|"I feel great in Israel. I found what I want here."|
Vera Sverdilov (23) grew up in the Russian town of Velikiye Luki, near St. Petersburg. When she was nine years old, Vera's grandparents moved to Israel. Her family kept in close contact with them. While her grandparents were learning Hebrew in Israel, Vera was learning Hebrew at a Jewish Agency for Israel ulpan in Velikiye Luki.
At the Jewish Agency's Youth Club in her town, Vera forged a strong Jewish identity. She and her friends celebrated the Jewish holidays, organized activities about Israel and held Friday evening Sabbath services every week. "The youth club was like a second home to us," says Vera. "It strengthened our friendships, our knowledge and our understanding of our heritage."
At the age of eighteen, Vera became a youth counselor at the Jewish Agency Summer Camp in St. Petersburg. This new and expanded summer camp program, run in conjunction with the ICHEIC - the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims - introduced basic Jewish cultural literacy to the campers. "Through informal educational activities we taught about the Holocaust, the history of Israel and the founding of the State, and Jewish holidays. The children loved it, and so did the counselors." Vera made aliyah in October 2004 and lived at the Jewish Agency's Kibbutz Ulpan, near Be'ersheva. She is learning Hebrew intensively with 43 young Russians like herself who will continue on to the Jewish Agency's TAKA program, which helps academics further their education in Israel.
Vera received her BA in economics and plans on studying business administration in Jerusalem. For now, she is working in the cowshed of the kibbutz and enjoying every minute of her farming experience. "I feel great in Israel. I found what I want here."