"One day in 1992 I ran into a friend who worked at the Jewish Agency," recalls Yigal Klebansky. He invited me to a student camp run by the Jewish Ageny in Baku. "I didn't know what to say. I had no idea what it was. 'You won't be sorry,' he promised Yigal, then Igor, a 23 year old engineering student in Tbilisi. 'It will be interesting.'"
|"The kids in the summer camp are so excited to be able to sing about Israel and Jerusalem in Russian!" says Yigal Klebansky, who fell in love with Judaism when he himself attended a student camp in Baku. |
His words proved to be prophetic. "In camp I saw a map, and learned about Eretz Yisrael. My heart was aflame. I went to Baku and came back a different person. I came back a Jew."
Dropping his previous professional plans, he found jobs in Jewish organizations and married a young woman from a traditional home who had studied at the Jewish Agency's Machon Gold in Israel.
In August 1999 the couple came to Israel with their newborn daughter, and moved to Bat Yam. But Jerusalem was tugging on Yigal's heartstring. He approached the Jewish Agency, begging, "Let me do something for the Jewish people."
He was sent to serve as a counselor at one of the Agency's student camps in Kharkov. "In my group," he says, "was a girl who informed me at the beginning of the session that she was moving to Germany with her parents. By the session's end, two weeks later, she had decided to go to Israel instead. I felt that I had found my calling. I knew I had to continue to help Jews remain Jews."
At the campYigal who had been writing songs and poetry since he was 16, wrote a song about Jerusalem. It proved so popular that he continued writing poems and songs, which he began to use as educational tools in subsequent camp sessions. "The kids are so excited to be able to sing about Israel and Jerusalem in Russian!" he says. The following excerpt from one of his poems, "Jerusalem Dreams," reflects his great love for Israel.
Shalom Eretz Yisrael! Shalom Eretz Yisrael,
You surely know all I have dreamed
Every night, I take wing, like a bird
To the Old City, to the Kotel, to Mt. Carmel.
In my dreams I call your name; waking, I see your likeness;
At dawn, I suddenly realize, it wasn't a dream....
Last year Yigal was appointed Coordinator of Contests at the Jewish Agency's Education Department. He is responsible for preparing the material for Russian speaking participants in the annual Bible contest and the Jewish identity contest sponsored by the Jewish Agency. Close to 2000 participants in the former Soviet Union take part in the contests in the initial stage.
"There are so many people who are like I was, who know nothing," he stresses. We must invite them to their first camp. We must help Jews be Jews and remain Jews."
Credit: Text by Shifra Paikin / Photo by Shimi Nachtailer
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