Nativ Stories

A 2015 graduate of the Nativ Civilian Program
Daniel Zeturensky is the founder
and general manager of “powtoon”

Natan Dvir, a Nativ teacher.

Natan has been teaching in the city of Ariel and on the Ariel University campus for over fifteen years. He was born in the FSU, moved to Israel in his youth, and even converted to Judaism himself.

How did you come to Israel and Judaism?
I was born in Russia and I grew up like any child in a communist country. My grandparents were devoted communists, and I myself was in the communist youth group until the age of fourteen. At the end of the 1980’s talk and rumors began about the opening up of borders and moving to Israel. At that time I learned that I was half Jewish, since my father was Jewish and my mother was not, and that did not bother me too much.

At the beginning of the 1990’s it was already permitted to move to Israel, but the documents that allowed the move were only valid for six months. I remember how my father would go to the immigration department every six months and stand in line and take the documents, but we always stayed in Russia; that’s how it was for a long time. Finally I took a significant step and when I was fourteen I joined a special program called Na’aleh (Students Immigrate to Israel before Parents) in which I learned a lot about Israel and Judaism, and then moved to Israel. I myself also completed a conversion course which opened up a new and meaningful part of my life.
After my service in the Army when I was still a senior student in the Hesder yeshiva program, Ira Vodka, a pioneer in conversion in Ariel, asked me to teach in the conversion classes in Ariel. I agreed and began to teach and open classes in the city and later at the university.

What happens to you every time you open a new class?
During the first month I barely teach at all; I work on relieving stress and unifying the group. I concentrate mainly on the questions, fears and negative preconceptions of the students: “Will they come to my home and check my kitchen?”, “I heard they really snoop after us.” At that point I already tell them that I have been doing this job for fifteen years and have not come across things like that. In general I encourage the students to come and try, without obligation and without coercion, and if there is a connection then we continue.

Tell me something about your experiences over the years.

In my opinion, teaching in a small city like Ariel is a great experience, since the students and I connect more outside of the classroom as well: their kids learn with mine, I am part of them, I meet them at the medical clinic and in line at the supermarket. Also in the conversion process itself I invite the students to my home, I connect them to the community and to my personal environment.

What touches you most in the conversion process?

What touches me most is seeing young couples finish successfully in conversion court, since this is so significant for their lives. Once I escorted a student who was in her ninth month of pregnancy to a meeting in the conversion court, and the judges decided not to wait until the final meeting and they accepted her on the spot. That same week she got married and gave birth.

In your opinion, what makes the job of a conversion teacher different from a regular teacher?

My job is not just to teach information, since all the information is available at the stroke of a key, my job is foremost to give personal support and assistance and guidance concerning all the personal questions the student has during the entire process.

Why do you think that people join this process?

First of all, this is a very deep psychological process that the students go through with their families and surroundings. A conversion course allow each student to undergo a meaningful, personal, internal process. Conversion and the court are not like a university class or a driving test that you just need to pass, but much more than that.

Alongside his job as a conversion teacher, Natan is also a tour guide and a central member of the Jewish Agency’s “Massa” organization.

Ksenya Zemaskov, graduate of the Nativ Civilian Program

A lawyer with a bachelor’s degree in law from Tel Aviv University and a graduate of the Rimon school of music, she works and lives in Tel Aviv. Ksenya studied and successfully finished the Nativ Civilian Program at Tel Aviv University in 2015.

How did you come to Israel and to Judaism?
I was born in the city of Perm in the Ural Mountains in Russia and I moved to Israel in 1996 when I was eight years old. I grew up and went to school like every Jew in Israel, and in fact only found out that I was not Jewish when I received the summons to the Nativ Course in the army.

How did that news affect you?
I was very upset; it was a total shock for me. I just told them that there was a mistake and that it is impossible, and that I am going home because I don’t have time for this nonsense. Over time I realized the significance of it for my identity and that I owe this to myself and so I decided to join the Nativ Civilian Program.

How did you feel when you joined the course?
I got to the course with great fear, with many doubts and questions. I didn’t know what was expected from me or if I would make it through. I was worried about preaching and religious coercion, that they would force me to do things that I didn’t want to do. Religious people had always seemed to me like space aliens that just want to eat you. However, when I met my teacher, Bella Slutzkin, the worries slowly disappeared. She guided me by the hand, step after step; she gave me confidence, and I felt from her that she wanted, just like me, that I would finish the whole process successfully.

This feeling allowed me to open up and just enjoy the classes. I ejoyed studying and the material we learned and I felt that no one was forcing me to do anything and that at any moment I could stop the whole thing and nothing would happen to me, since everything was essentially my choice.

The thing that really spoke to me in the process was that people do not expect you to deny your origins, people don’t expect you to be a person that you are not, people expect you to be you.

Why go through the conversion process at all?

People always ask me why in the world would I go through a process like this and why take upon myself a burden like this, and I answer them that in accepting yourself there is no burden. Whether you are a half, a third or seven-eighths you have a connection to Judaism, and if a person came here that’s a sign that those are his roots, and those roots are never a burden, rather they are part of you and your identity.

I didn’t come to the course to become something, I came because I already was something.

 

I grew up here, I studied here, I served in the Army here, I celebrated the holidays like everyone else, I always thought and dreamed about a big, beautiful, traditional wedding. So there is no reason for me to give that up and go get married in Cyprus and not here in Israel.

How did you feel when you finished the course?

I emerged from the course with a great sense of fulfillment. The course caused me not to put things off, not to delay my personal development. When my friend considered doing the course I told her, “Do yourself a favor, and start with it now. The sooner you start, the longer you will be able to really enjoy it.

When I finished Nativ, I was quieter and more at one with myself, and I am still the same Ksenya.

To continue the process and get more information, please provide contact details and we will be happy to get back to you.

The program is intended for citizens and permanent residents of Israel.