Yuri Zbudko (left) with Commander Shachar Ayalon
"The mass aliyah from the FSU in the early 1990's was a historical and dramatic event taking place in our times," recalls Liora Ayalon. "The olim went through hard times, yet Israelis did not always display sensitivity to their needs." Already back then Liora assisted olim, feeling an affinity for them since her parents came as children from Eastern Europe in the 1920's.
Liora, 50, and her family started to volunteer with the Jewish Agency's Babait-Beyahad program (At Home-Together) at the beginning of 2005. Babait-Beyahad facilitates social contact between Israelis and olim, an important element towards a successful absorption. The program also gives Israelis the opportunity to interact with olim in other venues besides the supermarket.
Liora is married to Commander Shachar Ayalon, Israel Police's chief traffic officer. They are parents of a daughter currently serving in the IDF and a 15-year-old son. When their daughter was recruited in January 2005, the family supported her in whatever way possible. After she completed basic training, they participated in the moving ceremony, bringing along her favorite foods. "I then thought to myself - what happens to a chayal boded who is all alone without family in Israel?" relates Liora. "Who takes care of his needs? Who brings him food and sends him packages?"
As parents of a soldier, Liora and Shachar understood firsthand that it is nearly impossible to cope without family. They then decided to adopt a chayal boded. Babait-Beyahad staff matched them up with Yuri Zbudko, originally from Moscow. He lives in Hadera near Moshav Bet Yitzhak where the Ayalons reside.
Yuri, 22, came in the year 2000 on the Jewish Agency's SELA program and learned at the ulpan of the Hadera absorption center. He was recently discharged from the IDF upon completion of his three-year service in the Logistics and Ordnance Corps. During his army service, without relatives in the country, he would return home exhausted on Friday afternoons, preparing himself a simple meal or eating out in a cheap restaurant.
The Ayalons' children, especially the recent recruit, had some misgivings about adopting Yuri. "But when he ate his first Friday night meal by us, the kids felt it was the right thing to do. Our daughter understood that Yuri needed us," states Liora.
Liora (2nd from right) and her family started to volunteer with the Jewish Agency's Babait-Beyahad program (At Home-Together) at the beginning of 2005.
Since then he has been eating with them Friday nights and Liora sends him home with food for the rest of Shabbat. He joins the family on holidays and attends their family celebrations and social events where he has a chance to meet veteran Israelis.
"I go through everything with Yuri, including the process of leaving the army and getting ready for ezrahut (post-army life)," says Liora. "Transitions are never easy. While the army provided Yuri with a framework, in ezrahut he will need more assistance and we're there for him." She is helping him improve his English skills to prepare him for the job market. Yuri also appreciates the Ayalons' advice about his future course of studies.
Liora and Shachar recently met Yuri's mother in Moscow where Shachar delivered a lecture at a conference. "My mother just couldn't get over how the Ayalon family helps me," says Yuri. "I feel much more confident in Israel due to our relationship."
Written by: Batsheva Pomerantz
Photos by: Liora Ayalon