As I join the incredible team of Israel Today’s writers, I would like to introduce myself and bring you in to my adventurous journey as a girl who immigrated to Israel with her family, and found her home, life and salvation in this God-chosen country.
I hope that my little story can inspire you and show you how God works in our lives and the importance of your love, prayers and support for His land and people.
I was born in Kharkov, Ukraine 33 years ago, and grew up with a very blurry picture about my identity and my Jewish roots. Back in the day, Ukraine and Russia dwelled in peace with each other and I grew up not even understanding the difference between being Ukrainian and Russian, let alone being a Ukrainian with Jewish roots.
I have memories of Jewish songs playing in the background during long weekend afternoons, and then decorating a tree for Christmas and singing songs for Santa! There was always endless talk about our family moving to Israel one day, but life went on as “normal” for months and years.
I remember my grandfather, who lost family in the Holocaust, singing songs in Yiddish and having discussions with words we couldn’t understand. Side by side, I also remember my then-atheist father taking me to light candles in an Orthodox church. My life was confusing, but you may have guessed that already – my name is Christina Cohen!
I always knew there was a God and even prayed to him when I had trouble, but I couldn’t figure out his real name or identity, or mine. I was about 8-years-old when conversations about making Aliyah became frequent and my parents started gathering documents and permissions. I heard more and more about what a wonderful country Israel was; a modern country, clean and spotless, where we are going to have a better life. But I can’t recall being taught that I was a Jew, and our homeland is Israel. Why is it important to be taught this?
Preparing for our Aliyah, we would spend evenings trying to learn Hebrew from dictionaries and textbooks, imagining the new and exciting life that was ahead of us. My grandmother would tell us bedtime stories about our future homeland and the only downside seemed to be saying goodbye to the friends that we would leave behind.
As the big day approached, my family were selling all their belongings, keeping just the things that were valuable and hard to get back then. My generation would never understand why they insisted on taking things like carpets and vacuum cleaners with them to a new land that is modern and abundant. Or why was it so hard to leave behind belongings like curtains, fans and painting machines. What is this? But they were the generation after WWII and leaving behind things that took years of effort to obtain was a real sacrifice. As those sacrifices were made, we were ready to go.
We traveled to Odessa and from there we got on a ship to Israel. The journey lasted 3 days that were no fun at all. We got seasick and were exhausted, but we knew where we were headed, and it gave us the strength to remain positive.
I remember the lights of Haifa the night we arrived to Israel. As our ship ported, I took a big breath and looked at the dark skies above. There was this atmosphere of celebration in the air, followed by laughter, excitement and a mix of joyful noises. We were welcomed by a group of Christian volunteers who served us some snacks and were full of joy over our arrival. Back then my family knew little to nothing about the Bible and the God of Israel, but something amazing started to happen spiritually once our feet stepped on the holy ground.
The volunteers that greeted us sat me (then 8) and my younger sister (6) on their shoulders, and proclaimed the verse from Isaiah 49:22 – “Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.”
None of us could understand the spiritual and prophetical meaning of these verses, but my mom paid attention and remembered this special moment. The volunteers, who were ordered not to preach the gospel to new immigrants simply prayed for us and helped us get settled for the night.
Life was perfect. Or so we thought. There was still a long way to go before a girl named Christina would find herself at home in the Jewish nation, a true daughter of Zion, and a Cohen!