August 26, 2008 / 25 Av 5768
Before Leaving for Georgia
Idan in Israel today
I am off to war-devastated Georgia. I am going there to see and hear about the needs of the Jews. Because that is what we do: the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish people. We join hands and help Jews all over the world.
Idan's maternal great-great-grandparents and their grandchildren. Only two survived the Holocaust. Belarus 1932.
But before I go, I want to tell you a little bit about myself. The events in Georgia over the past few weeks have brought back vivid memories for me. And I want to share these memories of growing up in Barnaul, in southwest Siberia, of my own aliyah, and my journey to understand what it means to be part of the Jewish People.
I was 15 when the Soviet Union collapsed. I knew I was Jewish (with a name like Peysahovich, everyone knew I was Jewish), but that's about it. I was completely ignorant about Judaism. Being Jewish meant being different and this difference was always filled with fear. It meant pogroms for my great-grandparents, the Holocaust and forced labor camps in Siberia for my grandparents and being harassed by my schoolmates, including a broken nose.
In 1991, one incident changed my entire life. Two young Jews came to our city. They were Jewish Agency emissaries from Israel, and they came to celebrate Chanukah with us, a new experience for the 7,000 Jews in our city. I looked in amazement at these two men. Never in my life had I seen people so open, so free with their Judaism. They showed us pictures of Israel and I knew I had to take my family and go there.
Idan (bottom row, third from left) in school in Barnaul, Russia. The sign reads: USSR is your homeland.
My parents were divorced. I was the only man, living with my mother, nine-year-old sister and grandmother. I felt it was my responsibility to take care of them. "If we have a homeland, where we can live freely as Jews, we must go there," I said to my mother.
I nagged, begged and pleaded and finally my mother consented. It took months to convince my grandmother, who believed that it wasn't good for too many Jews to live in one place. I was studying textile design at the time (we graduate high school at 16 in Russia), and when they heard I wanted to go to Israel, I was very nearly thrown out.
I said to my grandmother, "We have no future here. Look at our history, at the present, we are not wanted. Help us, your grandchildren, have a better life – a Jewish life in the Jewish land." My grandmother looked at me with tears in her eyes. She knew I was right.
Idan with his sister, mother and grandmother before making aliyah in 1992.
Tomorrow, I will write about my moving visit with new immigrants living in Ashkelon who left at the height of the war in Georgia. On Thursday, I will share my thoughts from Tbilisi.
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To learn more about recent Jewish Agency activities in Georgia, click here.
For UJC Georgia Crisis blog, click here.