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People of The Book

editor - 31 July 2019

“Kniga” is a Russian word that means “book”. Today I will tell you a story of a Jewish family with the name Kniga. Jews and Christians were traditionally both called “People of the Book” by Moslims.

As Maimonides writes:
“Every Jew is bound to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, healthy or ill, young or old. Even if he is a pauper who derives his livelihood from charity, or if he has family obligations to his wife and children, he must still keep fixed times for Torah study ― both day and night, as  Joshua 1:8 says: “You shall think about it day and night””.

Who is brave enough to start everything from scratch, children or parents? When parents feel uncertain, children are the first to make aliyah (go to Israel)! This scenario happened in the family of Alexander and Nina Kniga four years ago when their sons Maxim and Evgeni announced to the parents as a fait accompli: “We are going to make aliyah right now”! “My Max was by then 12 years old,” – says Nina. So they did, Evgeni first and after two years also Maxim made aliyah, did their learning in boarding schools and missed their parents a lot. But very quickly they became real Israelis. Both of them had “Shabbat Parents”, families where they could come for weekends or holidays. Evgeni didn’t have much luck with his “adoptive family”, but Maxim really hit it off with his Shabbat Parents.

One day before the eldest son, Evgeni left for Israel

After two years of waiting for every call or message from their children Alexander and Nina finally felt that they are ready for the big step of aliyah. Their split family became an integral whole again!

In December 2018 Alexander and Nina left behind their life in Moscow and boarded a plane to Israel. That’s how they arrived to their First Home in the Homeland, located in the North of the country, in the kibbutz Yagur near Haifa.

It’s still almost impossible for us to come all together at the same time in the same place, – tells Nina me, – Evgeni is now in the army, Maxim in the boarding school, we are in the Hebrew course five days a week”. But still the feeling of being together is so valuable!

Before leaving to Israel Nina and Alexander gave away   almost all their belongings that didn’t fit into three bags of 23 kilograms each. The most painful was saying farewell to their books! So the Kniga family decided to bring their most valuable and beloved books to the office of the Jewish Agency in Moscow.  One of them was a “Remembrance book” about the Holocaust victims. The Kniga family owned volumes one and three. Silently Nina left the books on the shelf in the office of JAFI. How surprised she was when the next week she saw on the same shelf four volumes instead of two! Someone else got inspired by their idea….

“Our Jewishness was always a forbidden theme in our family. My grandfather changed his name, but you cannot change your Jewish looks, – Nina laughs.

In 1952-1953 Joseph Stalin organized in Moscow an antisemitic campaign against Jewish doctors. They were accused of conspiring to kill Soviet leaders. Both of Nina’s grandparents were doctors, her grandfather invented a special measurement tool for burnt skin. He was close to being arrested, but at the last moment the director of the hospital where he worked sent all his family on a long-term mission to Mongolia, away from Moscow. It saved his life  and all his family members too.

Dr. Michael Shraiber, grandfather of Nina, demonstrates his invention

Today the grand-grandchildren of doctor Shraiber can say openly that they are Jews, they can fearlessly choose every profession and are evaluated without any prejudice.

This family got reunited in Israel thanks to your support! Alexander and Nina are one of more than two hundred and forty-five families that made aliyah via the First Home in the Homeland program in 2018. Now our “busy season” is well under way, we’re getting ready for August, when First Home opens its doors in five regions of Israel at the same time, for over one hundred families to arrive. And every one of them has his or her own story!

Orly Vohlstein
First Home in the Homeland
Jewish Agency for Israel

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