaza evacuees, opposition to further evacuations will grow, he said. The next four years will be fateful ones for the state, he said. When he is sworn in on the 17th, Elkin said, "I imagine my knees will shake in fear from the weight of that responsibility."