I spent the first 34 years of my life in Saratov, a city on the Volga river in central Russia, where my family moved shortly after my birth in Ussuriisk in far eastern Russia. My mother was a Ph.D. who worked in higher education and my father a dental specialist. I had a happy childhood, dearly loved by my parents, grandmother and older brother. We were a Jewish family, but did not practice Judaism in our home.
I earned a master's degree in Modern English and German from Saratov State Teachers Training College and a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Kalinin State University near Moscow. I met and married my husband while in college, and we had a son. We were both working and financially stable, but still felt a strong desire to leave Russia. We simply did not see a future for ourselves there, and I had within, `an unexplainable sense, some urgent call to leave.' Initially we planned to move to the U.S., where many family members had already immigrated, but at that time America closed its doors to Russian Jews, so in September 1990 we moved to Israel.
Unlike many other newcomers to Israel, our life there for the next eight years was happy and comfortable. Both my husband and I found jobs in our fields, and the people in our modern neighborhood in Jerusalem gave us a warm welcome, inviting us to synagogue and to their homes for Shabbat and holiday dinners. I fell in love with Israel from the moment we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport. Learning Hebrew, studying to be a tour guide, teaching English to college students, making new friends, traveling around Israel — my life was filled with excitement!
Our calm life was briefly int?rrupted by the Gulf War, and later made anxious by the increasing attacks of the Palestinians. In 1998 we won a U.S. government lottery for green cards and decided to move to America. We still loved our life in Israel but felt that this was not our final destination. My friends were asking why I was leaving, and once I heard myself reply, `Maybe I'm leaving to find God.'
The first time I held a Bible in my hand was as a high school graduate. I picked up a copy, read the first several pages, and set it aside.
Years later when I moved to Israel, I attended seminars on the history of the Holy Land. At one I was given a Hebrew-Russian translation of the Tanach —all the books of the Bible except the New Testament. During one of the excursions to some monastery I received a Bible in Russian, both Old and New Testaments. I placed all of these books on a shelf and seldom read from them.
While living in Israel, I also took a tour guide course, which included visits to Biblical sites and presentations of Bible stories from a cultural point of view. Our guides told us that Jewish religious tradition is hostile to Jesus, and that most Jews in Israel would never
take a New Testament into their hands. Despite such instruction, I found myself wondering, `Why are Judaism and Christianity two different religions? Why aren't they just one faith? Yet I was far from believing in Jesus as Messiah. My rational mind would not accept the virgin birth, the resurrection or miracles.
An American teaching colleague first told me that Jesus was the Messiah promised to the Jewish people by the prophets. He told me I needed to believe in Yeshua and suggested that I repeat a prayer after him. I agreed to do so, but there was no repentance in my heart, and I saw no real changes in my attitude or behavior. Yet the act of that prayer had some effect; my heart started to open up. My mind, however, still struggled with questions. Even if Jesus is what the Bible says about Him, did He come only for Gentiles? Should Jewish people believe in Him or has their true Messiah not yet come?
Soon after I moved to New York, my American colleague and his wife returned to the U.S. They sent me Christian books, such as those by Corry Ten Boom. My college students and friends brought me books to read too, books on how to become a magician, how to change your karma, how to cure yourself through energy flows. I tried some yoga, Tai Chi, Kabbalah and astrology. Now when I reflect on this period, I know I was in a battle for my soul.
During that time I began receiving unsolicited newsletters from Jews for Jesus. One day I lay on my bed reading one which featured the story of a young Jewish woman. After her rabbi father had died, she came across his Tanach, with bookmarks for several passages including Isaiah 53. This passage describing the Messiah had been circled, and in the margin was written, “IT'S HE!”
It was the first time I had read that prophecy. With my heart beating vigorously, I jumped from my bed and started pacing the room. Then I found myself on my knees, crying and asking God's forgiveness. I repented and sincerely asked Jesus into my life. However, as time passed, I began to have doubts. I still had so many questions!
A few months after moving to Denver, I noticed a flyer at a Russian food store. The flyer included the testimony of a Jewish believer and a phone number for Menorah Ministries. My call was answered by Anatoliy, the pastor of Hope of Israel Messianic Congregation. When I met with Anatoliy and Jeff (an international missionary), we had one of my most interesting conversations on spiritual issues. I eagerly accepted the materials they offered to read, but then left, not to return for a year.
During that difficult year I read the Bible and prayed, but also sought the advice of an astrologer. I was looking for answers to many issues concerning the true faith, the Jewish roots of Christianity, how and when those roots were forgotten, how to return to the source if it was at all possible… However, in the course of time, I started to get inner assurance of the need to make my choice. I understood that I needed to learn more about the God of the Bible and the Gospel. Finally, I again called Anatoliy, and started attending the congregation he pastored. The things I heard during the services, both the sermons and hymns, were deeply touching my soul. I started longing to get “in the shadow of His wings”… After several months I asked God for forgiveness for my unbelief and confessed my sins, as many as I could remember, this time with full awareness. Later, I was baptized and for almost nine years now have been attending the Hope of Israel congregation and Bible studies, where the discussions of how Scripture meets real life situations have been very helpful.”
Knowing how difficult it is to truly come to God and to start to see Jesus as Divine, especially for the Jewish people, I am glad to share my insights with whoever would want to listen. I have such chances through coordinating and teaching the ESL classes, as well as conducting women’s weekly meetings at the Hope Intercultural Center, which is our mission outreach place. There we meet people, build relationships and help them in any way possible to adjust to a new culture and life; but above all, we want to show them a way to Heaven.