The journey from a tiny village in Russia to Safed
Story by Noam Giger
Photo by Noam Giger
Zenaida was born to Antonina and Evan in a small village called Kiselyova in the Saratov province of Russia, in 1928, ninety-one years ago. She is the youngest of four siblings: Nicolai and Victor, her brothers, and her older sister Nadezhda. Zenaida was an outstanding student in her school. She remembers being the first to read and write and says that her teacher ״took advantage״ of this and would ask her to read aloud stories to the class while he himself would leave the class. When Zenaida was seven, her father died and then everyone [in her house] rallied to support the family, so after school she went to work in the field. During that time there was an economic crisis in Russia, so in many areas, including Zenaida's village, people were suffering from poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Zenaida remembers the hunger making her so weak that she was unable to attend school. Everyone who could, including her teacher, donated food coupons so she and her family could eat. During the war, Zenaida's brothers were drafted and fought on the continental and maritime fronts. Her oldest brother served in the Russian Navy. His ship was sunk and taken captive, but he managed to escape and today he lives in Sevastopol. Her second brother fought in the front line against the Nazis, returned from the war and now lives in St. Petersburg. Zenaida, who was only eleven years old at the time, and her older sister, were recruited to work in agriculture. Every day they had to load and carry sacks of wheat and potatoes onto trucks that traveled to the front to deliver food to the soldiers. Zenaida says that despite the conditions, the hard physical work and hunger, there was a sense of unity and high morale, because everyone worked for the same purpose. "There was real friendship, compassion and mutual help back then. And despite the difficult financial situation, there was also dancing and music, and that's what gave hope." After the war, Zenaida was sent to study economics at the University of Saratov as part of agovernment economic-recovery program, and was first exposed to the humanities field. Only then did she realize that she no longer has to focus just on surviving. She studied art and literature, and began to paint and write poetry. Zenaida graduated with honors and was sent to manage and oversee government projects involving regional, urban and agricultural development. While working, she traveled around Russia, and that's how she met her husband, Isak. Together with their son, they came to Safed during The Great Immigration of the 1990s. I searched Google for more information about the village where Zenaida was born, but it was really hard to find anything because they don't sell anything there, there's no tourism or hotels, and it׳s really small. In fact, it׳s so small that I needed to put in coordinates on Google Maps in order to find it. There is nothing next to it, not a town -or a city, nor any special site. It remains a small village - and that׳s where Zenaida came from. She has cocame a long way, saween and experienced so many things. She survived hunger and war, lost loved ones, and today - at the age of ninety-one91, she lives in Safed, and writes and publishes collections of poems, dances and sings... it's amazing.