Israeli more than anything else. Ella Elisha
Photo: Avi Moalem

Ella finally feels at home

From Russia to Ramla – through India: After traveling across India for more than a decade, Ella Elisha runs into group of hikers who help her discover her Jewish roots. Short visit to Israel prompts her to return, and after converting to Judaism and marrying an Israeli, she finally has a place she can call home

Two and a half years after immigrating to Israel, Ella Elisha finds it hard to believe that her 13-year travels across India ended in the Jewish state of all places.


She was born as Tatiana in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, which she left at the age of 23. She's not very fluent in Hebrew, and yet in her home in Ramla – which is filled with mixed sounds of Hindi, Russian, Hebrew and English – she feels Israeli more than anything else.


Ella was born to a Jewish father and Russian mother, into a family which did not view national identity as important. "I grew up in a typical Soviet home, with a physics professor as a father and a doctor as a mother. My father never concealed his Judaism from his close surroundings, but did not emphasize it either because it was pretty dangerous at the time."


After graduating from high school and taking music lessons, Ella began studying economics at a local university. She soon felt the need for emotional calm, however, and decided to leave her books behind and join some friends on a trip to India.

Ella (Tatiana) Elisha with her son. 'Typical Soviet home' (Photo: Avi Moalem)


She studied meditation, yoga and philosophy – but at a certain stage, while her friends exhausted their spiritual journey and returned home, Ella decided to leave the country of her birth and start a new life in a new place she was enchanted by.


"I was born in an amazing place," she says in an almost apologetic tone, "but I admit that I never managed to connect to Russia as a country for reasons I still can't put my finger on. I always knew that I would not be able to continue living there."


She soon began working as a tour guide. Shortly afterwards, she met her first husband, an American who did most of his business in India. The relationship became serious, and after they were married she felt she had reached a state of tranquility.


"He's a wealthy man with a very high standard of living. I could afford not to work, so I studied a lot, volunteered and tried to contribute to society." Their son, Rom, was born later on, and the three moved to the United States together.


Life in the land of opportunities continued until the family decided to return to India, where Ella and her husband went their separate ways. "We got divorced and he chose not to stay in touch with us. I was left alone, on the street, with a small child and without any money – and I had to survive. I began working as a tour guide again and was very successful," she says with a smile. "I'm an optimistic person and I believe that's what helped me survive at the time."


Language that led to a change

Ella and her son's life slowly returned to normal. It all changed when she ran into a group of Israeli hikers. The sounds of the Hebrew language made her realize that her journey wasn't over just yet.


"I couldn't understand a word, but I felt connected to that language," she explained. "Later, I also met Chabad emissaries who invited me to the synagogue, where I saw a Torah scroll for the first time in my life."


Conversations with the Israelis she met and events at the local Chabad center aroused her curiosity about their country of origin. At the advice of those Israelis, she decided to take her son to Israel for a week. That visit turned out to be the most significant event of her life. "Although I couldn't understand what people were saying on the street, I immediately felt that I had found my place and that I would return. I walked around Jerusalem and simply felt at home."


Upon her return to India, Ella met with other Israelis and began visiting a local Israeli restaurant run by Hagai – who later became her husband. "My son and I used to eat there, and that's how we connected," she says.


The relationship went on for several years before they moved in together. When Hagai decided it was time to return to Israel, it was clear that Ella and her son would be joining him.


Elisha. 'I walked around Jerusalem and felt at home' (Photo: Avi Moalem)


In Israel, Ella went through a conversion process, and grew closer to her husband's traditional family. "My mentality was different than that of his family. Although my father is Jewish, I wasn’t considered a Jew at the time, so I converted. It helped me connect to Hagai's family, and I also enjoy observing Shabbat."


After completing her Hebrew studies, Ella began working at the municipal absorption department in Ramla, her new hometown, where she began teaching English to new immigrants of all ages from the former Soviet Union. Next year, she even plans to take part in the Immigrant Absorption Ministry's "Jewish Identity" program.


"I was afraid that Rom wouldn't find his place in Israel and would have trouble learning the language," she admits. But she soon realized that there was no reason for concern, especially when it comes to a child who is already fluent in Hindi, English and Russian.


"Two weeks later he already began talking in Hebrew with all of my husband's nephews," his mother says proudly. "And in Israel of all places, his Russian improved. Only recently I asked him if he would like to go back to India, and he said that he would – but not for more than two weeks."


Ella's family. Four languages in one house (Photo: Avi Moalem)


But the long journey she went through and her love for Israel were not enough to convince her other family members to join her. Ella's parents immigrated to Germany about a decade ago, following in the footsteps of her brother. Although his Jewish identity was never an important part of his life, Ella says her father was extremely moved when she first told him of her decision to move to Israel.


"My father has heart problems and is not allowed to fly, so he couldn't visit us in Israel. I was very surprised when he, a fervent atheist, began crying when I called him and told him I was in Israel."


'Life in India a good preparation for Israel'

But in spite of all the excitement, Ella's father was less than impressed by the state authorities. His daughter arrived in Israel with a tourist visa, and when she turned to the Interior Ministry asking to be recognized as a new immigrant, she was required to prove her Jewish roots.


"Some documents were missing and a government worker called my father and put him on the speaker. He got very angry, and told her that she should just come and give us all blood tests to prove that he is my Jewish father."


And yet, despite the bureaucratic difficulties, Ella has not despaired and still views the State of Israel in a positive light. "The Israelis are very open – it's something I was fond of while still in India. I also appreciate their attitude towards the family: Regardless of the children's age, visiting one's parents on Shabbat and holidays is a must. Israel may be noisy and disorderly, but the 13 years I spent in India were a good preparation," she smiles.


Her time in Israel, during which her husband was called to reserve duty in Gaza, has left its mark on her and made her feel Israeli in the full sense of the word. "Although I've only been here for a short while, I can say that it feels good. My husband is a reserve soldier, when my son grows up he'll join the IDF, and I teach new immigrants."


The cultural mosaic her family is comprised of has led to a new – and modest – vision: "I dream of opening a restaurant where we will serve ethnic food – Russian, Tunisian like my husband, and Indian," she concludes.



פרסום ראשון: 10.26.10, 20:28
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