Three former Soviet Union emigres win trip to Israel

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The San Francisco student's wish came true.

Sankin and two of her friends, Julia Manoylenko of San Jose and Diana Brener of San Francisco, won the contest sponsored by the Koret Foundation in conjunction with the Emigre Department of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Next month the three will join 29 other youngsters in the Koret Israel Teen Trip to the Promised Land, July 28 through Aug. 21.

They also will share a total of $2,000 in scholarship awards.

A Koret grant of $20,000 to the Brandeis University's Institute for Community and Religion will provide an evaluation of the trip, analyzing such issues as the trip's impact on Jewish identity and involvement.

Pre- and post-trip surveys, personal interviews and focus groups will provide a demographic profile of the teens and their families and will document changes, according to Gary S. Tobin, director of Brandeis University's S.F.-based Institute for Community and Religion and the university's Center for Modern Jewish Studies. Tobin will head the research along with cultural anthropologist Joel Streicker.

"People always say America is the land of immigrants," wrote Sankin, who came to San Francisco in 1989 from the city then known as Leningrad with her parents and her brother Daniel. "To me, Israel is the land of hope and prosperity, memories and love."

The 17-year-old senior at George Washington High School wrote of longing to "visit the land that my ancestors walked forty years in the desert for," and of planning to explore "the Holocaust Museum, especially after knowing that six million Jews were sacrificed to the Nazi army."

Her other plans included "walking the streets of Jerusalem like one time my ancestors did. Pray at the Western Wall. Swim in the Dead Sea that cured so many people. See the remainders of the old Temple. All this and more to see with my own eyes and to say one day, `I have been to the land of my people.'"

And her two friends will be there to share the experience with her.

"We're so excited," said Brener in a phone interview. "We're calling each other up, talking about it."

Brener emigrated from the Ukraine with her parents and 11-year-old brother Igor four years ago. In her essay, she wrote of wishing to fill in the gaps that always arose when she tries "to imagine what that ancient land looks like. I want to get my own perspective of Israel as being part of our history as well as part of our lives now."

The 16-year-old George Washington High School senior, who wants to be a doctor, will work as a teacher's assistant in the JCC of S.F.'s music and dance program, where she has been a student for the past three years.

"The understanding of what Israel must be like was passed on to me by the teachers of that school. I feel that it is now my obligation to tell [students] about Israel."

Seventeen-year-old Manoylenko, who will be a senior at San Jose's Live Oak High School in the fall, moved from Kiev with her parents and brother 4-1/2 years ago.

"Back in Russia," she wrote, "I had very little chance to explore Jewish history, culture and religion."

Before moving from San Francisco to San Jose two months ago, she also was a dancer and teacher at JCC of S.F., and volunteered to help arrange parties for Russian emigres at the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services.

"A visit to Israel will expand my knowledge," she wrote. "This will allow me to teach the kids not only facts, but also share my personal experiences."