Coming full circle: Orit Zuaretz to lead Triguboff’s Jewish Identity Program in St. Petersburg

March 8, 2018 by Asher Gold
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Former MK Orit Zuaretz, herself a convert to Judaism and immigrant to Israel, has been appointed Director of the new Maslul program in St. Petersburg.

Orit takes a class

The program is designed to prepare potential Israeli immigrants including converts to Judaism, with a solid Jewish education and background before they leave Russia.

Orit made Aliyah as a child in 1971,before any preparatory programs existed. Her family arrived in Israel on pure Zionist drive, with no other support than the few people they knew whose Aliyah preceded theirs. Her memories are those of a young child in a completely foreign place, a totally new reality, with a new culture and a new language. There were financial difficulties and educational concerns. “Today’s Olim deal with identical challenges,” says Orit, “but the system is softer, gentler, and that helps the change feel less drastic.”

The Maslul program, with centres in Moscow, Kiev, Dnipro and now St. Petersburg, is designed to do exactly that. Founded in 2016 as a joint initiative of the Triguboff Institute, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Australian branch of the United Jewish Appeal, Maslul provides Jewish education and culture classes and paves a smoother path for those that are inspired to make Aliyah. Already over 300 are graduates of their courses and 103 have made Aliyah. Maslul has already helped 25 people at the new St. Petersburg centre connect with their Jewish history, culture and traditions. The participants in the program will definitely be better prepared if they do come to Israel; they will speak the language and relate to the culture. They will not suffer the transitional crises that pepper the narratives of earlier arrivals. The courses at Maslul in Russia are also accredited by the Israeli Rabbinate as meeting the Jewish learning targets required for conversion, significantly shortening the process for Olim.

“Things are different now. There are many options to experiment with Aliyah before actually getting on the plane. I believe adequate preparation and a deeper process of connection before Aliyah can help with life in general and with social integration in Israel in specific. Knowledge is power, and you need this when you get here,” says Orit.

Orit’s own conversion was not especially memorable, nor inspirational. “Most of my experience was simply being taken along, as a child, with my mother’s process,” said Orit. “The only part that stands out in my memory, unfortunately, negatively, was my immersion in the Mikveh, the ritual bath. I did not understand what was happening, and no meaning at all had been imparted to me. The experience was deeply uncomfortable. That was the hardest part for me, and what I believe must change in today’s process. I think that immersion of women and girls should be supervised by Rabbaniot Balaniot, not by the Rabbis of the Bet Din.”

Having served as a member of the Knesset representing two parties from 2009-2013, Orit certainly made it in Israel. Among many other accomplishments, she authored revolutionary laws on human rights and was even rated by Calcalist as the Knesset member most responsive to her constituents.

Orit believes her own experience as a convert gives her a real advantage in directing Maslul; she knows the difficulty of being a foreigner and the sweetness of coming home. Beyond personal faith in the conversion and Aliyah processes, it gives her the ability to connect naturally to the Maslul candidates. Her lived experience and the success she has had,  make her an inspiring role model.

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