May 11, 2008 / 6 Iyar 5768
“The Jewish Agency does so much to support young new immigrants like me. When I decided to come to Israel, I knew that I wasn’t coming alone. There was an entire network of people who were there to help me.”
Born in Smolensk, Russia, Alexey Kochetkov, 23, knew that he was Jewish, but his family didn’t talk about it, and Alexey had no idea what it meant to be a Jew. When he was 14, his friend brought him to the Jewish Agency’s youth club. “Don’t be afraid,” said his friend. “This is not against the law anymore – we are free to be Jews.”
“The youth club really attracted me,” recalls Alexey. “We were building a community of young people, doing fun activities, and learning about Judaism in a relaxed, open environment.” Alexey’s parents were also glad that he was learning about his heritage, as they knew nothing about Judaism.
As he became more involved in the club’s social activities, Alexey’s curiosity about Judaism grew. He attended a Jewish Agency summer camp for a number of years and then went on to become a counselor. “This was an important time for me, when I was shaping my identity. At camp, at the club, celebrating the Jewish holidays, I felt part of something special.”
Parallel to his Jewish awakening, Alexey, who played the violin from age six, was on the path to become a professional musician. However, he took a detour. After completing music college he made a courageous, life-changing decision to make aliyah.
At the age of 19, he joined the Jewish Agency’s Selah program (Students Before their Parents), a pre-academic preparatory program for young new immigrants like Alexey.
“I lived at the Nitzana Rural Educational Community in the Negev, learned Hebrew and studied math, English and computers in preparation for college with other young immigrants on Selah,” says Alexey. “It was an incredible time in my life. I felt like I was living on a different planet. The positive energy in our group was electrifying.” Alexey is still in touch with his friends from Selah.
Today, Alexey is in his fourth year at the prestigious Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He is serving in the army as a lone soldier, in a special program for young musicians. “I have made
so many choices over the past decade,” says Alexey. “And the Jewish Agency has been by my side every step of the way. It is truly amazing.”