Shavei Israel scholarship project: Nadia Shishliannikov to study law and business
In this second of our two part series, we profile Nadia Shishliannikov, one of the two young Subbotnik Jews in Israel to whom Shavei Israel has given a generous scholarship to assist with her education. As part of the grant, Nadia will devote time to helping the Subbotnik Jewish community, many of whom live in Beit Shemesh. Nadia is 22-years old and made aliyah from Russia in 1999 at the age of seven. She lives today in Beit Shemesh as well.
What are you studying?
I am currently studying for my first degree at the Academic Center of Law and Business in Ramat Gan. On top of that, I have a job at the Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem. I actually started at Hadassah in 2009 when I served there as part of my national service. I worked half time in the recovery department and half time in the salary department (that’s my current job as well). It was a great place to do my national service, and I learned a lot of new things and met many interesting people.
Why did you choose to study law?
The truth is, I had never thought of studying law, especially considering the fact that most of my relatives are doctors, biologists and technicians! So the field of biology seemed more attractive to me. Still, just a week before the beginning of my studies, I received a call from the Academic Center and was invited to interview there. After learning more about the world of law, I realized that I’m really interested in legal matters. Now I’m a third year student! I think it’s important that everyone be acquainted with legal issues, at least on a basic level.
What area of law are you focusing on?
In my B.A. program I am concentrating on the branches of law that could be helpful in solving a wide range of Israeli society’s problems in the area of democracy. Given that the state of Israel is both a Jewish and democratic state, our classes are built in a special way that allows us to combine these two doctrines.
For example, my most interesting course covers the legal regulation of a Jewish community’s activities, especially migration laws. This issue is relevant and hot today, when more and more Diaspora Jews are interested in making aliyah. It’s an area that can be of great help to both Jews who choose to stay in the Diaspora and those who have already arrived in Israel and are now fighting for the approval of their Jewish status. It is very important to respect the rights of new immigrants and to fulfill their relatives’ rights for aliyah as well.
What was it like growing up Jewish in Russia?
Until I made aliyah at the age of seven, I never understood the full meaning of my Jewish heritage. Although my family and I celebrated holidays that were different from those accepted in the Christian communities around us, and although my grandmother always baked matzah for Passover – both for our family and for those relatives who didn’t know how to do it – I never paid any special attention to the fact that I was Jewish. As was typical for most Russian Jews, we couldn’t participate in all aspects of Jewish religious life, and my parents preferred not to draw attention to our Jewish roots in order to avoid anti-Semitic activity.
Only after we moved to Israel did I truly understand that we are Jews, and my parents did their best to learn more about our heritage. They sent my sister and I to study in religious schools where we had the chance to get a brilliant education in the field of Jewish studies. Today, we celebrate all the Jewish holidays and keep kosher.
Why did your parents want to move to Israel?
Until I was 7-years-old, I never knew there was such a thing as anti-Semitism and that the fact of our being Jewish could cause any problems. Then, I learned from my parents that people never liked that there are Jews in the neighborhood and that my parents always felt like they lived under pressure. We decided to follow the example of our relatives who had already moved to Israel.
How has life in Israel turned out for you?
Now, after so many years in Israel, I feel really close to Jewish tradition, and cannot even imagine how we could live in any other place. Here we feel all equal. Zionism serves as a connection between those who protect our country while living here and those who prefer to do their best while living abroad. I’m very proud of my parents’ choice and I feel 100% Israeli. I’m also very happy that my family decided to keep Jewish tradition. Faith should be expressed by actions and not just by nice words.
While most of my friends are Russian-speaking immigrants like me, I also have lots of Israeli friends who respect me and treat me as one of them. I’m very happy to have so many wonderful friends from different communities.
Do you ever miss Russia?
I don’t remember ever feeling lonely or missing my old home. I started going to school and meeting people in our neighborhood right away after we got here. Besides, many of my relatives already lived in Israel, so we were never alone. The fact that many of the girls in my school were also Russian-speakers made it easier to study together. Still, I never had problems communicating with people. I have always felt I’m in the right place and this is my home.
What parts of Israel do you like the most?
My favorite place in the country is the north: the Golan Heights, Tiberias, Nazareth. The beauty of the Galilee is stunning. Every year my friends and I travel to the north for vacation – to rest and enjoy its beautiful nature and the calm life in the small communities and villages. I will certainly consider the possibility of living somewhere in the north when I start my own family!
Have you been back to visit Russia?
About a year ago, I visited Russia with my parents. We still have some relatives from my father’s side who didn’t succeed or didn’t want to immigrate to Israel. It felt really weird: everything was different; people had changed a lot. When I came to Vysoky, it was hard for me to even recognize the place. People I used to know didn’t live there anymore and many of the current inhabitants bought their homes from Jews who moved to Israel.
Of course, it was very nice to meet our relatives again, but it’s not my native town anymore and it’s not the same country. I don’t feel like it would be a good place to live and to raise children. The values are not the same as in Israel. For me, as a law student, it was especially shocking to see to what extent corruption and discrimination has developed in the country! I’m sure I will come back to visit my relatives, but nothing more.
How will you be “giving back” to the Subbotnik Jewish community in Israel now?
I would like to help the community members learn more about our religion and traditions. More specifically, I think I could try to bridge the gap between the memories the older generation brought from Russia, and the modern traditions, culture and system of views in Israel today.
What dreams do you have for the future?
I believe that someday soon the Jewish people will finally understand how important it is to stick together. Despite all our differences, we are one nation and believe in one G-d. The Jewish people will ultimately find a way to solve all our problems in the “key” of democracy, and we will also establish peace for our country. Personally, I hope to move forward, to grow professionally, and to build a Jewish family that will keep Jewish tradition together with my parents and the people with whom I am closest.