August 27, 2008 / 26 Av 5768
Visiting Georgian New Immigrants Airlifted During the War
Idan (bottom left) at Kibbutz Ulpan during his first year in Israel, 1992
Today, I visited new immigrants from Georgia living at Jewish Agency absorption centers, to prepare for my trip. As I drove along the coastal road to Ashdod, I reflected on my own aliyah 16 years ago – the warmth of the Israelis who brought us warm clothes in winter and the opportunities I was given as a young man on the threshold of adulthood. Even now, so many years later, I sometimes pinch myself to see if I am dreaming.
I felt a mixture of sadness and joy (isn't that the story of our people, always remembering tragedy in the midst of our happiness.) Sadness that 60 years after the Holocaust there are still Jews running from war. And happiness, that unlike the Holocaust, they now have their own country to come to.
Eter and Yosef Dabrashvili at the absorption center. I told Eter I will try to find her mother, who is completely paralyzed and is being taken care of by her brother, when I go to Gori. I will give her this picture if I succeed.
I entered the absorption center and met Eter Dabrashvili, a 20-year-old woman from Gori who hid with her husband Yosef until the bombs stopped falling. Her uncle told them to come to Tbilisi - the Jewish Agency and Israeli consulate would help them. They arrived with no money and no possessions. They left Eter's mother, who is totally paralyzed, behind. "Go to Israel," she told them. "You have your whole life ahead of you." Two days later, they were miraculously on a plane to Israel.
The senior citizens were heartbreaking. Eighty-five-year-old Moshe Genashvili proudly fought in the Soviet army against the Nazis in WWII. He never thought he'd see the day that the Russians would attack the Georgians. "It was the shock of my life," said Moshe, as silent tears slid slowly down his cheeks.
His proud stance reminded me of my grandfather, who had spent years in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia, refused the right to come to Israel until the last days of his life.
Moshe Genashvili (right), an 85-year-old WWII Soviet Army veteran, who is still in shock from the Russian attack.
But amidst the sorrow, I saw the hope. These people were not refugees. They were now Israeli citizens. The absorption center staff was by their side day and night. They had a temporary home until they got on their feet. They received a "basket of services", including a monthly stipend.
I am leaving late tonight for Georgia. I am apprehensive and excited. I don't know what awaits me there. It is similar to how I felt the first time I returned to the former Soviet Union 10 years after I left. I was a Jewish Agency emissary to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. When I arrived I was shocked to see that Jews were still living in ignorance and fear. I vowed that I would do everything I could to change this.
I have not veered from this course, returning over and over again to work with Russian-speaking Jews. And I fervently pray that I will be able to make some small difference for my fellow Jews in Georgia.
New immigrants from Georgia with Asher Seyum (middle),
Director of the Beit Canada Absorption Center in Ashdod.
Tomorrow, I will write from Georgia.
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