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ICEJ supports Israeli social entrepreneurs

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Posted on: 
11 Jan 2021
ICEJ supports Israeli social entrepreneurs

The ICEJ is supporting aspiring women entrepreneurs in Israel through a special program which requires that they add a ‘social twist’ to their new business concept which will help others in need.

Over the past two years, the Christian Embassy has sponsored a course for 11 women business owners living in the periphery of Israel, to help them advance their businesses and provide additional income for their families. The course involved five classes which give each woman business and marketing tips, while also including a competition to see who can develop a social element into their business plan for the betterment of the community. Each female entrepreneur was assigned a mentor to help in the process.

Ayala, an immigrant from Russia who is a puppet theatre artist, won first prize – which included a grant of 10,000 Israeli shekels to help further develop her business. In Ayala’s puppet show, she shares her personal journey as a way to encourage other struggling new immigrants.

Ayala’s story
Ayala was born in Russia to a Jewish mother and a Christian father, who named her Olga.

“My grandmother was Jewish, but being called a Jew in Russia is not a compliment”, she told us. “My family did not want to reveal their Jewish identity.”

In Russia families are mainly defined by the father, therefore Olga was baptized and went to church. But when children at school started to call her a “Jew” and sometimes kicked her, Olga was in shock - she always had believed herself to be Russian. Only at age twelve did Ayala finally recognize and accept her Jewish heritage. It was during a visit with her grandmother, who had moved to Israel.

“I loved Israel and decided that I will live here, even if I have to come alone”, Ayala recalled.

At age 14, she did come to Israel on a youth study program – and indeed alone, because her family was falling apart.

A new life in Israel
Not having grown up in a religiously Jewish home, Ayala was not familiar with Jewish rituals. When offered the chance to study in Israel, she leapt at the opportunity. However, it came as a big surprise when she found herself unexpectedly sent to a religious school.

“They said I only need to wear a skirt and there are no boys, and that was it”, she recalled with a smile.

After arrival at the school, she found there was a lot more to being religious than wearing a skirt and learning in an all-girls setting.

“Suddenly I couldn’t have meat and cheese together on my bread or turn lights on and off on Shabbat”, she stated. “I did not know anything about Shabbat or kashrut, but I knew I had to start a new life. Once I was here and knew Hebrew, it was easier for my mom and brother to join me in Israel – which they eventually did.”

Unfortunately, the identity confusion did not end upon arrival in Israel. As “Olga, the Russian immigrant”, Ayala experienced exclusion. She was told: “You are Russian, go back to Russia.” Yet in Russia, she had been told, “You are Jewish”, and was not accepted as Russian either. It was in 11th grade that Olga decided not to be Russian anymore. She changed her name to “Ayala” and became religiously observant, although her family in Israel was not religious.

“It wasn’t easy, and I often felt alone”, she said.

Finding her place
After doing national service for a year, Ayala studied theatre at university and specialized in puppet theatre. Through sports, she also gained self-confidence.

“I realized that I am a special girl who speaks three languages, and who came to Israel alone”, she explained.

Today, she is married to a “native Israeli”, as she always dreamed, and has four beautiful children.

Thinking through her own experiences, the idea of her business was born. She named her puppet theatre “Ayalushka”, stressing her Russian heritage.

“I share my story and encourage immigrants that everything will be fine. The start is difficult; You often feel lonely and you need help, but in the end it is fine. Look at me!”, she smiled. “Israelis should also understand the challenges of immigrants and be able to connect with them. I thank God for bringing me here and for the good people who helped me and opened up to me.”

Please partner with us to support Israelis like Ayala, who use their skills and experience to strengthen Israeli society. Help us give them a Hope and a Future. Thank you!

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