May 4, 2009 / 10 Iyar 5769
Sasha Ceresnjes, 30, grew up in the heart of Sarajevo’s vibrant Jewish community. His father was the president of the community, and he and his two younger brothers enjoyed all of the unique Jewish activities and traditions, until the outbreak of war in 1992.
“Every street was controlled by snipers, and the city was constantly bombed,” recalls Sasha. “My mother stayed with us in shelters, while my father saw to the needs of our people.”
However, Sasha was not afraid. This is because the Jewish Agency raised money from friends around the world and came to the community’s rescue. First, they purchased food and medicine, which were scarce. Then, they arranged for convoys to safely take the Jews out of the war zone and bring them to Israel. “It took us 23 hours to go from Sarajevo to the Croatian coastal city of Split,” says Sasha. “There were check points with armed guards every few kilometers, and the tension was unbearable." But with the help of the Jewish Agency and the JDC we escaped to Israel.
Sasha, his mother, and two brothers arrived safely in Israel. His father, who stayed behind, joined them four years later. “I don’t know how my mother did it, but she was strong, and we had so much help,” says Sasha.
Sasha started his new life in Israel at a youth village in Jerusalem. “These were the best four years of my life,” says Sasha. “The Jewish Agency made sure that we did not lack for anything. The Israeli kids accepted us as equals and we learned Hebrew and the ways of Israeli society.”
Sasha and his friends all served in the Israel Defense Forces. “It was our way to say thank you to this wonderful country,” explains Sasha. He then went on to receive his undergraduate degree in Jewish philosophy, and today he is involved in Israel’s thriving DJ scene. His parents settled in Jerusalem, but they all return to Sarajevo to visit Sasha’s grandfather.
“Israel is my home. I owe this to the Jewish Agency and everyone who supports this great organization. I hope they will always be able to continue the noble and brave job of saving Jews and bringing them to Israel,” says Sasha.