A group of Jewish students from Moscow arrived in Israel with the Taglit program just recently, part of a special program called Mahut Yisrael, the Essence of Israel. The program entailed meeting and touring with a group of 17 IDF officers, and the talk turned to Jewish identity, Russian identity and what Israel is all about.
One young participant said that before coming to Israel, he had never understood why people bothered to learn Hebrew. He thought “it was a language that died 2,000 years ago,” he related.
“When I got to Israel I realized that it isn’t just a language, but part of my heritage and my family. My grandfather’s grandfather prayed in Hebrew,” he said.
During their tour, the students and officers saw sites emphasizing Russian Jewry’s role in establishing the state of Israel. Among the places they visited were a camp for immigration to Israel in Atlit, a hydropower plant established by a Russian-Israeli, and Tel Hai, where Yosef Trumpeldor, legendary one-armed Israeli hero and a Russian-born Jew, died in 1920 defending the pioneer village from Arab attackers. He was said to have declared "It is good to die for our country."
Many of the IDF officers who took part in the tour are Russian-born. One related, “I have a Hebrew name and I always felt uncomfortable saying that my mother is called Ludmilla, because people would start asking, ‘Oh, you’re Russian?’
“But now I realize that our [Russian] forefathers contributed much so that we would have our own country. Being Russian isn’t something to be ashamed of.”