Aliya Veterans: Practical work first, big dreams second

The story of Yuri Dadobaev, who made aliya from Tajikistan in 1993 and now resides in Kfar Saba.

Yuri Dadobaev (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Yuri Dadobaev
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Yuri Dadobaev dreamed of becoming a doctor when he was a boy. Growing up in the town of Leninabad (today called Sughd) in Tajikistan where he was born, he saw how the other members of the Jewish community gave special respect to the Jewish doctors, as well as to teachers and other professionals. Today he makes his living as a cobbler, working out of a small, narrow shopfront not far from Kfar Saba’s main thoroughfare.
“I had many dreams when I was younger,” he reveals. But he is happy in Israel with his wife, Leah – originally Larissa – and their five children, who all live here. They married when he was 20 and she was 17 – marrying young was not unusual in their community.
“I met the girl of my dreams – why wait?” he asks.
They have come a long way from the Eastern republic of the former Soviet Union, where his family originated and have lived for generations. Dadobaev was born in 1972 to a Russian- speaking, traditional Jewish family, and was greatly influenced by his two grandfathers – one a cobbler and the other an observant Jew who taught him Torah and encouraged him to move to Israel.
Unable to get into university to study medicine – possibly because of a Jewish quota, though he is not sure – he settled for engineering instead. The family left for Israel in the middle of his studies, so he never completed his degree. The religious grandfather, who worked as a spinner in the silk trade, was a righteous man who helped other Jews in trouble, and taught Dadobaev about his religious heritage. He was the one who encouraged the family to make aliya, but it was the non-religious grandfather who had a practical influence on his life.
Dadobaev used to go to his shoe-mending shop and help him, at the same time learning the craft. His grandfather encouraged him to study, but said it wouldn’t do any harm to have a trade at his fingertips – and as it turned out, he was right.
In 1993, Yuri and Leah boarded an El Al flight to Israel in Tashkent. On the journey – a happy one filled with song from the travelers, who felt they were going home – Leah told him she was pregnant with their first child. Their son, today 22, was the first of their four Sabras. The grandfather who taught him his trade also made it to Israel, and worked until six months ago, retiring at 85.
Their first stop in Israel was in Kiryat Motzkin, where some relatives were already living. Leah went to ulpan to learn the language, but Yuri was restless and felt he had to provide for his family, not sit and study.
“I went straight out to look for work, and after 24 hours in the country I already had a job,” he recounts.
He tried many different jobs, most involving hard manual labor. “I have worked as a porter in a bottle factory, a dyer in a textile factory, a guard at a school and kindergarten, and once, briefly, in a garage; I used to mend the huge wheels of trucks until my back gave out.”
Eventually he landed a more sedentary job in the Bagir clothing factory in Kiryat Gat, thanks to his ability to sew – a legacy from his training as a cobbler.
The growing family then moved to the outskirts of Ramat Hasharon, where Leah – who once dreamed of being a concert pianist – set about learning to be a hairdresser, and Yuri perfected his knowledge of cobbling.
Once he felt he was qualified, he looked around for an established cobbling business that he could buy, eventually finding the small place in Kfar Saba and setting up shop there in 2009.
He is well-known in the town, and works very hard. The small shop, sandwiched between a greengrocer and an ice-cream parlor, is always busy with a steady stream of customers and Yuri is often to be seen late into the night, mending soles, adding heel tips, stitching leather bags and belts, and repairing anything that might be in need of his skills.
The little shop is colorful, with all the accoutrements of a shoe-mender on display and for sale – laces in every color of the rainbow, shoe polish of every shade and make. The tools of his trade – lasts and hammers and drills – fill up the small space.
He still hopes that one day he will be able to study something. “In 2009 I did a course at Tel Aviv University in medical foot and orthopedic care and got a certificate, but it was very hard to do that and make a living at the same time.”
Dadobaev senses something better is around the corner, and knows he is still young enough to qualify in something.
“I still have my dreams of something bigger and better.”