Originally from a small village outside Khmelnytskyi in Western Ukraine, Batiya wasn’t raised in a very Jewish way. Her father is Orthodox Christian, her mother is Jewish, but neither observed any religious traditions. They are both doctors and more or less secular, and not because of communism, she points out. Religion just isn’t all that important to them.
Therefore, it was a bit unusual that she signed up for a Taglit tour when she was eighteen. Then again, it was a free trip to Israel. She came, she saw, she understood: she is Jewish.
Batiya returned to Ukraine to complete her Masters of Music–nine years in total–all the while volunteering with Jewish youth groups. When she finished, she came back to Israel on a Masa program, and it was during that five month period in which she met her future husband, made aliyah and began learning Hebrew. Now, eighteen months later, she is preparing for her teaching qualification and raising her first child.
Many new immigrants from Ukraine come to Israel for economic or political reasons. My aunts and uncle did that, she says. They came to Israel twenty years ago because after the collapse of communism it was difficult to find work. They simply wanted a better life. They are Israeli and very Zionist, but not very Jewish.
Batiya, by contrast, came because she is Jewish. Not simply in the manner that she loves Israel, or that she keeps Shabbat, or that her husband is Jewish. Rather her Jewishness was reason enough to immigrate. Israel, she says, is the country of my People. I belong here.
Additional reporting by Alina Dagan