Vladimir Goldfeld is from Kazakhstan, a secular country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe with a Muslim majority of some 70% of the population. It gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. According to the World Jewish Congress, the dwindling Jewish community is comprised of some 2,600 people.
Growing up in Shymkent, the country’s third-largest city, Goldfeld knew that he was Jewish. He says that people in his parents’ and grandparents’ generations were afraid to admit their religion, and many of their children did not know that they were Jewish. Although he didn’t face antisemitism, he says that the overall feeling is not favorable toward Jews.
“Almost all of my knowledge about Judaism and Israel comes from the center established by the Jewish Agency,” he explains. “It was here that we learned about the holidays, Israel, and Jewish history.”
Goldfeld’s father worked as a truck driver, and his mother was an elementary school teacher. When his two younger sisters were born, his mother opted to be a stay-at-home mom.
“Life in Kazakhstan is hard,” says Goldfeld. “Salaries are very, very low, and most people in my city working standard jobs live in poverty. My father took home the equivalent of $20 a month.”
As a young teenager, Goldfeld knew that there was no future for him in Kazakhstan, especially as he dreamed of going to college. His parents knew this, so when they heard about the Na’aleh program for teens from the former Soviet Union to go to high school in Israel and then make aliyah, they were ecstatic.
“It was really difficult to leave my family and friends and go to a completely new place,” he remembers. “I was 14 years old, I didn’t know a word of Hebrew other than shalom, and no English at all. I was nervous but thought of it as a great adventure.”
Moving to Israel
Goldfeld went to the Nahalal Youth Village in the Jezreel Valley. He still remembers his first glimpse of the place from the bus – everything was green with wide open fields, a blue sky, and bright sunshine.
“I looked around and saw that people were smiling and laughing. I knew it would be good here, and I was right,” he recalls.
Nahalal opened up a whole new world for him – socially, culturally and academically. After the first few weeks, he started to make friends, which blossomed into close relationships until today. Gradually he learned Hebrew, and loved the exact sciences, engineering, and the arts, especially drawing. He toyed with the idea of studying medicine at one point.
During his three years in high school, he went home to visit his family every summer. It was paid for by the program, which was a huge help and extraordinary in Goldfeld’s eyes. “Otherwise, my family could never have afforded the airfare,” he says.
After graduating high school, Goldfeld was on his own. He rented an apartment with friends and worked at a clothing store. Three months later, he was drafted into the IDF.
“I served in the Navy,” he says, “on a small advanced ship that guards Israel’s maritime borders. I spent two years as a fighter, and then rose to the position of commander. There was a tremendous amount of responsibility and a real sense of satisfaction.”
The army was a great experience for Goldfeld. He felt that after all that he had received from the country, he was finally able to give back. He was given lone soldier status, as he had no immediate family or support network in Israel. When he was on leave, he was invited to the homes of his high school friends, and his fellow soldiers always asked him to spend the holidays with them.
After completing his army service, he was discharged and found himself in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no work to be found, and Goldfeld lived off his army savings. The one bright spot during this time was the fact that his parents and sisters made aliyah in 2020 and settled in Acre.
“It was not easy, but they were so glad to be close to me and to finally be living in our Jewish homeland,” he says. “They came with very few possessions and almost no money, but my father is now working as a truck driver, and my mother is an aide for seniors.”
His two teen sisters, upon his glowing recommendation, are now studying at Nahalal; the closing of a circle and the opening of new opportunities.
Determined to go to college, Goldfeld applied to Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel. He decided to major in mechanical engineering and was ecstatic when he was accepted. There was only one problem: He had no idea how he could afford to support himself and also pay for his education.
He heard about the Atidim organization through high school friends who were also on their own and had no financial support from family. From Atidim, Goldfeld receives a full tuition scholarship, living expenses, academic counseling, tutoring, and access to tutorials and empowerment activities that will help him integrate into the workforce. He also received a laptop computer, a must for every student today.
Now entering his junior year at Braude, Goldfeld is not sure where he’d be without Atidim. “I’d probably be working and struggling to pay for food and rent,” he says. “Now I’m on my way to becoming an engineer.”
During his freshman year, Goldfeld did his community volunteer work, one of the pillars of the Atidim program, with the Hashomer Hachadash organization, guarding agricultural land in the face of rising arson and attempted land grabbing. “We helped the farmers keep their land and their livestock,” he explains.
Last year he began volunteering with the Big Brother organization, helping lone soldiers to navigate their life in Israel and the army.
“My dream is to be an engineer, work in my field in an exciting company that is bringing positive change to this world, and start a family. Israel is where my present and future come together.” ■
Vladimir Goldfeld, 24 From Shymkent, Kazakhstan, to the Jezreel Valley, 2014