November 10, 2008 / 12 Chesvan 5769
Margarita Benderenko (20) grew up in a small city in Ukraine. She participated in activities run by the Jewish Agency for Israel, and at the age of 16, she attended a Jewish Agency winter camp. “I liked being with other Jewish kids and learning about my heritage,” says Margarita.
When she was 17, Margarita decided to make aliyah through the Jewish Agency’s Selah program. Selah, a hebrew acronym for “students before their parents,” is a 12 –14 month academic preparatory course for recent high school graduates from the former Soviet Union (FSU) to continue their higher education in Israel. Margarita lived at the Friedman Student Village IBIM where she met other young people from all over the FSU. “I had a great time there,” says Margarita. “I learned Hebrew, went on field trips and participated in cultural activities.”
Four months ago, Margarita joined the army, and went straight to the Nativ program where she is learning about Jewish history, Zionism, Jewish philosophy and religious practice. The program combines practical studies with experiential activities, weekly tours, a week-long study trip in Jerusalem, Shabbat seminars and individual studies. Courses are given within the military
framework and staff includes commanders from the IDF Education Corps and teachers from the Institute for Jewish Studies.
“I love the learning and the people. I feel that I know so much more about what it means to be Jewish and an Israeli, ” says Margarita enthusiastically.
Margarita plans to join a combat unit in the army upon finishing Nativ. She wants to be in the Oketz (Sting) unit that trains dogs for the military.