15 Mar Shavei Israel scholarship project: Vitaly Grigorenko to study environmental engineering in Jerusalem
Shavei Israel has given two young Subbotnik Jews in Israel generous scholarships to assist them with their education. As part of the grant, they will devote time to helping the Subbotnik Jeiwsh community, many of whom live in Beit Shemesh. In the next two issues of Shavei’s Roots newsletter, we will profile the recipients. First off: Vitaly Grigorenko, 27, who made aliyah from Voronezh in southern Russia in 2003. He lives in Beit Shemesh today.
What are you studying?
Currently I’m enrolled in the environmental engineering program at Hadassah College in Jerusalem. I have always been interested in science and nature, both of which are part of the degree. Environmental engineering is quite a promising field of study, and I hope to have the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of the ecological situation in Israel and all over the world.
Did you serve in the army?
Yes, I served in the IDF for three years (2007-2010). I have a rank of staff sergeant and I regularly do reserve duty in the “bailout battalion.” I like the army.
What was it like growing up Jewish in Russia?
When we lived in Russia, I attended only synagogue on special occasions. My family and I lived in Voronezh, and only had a chance to visit Vysoky [where most of the Subbotnik Jewish community in southern Russia is concentrated] once a year for summer holidays, and only in my childhood, so I didn’t have a chance to become an integral part of the community. Now, in Israel, of course, the situation is totally different.
I’ve identified myself as a Jew since I was a teenager. Before that, my father was a member of the Communist party, so we avoided any discussions concerning our Jewish roots and religion, even after the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist.
Did you experience anti-Semitism growing up?
Unfortunately, yes, especially in school, both from my fellow students and from some teachers as well. It definitely impacted my parent’s decision to immigrate to Israel, although less so for me, at least at first. My grandmother always talked to me about Israel and the Jewish religion, but I only found it important when I grew older.
How did you prepare for aliyah?
I did a lot of research before we came to Israel by turning to Jewish books and other sources of information. I felt well-prepared for the new style of life I found here. And I have always enjoyed living here. I love Israel and I feel very well integrated into Israeli society.
What are your favorite parts of the country?
Jerusalem – especially the city center and the Old City! I’m amazed by its rich and exciting history. I also like visiting Eilat and the Red Sea with its relaxing resort town atmosphere. There are many magnificent places in the Negev desert where at night you can see countless stars. The truth is, the list of my favorite places in Israel is even longer, and that in itself is very meaningful for me. Also, most of my friends are now Israeli.
What is your relationship to Russia now that you live in Israel?
I traveled to Russia once after we immigrated and, in general, the trip was positive. My brother and his family still live there. But Israel is the place my heart belongs to, and I have never thought of staying in Russia. Not only that, I must admit that my devotion to Jewish tradition is much stronger here in the Holy Land.
What plans do you have for the future?
It’s very simple: I want to live in a free, Jewish state with peace and prosperity prevailing. I want to get a good higher education, to travel as much as possible to understand the world better, and then to create a strong family and raise healthy children. And, through my degree in environmental engineering, I want to contribute to the improvement of this world.