| Aug 28, 2014
It has always been clear to me that Israel was the Jewish State and I had no doubt that, as a Zionist Jew, this is where I should live. When preparing for the journey to Belarus and Poland as part of the Phoenix program, I started asking my parents questions and taking an interest in the life we had back in Russia. I had questions like why did we make aliyah? How would our lives have looked if we had stayed in Russia? One of the main reasons for me to go on this journey was to know and understand what Jewish life looks like in the FSU.
I wanted to meet students our age, who were born in the same countries as us, whose parents didn't make the decision to make aliyah, and see how they live – how my life would have looked if I had been in their stead. I know that if my family would have stayed in Russia we would have been better off financially, my parents wouldn't have had to learn a new language and face all the difficulties of absorption and maybe we wouldn't have had to save water.
My parent's choice to make aliyah, which I used to take for granted, now seems to me to have been a very meaningful choice. Getting to know the students from the FSU helped me realize and understand that not everything is "black or white": Jews can live and prosper all over the world and be a part of the Jewish People on every continent and in every state. I no longer think that all Jews should make aliyah. Through the program I met almost 70 students from the FSU who lead academic and social lives, are an integral part of society in their countries and yet, maintain a Jewish life style. Most of them take part in Jewish organizations and activities.
This journey which emphasized the cooperation between Jewish communities in the world, made me think about the potential that these connections have. The friends we met during the journey feel at home in their countries just like we feel at home in Israel. Aliyah isn't as important to them or to us as is strengthening the ties and cooperations in projects like this one- programs dealing with Jewish Peoplehood.
Another issue I dealt with during the journey was the issue of anti-Semitism. I knew many Jews from the FSU had immigrated to different places in the world. I began to wonder if anti-Semitism still exists in Eastern Europe, if there is still tension between the Jewish community and the broader public. Talking to the students from the FSU I learned that they don't feel anti-Semitism and that they are proud of their Jewish identity. When we discussed aliyah some of them said that it would not only be a hard step for them to take from a social perspective but also an impossible step to take from a financial perspective. They lead good, comfortable lives in their home countries and that made me think – why would I even expect somebody to leave their friends and family if they have a good life?
With ever-growing trends of globalization, new possibilities for temporary and permanent transitions between countries are forming. Jews from the FSU participate in Taglit-Birthright and MASA programs, are exposed to Israeli Hasbara and some of them even choose to make aliyah. Many of those who stay in their countries are curious about life in Israel, follow Israeli news and say that it is very important for them to visit Israel at least once. They care about Israel, but that doesn't conflict with the fact that we are all part of one global Jewish community. Unlike a few decades ago, they don't live in a world where Jews are persecuted because they don't have a state. They live in a world that allows Jewish communities to thrive and prosper. There is a sense of pride that Jews can walk with their heads held high, wearing a Magen David over their shirt, as they walk to synagogues across Europe and the FSU, feeling safe.
Things aren't perfect, of course, but it is up to our geberation to make things better. I realize that is is we who will carry on. Not with nice words and slogans, but with actions of preserving the memory. History is an inseparable part of us and we cannot move forward without preserving and remembering. Spreading the knowledge to all the Jews in the world about the history of the Jewish People brings us closer without needing to be geographically close.
I'm glad my family decided to make aliyah despite the difficulties. Our next challenge, as I see it, is to spread the knowledge of what our people has been through and to continue the Jewish story so that we can keep walking with our heads held high and a Magen David over our shirts, everywhere in the world. Just like my friends do.
Michael Gurevitch, Phoenix participant, is a first year Political Sciences student at Ben Gurion University. The Phoenix program is an international program initiated and headed by Genesis Philanthropy Group with Yad Vashem, JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Genesis Philanthropy Group’s mission is to develop and enhance a sense of Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews worldwide, with a particular emphasis on the former Soviet Union, North America, and Israel, where up to three million Russian-speaking Jews reside.