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Where Russians from Miami Meet Russians from Yerucham

Updated: Apr 3

The following posts capture the unique and amazing experiences of Zev and Alla Fayngold, Miami residents who are participating in the Volunteer in the Negev program. Originally from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), Zev and Alla’s volunteer assignment was specifically designed to introduce and connect them to the Russian immigrant community in the Negev. Please enjoy this summary of Zev and Alla’s first days in Yerucham and their amazing and inspiring volunteer experiences.


We arrived in Israel on Thursday, April 30. We’ve been to Israel three times before but hadn’t been back since 2008. We immediately noticed how clean and smooth the new roads are – a lot of new overpasses and highways. Despite leaving the airport for Yerucham at the peak of rush hour, traffic was not heavy and we saw many new towns on the way. The desert slowly emerges and we passed a large new military base under construction as we arrived in Yerucham.

We are staying at the Iris in the Desert Hotel. This hotel is new, lovely and boasts contemporary design. Rooms are airy and spacious. We ate dinner in the dining room and found the food tasty and plentiful. The staff is friendly as well and so far everyone we meet is friendly and appreciative of our effort to come to help and we are very eager to start.

On Friday, May 1, we toured the town with Debbie Golan from Atid BaMidbar and Michal Melker from the Miami Partnership. We were driven to the far end of town and Debbie gave us an historical overview of the Yerucham of ancient time (~5000 BC) to today. We stood overlooking the town and it did not look like a place “lost in the desert,” rather like a well-planned community – separate area for industry and neighborhoods.

The view from high-up was lovely and romantic. We walked the main street and had the opportunity to shop in the local supermarket, stop at the post office and in the town library. We saw aerial maps of the town from its early days of development through today as well as paintings by local artists on the walls of the library. As it was Friday, we returned to our hotel before Shabbat for lunch and Debbie left us to cook for her family.

Alla and I were hosted for Friday night dinner by Aleks and Svetlana Glushak. Alecks came to Israel in 1993 with one son. A second child was born here. Alecks’ oldest son is now 28 years old and works in Beer Sheba in Information Technology at a local factory. Their daughter is in her first year of military service, serving in the Israeli Airforce. The dinner was prepared Russian-style – plenty of Borsht, famous Russian beet soup! It turns out we are from the same town and the whole evening we shared stories of our new lives, showed photographs….. Alecks even helped me to fix my cell phone.

Alecks added a second floor to the house bought and have a little garden with vegetables. What a lovely and happy family.

On Shabbat, we went with Debbie Golan from Atid BaMidbar to the local synagogue. It is an orthodox shul and men and women sit separately. I do not read Hebrew but just enjoyed listening to the music of the Hebrew prayers and was given the honor at the end to roll the Torah scroll back. The shul was full of people of all ages and people were dressed casually – short sleeve shirts, sandals.

On Sunday, 3 May, we began our volunteer assignment. We are working through Atid BaMidbar where we met with Irena. We gave her supplies we had brought with us, including spiral pads of paper, several dozen pens, markers, Russian language Miami newspapers and magazines, including the Jewish Forward, tape cassette players with Hebrew songs, car phones, paperclips, daily medicine holders, and white-boards.

We exchanged personal family stories with Irena about our emigration from Russia – she in 1993 and we in 1979.

We went to meet Larissa at the Russian neighborhood club to listen to Hebrew and Russian songs by Russian Senior choir.

We had the opportunity to listen to an interview with a Russian Holocaust survivor, Natan.

During lunch, we met with Rena Genn from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and met the rest of our volunteer friends. And later in the day we met with the Nativ participants from the United States who are spending a gap year in Israel and several months volunteering in Yerucham. We ended this very full day by writing my speech in Russian for this coming Thursday’s Victory Day celebration. Victory Day celebrates the victory over the Nazis in WWII. I translated my speech into English and Hebrew using Google Translate!

Monday 4 May, 2015

Alla and I spent more time with Irena to discuss the interview process with the veterans. We viewed a video of a sample interview before having lunch with Debbie and Irena. Debbie brought food from her home to Atid BaMidbar and it was delicious! Debbie spoke with us about Limmud Miami and Limmud Yerucham – we probed different aspects of using a video about the Russian community in Yerucham.

During the afternoon, we participated in the Engliyada by working with a Russian woman named Inna. Her English is good and we encouraged her to construct full sentences and talk about subjects she knows.

In the evening we visited the Russian Veteran’s Museum where there were impressive hand-made models of tanks and other war memorials. We saw an amazing film made by one of the Museum’s volunteers.

Tuesday, 5 May

Today we got a ride with a local to Beer Sheba where we met up again with Irena and together took a bus to Kiryat Gat, another development town in the Negev. We participated in a special ceremony for Victory Day. There were more than 200 people attending the ceremony, including veterans with their medals and uniforms. The ceremony included a concert featuring songs from the WWII era – between 1941-1945.

We met a lot of people, talked and reminisced about our families and our past in Kiev. We were participants in life(!) here and are not just passive tourists.

At 5:00 pm we participated again in the Engliyada and after dinner we visited an Indian Synagogue, listened to the history of the Indian Jewish community. We then participated in an Indian drumming workshop.

Zev Fayngold

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