Krasheninnikov faces struggles adjusting to life in Israel

Sarah Earle, News Editor

Although the move from Israel to the United States created many obstacles for her, sophomore Valeri Krasheninnikov opened new doors from her old, struggling life in Israel. While being born and raised in Israel, Krasheninnikov obtained a Russian background, which was looked down upon. Krasheninnikov balanced both the Israeli culture and her Russian culture as she adapted to the Israeli culture at school, in the streets and her Russian culture at home.

“Since I was born in Israel, [growing up there] wasn’t really hard, but then again I have a Russian background, so it was kind of rough. People didn’t really accept me, but you get used to that, so it was okay,” Krasheninnikov said. “In Israel, you’re Jewish until the third knee, which is the third generation. After a fourth generation, you’re not technically Jewish, but you have Jewish blood. My mom’s a second generation and I’m the third, so we didn’t really have become Jewish, since my dad wasn’t. [I wasn’t really accepted because] I’m not full Jewish, meaning not both of my parents are Jewish, only my mom is, so as not a full Jew, it’s kind of harder to live in Israel. With my parents not knowing Hebrew, they struggled a lot along with me.”

Krasheninnikov recalls vivid memories of discrimination growing up, as her painful memories result in tears.

“My grandma, she brought an amulet from Russia and it had a cross on it. I wore it to Kindergarten one day and the faculty brought my mom over and they told her that I was not allowed to wear anything other than stuff that represents Jewish culture to school, so I never wore it again,” Krasheninnikov said. “With Israeli people, they were kind of mean towards you because you had a different background. For example, I was considered the ‘pale blond’, even though I’m not really pale and I’m not blond, but just because I was different they would not exactly like me all the way. They weren’t exactly mean to me all the time, over time they got used to me.”

Despite the difficulties she faced, Krasheninnikov says she wouldn’t classify herself as an outcast.

“As a Russian person or as a Russian speaker you were never actually part of the community. I had a lot of fellow Russian-Jewish people. In the beginning it was hard, but then afterwards it was okay because a lot of people were from different backgrounds and Jewish with different backgrounds. It was easier to get along with people with other backgrounds,” Krasheninnikov said. “We had Russian speaking neighbors, so I played with a bunch of kids who spoke Hebrew and Russian. Generally, at home [nothing] really unusual [happened].”

Krasheninnikov and her family lived in a tiny apartment in Israel. At home, Krasheninnikov could transition back into her Russian culture and be able to speak Russian.

“My first language was Hebrew. I had to learn Russian. We spoke Russian at home and we weren’t allowed to speak Hebrew because my parents said if I speak Hebrew at home, then I wouldn’t know Russian and they didn’t want that. I spoke Hebrew at school and Russian at home,” Krasheninnikov said. “We had a pretty stable family. We weren’t poor, we were middle class, but compared to middle class in America, I would consider us poor. If you’re middle class in Israel, you have a lot less than what middle class here would have. In Israel, we only had a small, tiny apartment. I didn’t even realize it was that small until I came here. We rent a townhouse [currently], and it’s much bigger.”

Due to the fact that her parents did not speak Hebrew and she was learning both Russian and Hebrew, Krasheninnikov had to be translator. On top of that, Krasheninnikov was also learning English in school.

“Hebrew is really different from Russian and when they came to Israel for the first time, they didn’t know any Hebrew. They brought my younger brother over who was three and I was born three years later. Only with three years of experience with Hebrew they had to live life and struggle through it and work really dirty and hard jobs. My mom worked in room service at hotels and my dad worked at a factory. My mom worked all over the place; she worked at the jewelry shop, at the clinic, as a secretary and other jobs,” Krasheninnikov said. “I had to translate for my parents a lot, from English to Russian and I had really broken English at the time. After a while, my mom asked me to go to the bank with her and I told her, ‘Mom, I’m tired of this. I don’t want to do this.’ Only after a while, I realized what a horrible thing that is to say because she doesn’t speak English, she needed help. She told me, ‘It’s not easy to go by yourself. I thought you would help me. I know it’s a lot of pressure, but I thought you’d understand.’ At that moment, I felt like the worst person in the world because I didn’t help my mom.”

The turning point in Krasheninnikov’s life was when her parents took a risk to have their life change completely, resulting in their move to America.

“My parents one day were out and about and there was some kind of lottery. My mom jokingly told my dad, ‘Why don’t we fill it out? It’s not like we’re going to win or anything.’ The irony is, we did win and we had a chance to move to America and get a green card, so we did that. It was an awful process because it took forever; it took like about year to form all of the documents and translate them from Russian or Hebrew to English and it took a lot of time, effort, and money,” Krasheninnikov said. “At first I didn’t really realize what my parents [meant] when they told me, ‘We’re going to move and try to live there.’ They didn’t say it was permanent, they said, ‘We’re going to try and we’ll see what’s going to happen.’ I didn’t really take it seriously until about a month before we came here and then it finally hit me, I have to leave. I didn’t tell any of my friends… until the last week and they were really disappointed.”

For the most part, Krasheninnikov was optimistic about coming to America, even though she had no idea what to expect when she arrived. After about a year of filling out documents and obtaining green cards, the move was finally made.  

“We’d been learning English since first grade. At first I was really confident because I was like, ‘I’ve been taking English classes since first grade,’ and my mom hired a tutor for me. Then, when I came here, I realized how crappy the education of English is [in Israel] and how crappy my tutors were. I came here and thought, ‘I can speak with all of those people and I can understand what they’re saying and mix into the system,’ but that didn’t happen. I struggled a lot, I couldn’t hear what the people were saying, I couldn’t speak to them. There were a lot of nights where I just laid in my bed and cried about it,” Krasheninnikov said. “There was this one time in English class when I came here in seventh grade. I think it was my the first or second day, I had this teacher who gave us a pop spelling quiz. She dictated the words and I started writing them down, but I realized that I didn’t know any of the words and I didn’t know any of their spellings. I started writing a note at the top and there were tears all over that page… There was a folder covering and I cried there for a while. I started writing, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know this,’ in very broken English. That was one of the most painful experiences.”

Krasheninnikov went to Montevideo Middle School for her first two years of school in the U.S. and ended up going to Harrisonburg High School as a freshman last year. Since the move, Krasheninnikov has seen a difference in the atmosphere.

“After ending eighth grade [was the turning point for me]. I went to a fairly white school and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would say they were kind of racist towards me. I had a lot of people who I would talk to and who were white Americans and when they realized I had a Middle Eastern background, they would look at me differently. When we got to Harrisonburg High School there were so many people with different ethnicities and different backgrounds, so I felt more included and not as left out or discriminated against,” Krasheninnikov said. “When I first got here, I tried not to speak to anyone, tried not to stare at anyone weird, and tried to avoid any contact, but when I met with a few other immigrants who had broken English, I could speak with them and they would understand me with hand gestures. Overall it was a struggle, but when I started talking to people, it went pretty well.”

As of now, Krasheninnikov is aspired to become a surgeon and would like to attend Medical School at Harvard University, although she is looking into other schools as well. Krasheninnikov balances her school work with being seeded number four on the Girls’ varsity tennis team.

“[In America], there’s a lot less bullying going on. The classrooms are quiet and I can actually study. There are a lot more options for subjects and I think I can actually be a successful person. The environment is different; you have trees here. I’m so used to just seeing dust and desert everywhere. It’s pretty nice with the clean air,” Krasheninnikov said.

“Life is hard. Before that, it was sunshine and flowers and now I realize how difficult it can be, especially after I had to struggle so much. After I realized how much my life sucks, I realized how bad everyone else’s might be, so I understand how other people could be in the same or even worse situations. This made me a little bit more of an understanding person.”

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