From Odessa to Kfar Saba

When the big exodus from Russia started, Galina's brother and sister both went to the US.

Galina Band 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Galina Band 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Galina Band has always worked with her hands, but in Russia she was a machine technician, while here she works as a manicurist. With a touch as light as a feather, Band seems able to create elegantly shaped nails out of broken stubs, sending the most work-worn hands out looking elegant and cared for. She came here with her husband and two daughters in 1990, and felt on her own flesh the truth of that most banal truism, "Every beginning is difficult." "There were times when we didn't have enough to eat. I used to slice the bread very thinly, go to the shouk once a week to buy chicken wings as a Shabbat treat and get vegetables for a few grushim on Friday afternoon at four o'clock from a kind greengrocer." When the big exodus from Russia started, her brother and sister both went to the US. Band got her exit visa only two weeks later, by which time getting there became much harder and all Soviet immigrants were directed to Israel. "I wanted to be with my family, but it didn't work out," she says. "Now we have built our lives here, and it would be difficult to start over." FAMILY HISTORY Both her parents were Jewish and born in Ukraine. The family lived in Vinnitsa and during the war her father was drafted into the Red Army, while her mother stayed in Odessa, which probably saved her life as the rest of the family were murdered in Babi Yar. Band was born in 1954 when her mother was 47 years old. BEFORE ARRIVAL Band, her husband and two daughters lived in Odessa and she worked there in her field of mechanics, but always loved to make things with her hands, learning macramé and needlework and sewing dresses for her children. The big aliya from Russia was beginning and a friend suggested they go to a manicure course together "just in case." "It seemed a good idea," says Band. "It meant we would have a skill we could use anywhere." In February 1990, they received permission to leave and had to find 700 rubles each to pay for their passports, a huge sum. "We sold everything we had and left, first to Budapest and from there to Israel. We brought my father and my husband's parents with us and came straight to Kfar Saba." ON ARRIVAL They moved into a rented flat for which the Jewish Agency paid most of the rent, and they received $140 a person. With that $560 they were able to open a bank account but then had nothing to live on. The whole family was in a complete fog. No one spoke a word of Hebrew, the daughters, who were seven and 12, were mistreated at school and called whores, and the older people felt totally displaced. ROUTINE AND WORK Band went out cleaning while still in ulpan, earning NIS 3 an hour washing floors in an old people's home. Thinking she would do better with her sewing skills, she then worked in what can only be described as a sweatshop, doing dressmaking for a well-known fashion firm which had a factory in Hod Hasharon. "We worked from seven in the morning until nine at night," she recalls, smiling about it now. "You didn't lift your eyes from the work for hours at a time and your neck was bent double - all this for NIS 2 an hour." Eventually she got work at a hairdresser and studied in the evening for her manicure and pedicure qualification. "I also paid NIS 4,500 for a cosmetics course - the woman said if I pay it all in advance I would receive a generous gift - and then she vanished. I went to the small claims court - another NIS 60 - but never got my money back." Today she is well-established and has worked for years at a local hairdressing salon, does one day a week at a retirement home and quite enjoys her work, feeling she can help people. "Friends sometimes say how can you work with feet, but I think of doctors like proctologists who work with much less glamorous parts of the body and I feel fine with it," she says with a smile. "I especially like working with the old people because I like to talk to them and hear their voices. I think of my mother who had me so late in life, and who died when I was 24." LIVING ENVIRONMENT The first apartment, which they lived in for seven years, was empty except for wooden Jewish Agency beds and a table with four stools. They now live in a pleasant four-room apartment in the center of town furnished with everything they need. CIRCLE All their friends are fellow Russians, people they knew back in Ukraine or have met here. She does not think they will ever have Israeli-born friends. HOBBIES Band is always adding new activities to her repertoire. She has learned reflexology, Reiki and epilation, not to make money but so she can help people. She took some courses in beading and creates jewelry for herself, her daughters and friends. She has also begun writing down some of her memories of her mother's reminiscences during the war and these have been published in a Russian paper. LANGUAGE Her spoken Hebrew is fluent and grammatical but she has a problem reading and much prefers the Russian newspapers. But she does intend to make an effort to read Hebrew. FAITH "I don't believe in religion. I don't do forbidden things but it comes from inside me. I don't keep the commandments because I'm told to but because it seems right. It's right to honor your parents and it's right not to steal and murder." PLANS "I want to carry on working as long as possible so I can help my daughters with their children's education and spend as much time with my grandchildren as I can. I also want to be able to travel to the United States to visit my brother and sister, who settled there just before I came here. "In some ways it's sad that we're not together, but being in Israel has given me more confidence than when I lived in Russia. I can do things here that I couldn't do there. I married very young and never had money or a home of my own. Here it's not been easy but we have managed to make a good life for ourselves." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: