“I feel so happy in Israel and have self-confidence that I didn’t have in Russia. We couldn’t afford music lessons there, but I joined the orchestra in Meir Shfeyah, and I love it.”
So says Sasha Stepanova, 17, a student at Meir Shfeyah Youth Aliyah Village in northern Israel. A native of Petrozavodsk, Russia, 600 miles north of Moscow on the Baltic Sea, Sasha has been at Shfeyah for three years and is a player in the village’s famed Mandolin Orchestra.
In October the Mandolin Orchestra traveled to Jerusalem to perform with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a thrilling concert honoring Hadassah’s Keepers of the Gate, donors who give a $1,000 or more annual gift to Hadassah. A recording of the concert, “Youth Aliyah: The Magic, the Music, the Mission,” is available here.
Among the other players in the youth orchestra is Polina Nicolaeva, 16, from Samara, an industrial city 500 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River. She’s been in Israel for a year. Music was a natural link for her because she studied piano for eight years. “I heard about Shfeyah, that I could combine my love of music with a high level of studies. I want to be a doctor, and I need a good school.” Her younger sister Liza came with her, and now they’re playing duets together.
Mussa Kurtzeitov, 16, comes from the city of Taraz in far-off Kazakhstan and arrived in Israel just half a year go. “I wanted to leave Kazakhstan to study abroad. Kids here ask more questions and can express their creative ideas. At home you had to study a fixed curriculum. Here I can choose what I like. I never played an instrument, but at Shfeyah I’ve become a drummer.”
Valery Ignatiev, 17, is from Kirovohrad, Ukraine, and has been at Shfeyah for two years. “I had no interest in music until COVID-19. We were isolated in Meir Shfeyah. All the instruments were just sitting there. I started playing. In two days I was reading notes and I haven’t stopped since. I love this country—everything about it—the language, the history, the people. I’m so glad to be in Israel.”
Youth Aliyah has been rescuing young Jewish children since its inception in Germany in 1933. Today, its villages are home to hundreds of at-risk Israeli youth as well as young immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.