Building a community of independent olim

(photo credit: MOSHE BUKHMAN)
 ‘When I go to a café or bar in Jerusalem, nobody speaks Hebrew to me. They try English, French or German,” says the blond-haired, blue-eyed Lena Trayberman. “My friends think I must work in the Mossad,” she jokes.
The 27-year-old immigrant from Crimea is, in fact, a Jewish resident and not a gentile tourist. Her appearance helped her avoid some of the antisemitism common in her native land – a Black Sea peninsula in the southern region of Ukraine with ties to both Ukraine and Russia.
Raised by her mother and grandparents, Trayberman was an active member of Crimea’s Jewish community, which has a long and proud history and was at one time proposed as a Jewish homeland for World War II refugees.
“I went to a Jewish school once a week when I was a child and participated in Jewish programs for teenagers,” says Trayberman. At 16 she became a counselor in the local Zionist youth group.
“I understood from childhood that at some point in time I would make aliya,” she says. Her first visit to Israel was at age 18, through Birthright-Taglit. “The moment when I came to the Western Wall, I felt something I could not even have dreamed of,” she recalls.
She returned to her town and earned a university degree in child psychology. But she also prepared for her move to Israel by taking part in the Masa Mabat Betar program, which is based in Jerusalem, for potential immigrants from Russian-speaking countries.
Masa Mabat Betar, part of the World Betar Zionist youth organization, is a portfolio program of Masa Israel, a government and Jewish Agency umbrella encompassing a range of immersive Israel experiences for young adults from more than 60 countries.
The program was so impactful that, prior to their aliya in 2012, she and her partner, Evgeny, applied for the job of directing it together.
There was one potential glitch: The two were not married, and were told by Masa they would need to be legally wed if they were to be assigned a shared apartment. “We’d been together for two years and never talked about marriage, but we arranged a wedding in two weeks!” Trayberman recalls.
First living in the capital’s Arnona neighborhood and now relocated to central Jerusalem, Trayberman works all day, and not infrequently at night, with 50 Masa Mabat Betar visitors each trimester – 150 over the course of a year.
Mabat participants live in student apartments in Jerusalem, study Hebrew in ulpan, travel the country, explore their Jewish roots and learn to live independently, Israeli-style, on a monthly budget.
“Every staff member is a new immigrant, and we feel our mission is not just to help but to build a strong community. We believe in our power to influence people’s ability to be self-sufficient in Israel,” says Trayberman.
“I can see the difference Masa Mabat Betar made in our own experience. While most new immigrants are struggling to find work and learn the language, we came with a job and arrived with a community waiting for us. We have a club for newcomers, and we try to make their absorption as comfortable as possible. My mission in the Betar movement is to build a strong community here in Israel.”
Evgeny, a trained engineer, did not know Hebrew before but subsequently earned a degree in special education at David Yellin College. After working with his wife directing Masa Mabat Betar for about a year, he is now a full-time special-education teacher and coordinator of the management and evaluation of education effectiveness in the Alon primary school in Ma’aleh Hahamisha. He also teaches Hebrew.
“Here in Israel there are a lot of opportunities that you can take if you want to, like education. We are all different people with different backgrounds, but we have an unbelievable power to change things for the better,” says Trayberman.
Trayberman’s move from Crimea was difficult for her mother, who wishes to remain there. However, visits to Israel have reassured her that her daughter and son-in-law are doing well.
“When she saw we were settled and happy, she accepted it,” Trayberman says.
Without close family in Israel, the young couple spend their weekends hosting guests for Shabbat or visiting friends. “We have a lot of friends all over Israel, and we have an organization for young Russian-speaking immigrants who are students. We do seminars and projects.”
Trayberman loves playing trivia games and currently heads a club for Russian-speaking youth in Jerusalem, with the support of municipality’s Aliya Department, which sponsors trivia nights about Jewish history, art and traditions.
She is passionate about encouraging more Diaspora Jews to try living in the Jewish state.
“Unfortunately the level of antisemitism in the Diaspora is only growing, and because of it I’m very proud to be part of the Betar movement, which is fighting against antisemitism at different levels, not only in Russia and Ukraine but all over the world,” she says.