"I just wish I could visit my father’s grave sometimes."

Bronia Ilgaev

Location:  Landwer Cafe, Em Ha-Dereh Travel Plaza on coastal highway, near Hadera.

Residence: Hadera

Age: 47


The encounter:  I had some time before a meeting. So, after I had filled up at the gas station at the highway plaza, I went into the adjacent shopping mall for a cup of coffee. The restaurant, Landwer Cafe, is a national chain that projects an image of nostalgia with wicker chairs and  reproductions of black-and-white photos of the original 1933 Landwer Cafe in Tel Aviv. Bronia was relaxing at the restaurant with her teenage daughter.

What are you doing here right now?
The girl who just served you your coffee is my daughter. She works here as the shift supervisor. My other daughter, who is with me here, also works at the restaurant. We came to visit because we have a day off.

What is your occupation?
I work in a marble factory. I do quality control. Before I immigrated, I was trained to be a draftswoman. But I got married young and had three children, so I was on maternity leave most of the time. Back in the Soviet Union, we could have three years of maternity leave. Here it is different. We all have to work and we still don’t make it through the month. My husband works as a cook at Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. Before we immigrated, he was a businessman.

Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I have three girls. The youngest one is going into the army now. The older two just finished their service. 

Where is your family from?
I’m from Derbent in Dagestan Republic in the Russian Caucasus. My family has lived there for many generations. They were religious Jews. My grandfather was very devout. He died before I was born.
The Communists never prevented us from practicing our religion. We celebrated all the holidays. Not like in some other places in the Soviet Union... I know immigrants from Ukraine who didn’t even know what Passover is.
I immigrated to Israel seventeen years ago. My whole family was already here – my mom, my sisters, my brothers... – but I had stayed behind with my husband. I felt very alone. My husband didn’t want to leave Dagestan, so I threatened I’d take the children and go by myself to Israel. We were living with my mother-in-law. Eventually, she convinced my husband to keep the family together and emigrate with me.
My father always wanted to emigrate to Israel, but he wasn’t allowed under the Communists. Everything changed when Gorbachev came to power. Thanks to him, we could finally leave. But by that time, my father was no longer alive. Altogether, I’m happy I came to Israel. I don’t miss the Caucasus. I love being here. I just wish I could visit my father’s grave sometimes.

How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I am Jewish and Israeli, but I also feel Russian. I spoke Russian with my daughters when they were little, but now we speak Hebrew. With my husband, I only speak Russian. He barely speaks Hebrew. He doesn’t feel at home here: he watches Russian movies, Russian TV, the Russian news... He doesn’t care what’s happening in this country. He’s physically here; but his mind is over there.

What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
I really wish the economic situation would be a bit easier. Financially, it’s very, very hard!
Obviously I also want peace! That’s actually my first wish. I hope they’ll reach some kind of agreement. There’s always this threat or war and terror. I’m afraid, especially now that my youngest daughter has to go to the army.
When I came here, I didn’t really understand the tension between the Muslims and the Jews. Back in the Caucasus, we lived together without any trouble.  The majority of the people there are Muslims – of many different Muslim ethnic groups.
In Derbent, we were like family. I knew Jews and Muslims who intermarried. The only time I ever experienced antisemitism was in the countryside, where the people were more conservative and superstitious. They scare their children with stories about the Jews: “Here comes a Jew, he’ll drink your blood!” – they’d say things like that. But I never experienced antisemitism from the Muslims in the city.
I have many Arab colleagues at work. It’s all Russians and Arabs at our factory. We get along fine. We just don’t talk about politics.