For my family, Judaism was a darkly kept secret, practiced underground and behind closed doors. My mother's parents and grandparents suffered in Siberian exile; my father’s in Stalinist labor camps. My paternal grandfather, at age six, watched his own father be shot dead by the Russian Army. For three years my maternal grandfather and his family literally lived in a hole in the ground in Siberian tundra, scrambling to find morsels of food. Their strong connection to Judaism was crushed under the weight of indoctrination, demoralization, and fight for survival.
My parents grew up in a small Moldovan town in Communist Russia devoid of Judaism. After my parents met and got married, they started their life in the small town of Beltsy populated with many other unaffiliated Jews.
In 1990 after the fall of Communism, when I was almost two, my parents quickly left Moldova to join my aunt living in Toronto.
My parents were like most Russian immigrants who wanted to give their children opportunities they never had. They had one main focus in my upbringing: Education. They taught me to pursue knowledge, excellence, and success in all my endeavors, and to take leadership positions wherever they arise.
In the first year of my Business Management program at Ryerson University in Toronto, my sister introduced me to an Aish campus program called Maimonides Leadership Fellowships. As someone who valued knowledge, I was shocked to discover that there was an entire body of Jewish wisdom and erudition that I never heard of.
After each session, I'd run home, go to Aish.com and investigate the topic we’d discussed that night – relationships, philosophy, Israel, the Holocaust. Aish.com quickly became my own “Jewish Google” home page. I was fascinated by Rabbi Noah Weinberg's 48 Ways to Wisdom and Aish.com's perspectives on current events. Aish.com showed me that as Jews we not only have a responsibility for each other, but for the entire world as well.
As I started connecting to the Jewish community that I never knew existed, I would share Aish.com articles with friends and family, and post them on my Facebook page. At school, we would play Aish.com videos in the public square for Yom Ha’Atzmaut and Israel Pride Week.
My dream was to build a multi-national marketing corporation, making a million before the age of 30. But the more Jewish learning I did, the more I asked myself what is really going to give me meaning in my life? After graduating, I decided to come to Aish Jerusalem, to deepen the wisdom and knowledge I picked up on Aish.com. For me, it was worth putting the million on hold – for now.
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From dark Jewish secrets under Communism to learning Torah across from the Western Wall, I am grateful to the Aish.com team for jumpstarting my passion for Jewish learning and giving me a greater sense of responsibility to fulfill our mission of Tikkun Olam (fixing our world).