My name is Carina Grigorjeva and I am 17 years old. I was born and still live in the town of Chop – I know it sounds funny, but there is such a town – in western Ukraine, near the border of Slovakia and Hungary. There are almost 9,000 people in our town; some who live on the outskirts still use a horse and wagon to get around. There's a big railway station where almost everyone, including my father, works.
My mother is Jewish and my father is not. My mother always told me and my brother that we are Jewish, but we knew almost nothing about religion, and I didn't know any other Jews in our town. I remember once when I was little, we had apples and honey on Rosh Hashana, but that was the only “Jewish thing” we did together.
I was the only Jew in my whole school, and I always felt different and a little uncomfortable, especially during the Christian holidays. Sometimes people would make jokes about the Jews, but for me it wasn't funny at all. There was one boy who, every time someone complained, would say, "Why are you acting like such a Jew?" As if Jews always complain for no reason.
I wanted to leave Ukraine and attend university in Hungary. But I came home from school one day and my mother told me I was invited to the Jewish University in Odessa. I had never heard of such a place, but my mother convinced me to visit. Once I was there, I immediately wanted to stay. The people there really impressed me, and I realized how important it was for me to study among Jews.
A friend at the university subscribed me to Aish.com without telling me. At first I read it because I was curious. Then I found the Lori Palatnik videos. She spoke about the importance of the Jewish home, about respecting your parents, and told stories of seeing God in your life. Her examples were so easy to relate to, and they influenced me very much.
Aish.com has done so much for me. I feel like I'm really learning about who I am. Now I understand the importance of so many things like keeping kosher and Shabbat. I use to feel like something is missing but I didn't know what exactly. Now I know.
Through Aish.com I feel connected to a whole community of Jews from around the world. It’s great to be a member of this big, Jewish family – especially when for so long I felt like the only one.
I got a siddur (prayer book) as a present last week. I can't read Hebrew very well, so I wake up an hour early to pray. It takes me a long time, but it feels amazing.
I visit Aish.com a few times every day. To help me remember what I read, I began a book of quotes. One I recently put in my book: "Every Jew is born with a little Torah and a little menorah inside of him. All it takes is for another Jew to bump into him and light it up."
When I read that, I thought of my friend who subscribed me to Aish.com. I told him, "You are the one who lit my menorah."