Leon Litinetsky: ''Today about 5.000 natives of Tatarstan live in Israel''

The interview with the chief native of Tatarstan in Israel: how natives of Kazan live in the Promised Land

Leon Litinetsky: ''Today about 5.000 natives of Tatarstan live in Israel'' Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

The other day, the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya attended the meeting ''The Muslim and Jewish communities of Russia. An example of peaceful cooperation and mutual understanding'', held at the Russian cultural center in Tel Aviv (Rossotrudnichestvo). Among the guests there was a native of Kazan Leonid Litinetsky. He heads the Coordination council of compatriots in Israel and the Israeli association of immigrants from Tatarstan. After the event, our reporter spoke to this well-known politician and public figure. The interlocutor told our newspaper about the joint project of Israel and the Republic, about the natives of Kazan living in the Holy Land, he remembered his younger years spent in the home country and how he moved to the other state.

Tatarstan farmlands, Israeli technology

In one of your trips to Kazan a few years ago, you proposed to President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov to cultivate farmland of the Republic together. Rumours had it that you wanted to cultivate almost a half of the region. Tell us about this project and in what stage it is now?

It was our joint idea. In Tatarstan, there are a lot of fertile lands and a lot of good agriculturists. We know that Rustam Nurgalievich is a native of that environment and knows what agriculture, farming are. Here, in Israel, it is a big problem. Despite the fact that we have good agriculture, it is very expensive to produce, to grow crops in Israel. We have specialists, good growing technologies, deep knowledge in it. We would like to combine the offer of our farmers-entrepreneurs and the proposal of Tatarstan.

It would very interesting to Tatarstan to learn new technologies, the experience of growing crops from Israel. The president then made an interesting move: he invited our entrepreneurs not to sell the technology to Tatarstan but to enter as partners in the Tatarstan agricultural companies, to be partners, to grow together, to sell together. I then brought the representatives of several Israeli agricultural companies in order to discuss the entry of Israeli agricultural entrepreneurs on the territory of Tatarstan to grow crops together with the enterprises of the agricultural complex of the Republic. Then they began a discussion of cultures and in which areas this would take place. Unfortunately, at some point, the process stopped. But still, we are hopeful that this issue will be resumed because the desire to grow on good fertile lands of Tatarstan, on the base that exists here, is beneficial to the Israelis. I think that we will turn back to this matter.

In Tatarstan, there are a lot of fertile lands and a lot of good agriculturists. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Jews in Russia are not perceived as farmers. At the same time, until recently, the vegetables in the same neighbouring Magnit chains were from the Promised Land...

You are right, Timur. A lot of people coming to Israel from Russia see that Jews are representatives of different professions. Because people who grew up in Russia and the Soviet Union have the stigma that the Jews are engaged only in intellectual work (science, culture) or do crafts (goldsmiths and tanners). But here, in Israel, you can meet Jews of all professions.

Why are we producing so many agricultural products? We invented the drip irrigation system, which is now used worldwide and gives very good results. Then we reap four or five harvests one crop per year. When one gets so much harvest, they can produce for export.

About how business reconciled the Jews with the Arabs

In due time, you offered to open together with the Arabs an industrial zone in Mount Gilboa. You even shared the idea with Minnikhanov and offered him to participate. What was the result?

We did not propose to create an industrial zone, we established it in Israel on the border between Gilboa and Jenin city (Palestinian authority) in order the Jews and Arabs came together to work in one industrial area. This is a good example of tolerance because in 10 years of the joint work of the industrial zone, as I was told by the then mayor of Gilboa, stopped ethnic clashes, closed branches of the radical terrorist movements in the territory of Jenin. All this, in his opinion, is due to the fact that there was no ground for it as since Jews and Arabs worked together. Then, it's business: they both make money. For several years, inter-ethnic hatred disappeared.

''The Commissioner of the European Parliament, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain Miguel Moratinos was responsible for overseeing this industrial zone.'' Photo: gcsp.ch

How did the Republic react to this project?

The effect of the reaction or participation in this project has an international scale because the Commissioner of the European Parliament, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain Miguel Moratinos was responsible for overseeing this industrial zone. Rustam Nurgalievich reacted well to the idea that Tatarstan took active part in the industrial area by their companies entered into it. Moreover, the Tatars-Muslims found it easier to communicate with fellow-Arabs, and with like-minded Jews. I think that the scope of participation in such large international and probably in the political project is already Russian, it is not the scope of Tatarstan. But Mr Minnikhanov saw this as a great prospect. Moreover, I brought two mayors, representatives of the two cities, to Tatarstan to show that for me the Republic is an example of tolerance. I wanted to show how Tatars and Russians, Christians, Muslims and Jews worked together in the Republic. Indeed, they saw it with their own eyes.

Our people in the Promised Land

You are the leader and initiator of the Israeli association of natives of Tatarstan...

Seven years ago, we came up with the idea to establish the organisation completely on the geographical basis. I found out that thousands of people in the late 80s-early 90s left Tatarstan for permanent residence in Israel. For me, people born and lived a long time in Tatarstan are different from others. There is some thin thread, visible only to us, those living in Tatarstan. Because Tatarstan has a very rich history, culture, gorgeous multiethnic traditions. I remember the best schools of the country — medical, opera and ballet, scientific, and so on. Everyone knows the most famous singers, men of science. In Kazan, there emerged such cultural aura of intellectuals, which is unique. I know people coming to Kazan for the first time, then they miss it. Thanks to me, many Russian-speaking people came to Kazan from Israel and they were amazed by the atmosphere, hospitality, architecture, rich cultural heritage. As it turned out, people know very little about Kazan.

''In Kazan there emerged such cultural aura of intellectuals, which is unique.'' Photo: prav.tatar.ru

Are there large entrepreneurs in Israel among immigrants from Tatarstan, besides Mikhail Skoblionok?

I don't know about businessmen. There are many natives of Kazan in Israel and they stand firmly on two legs, for example, in the field of medicine (Professors, surgeons), there are scientists, specialists of the aviation industry, high-level military. Comparing with people from other regions of the former Soviet Union, the natives of Tatarstan have integrated in Israeli society successfully, they adapt and climb up the ladder because of their mentality and high degree of tolerance.

How much does an Israeli pensioner get?

By the way, what about pensions. Last year Tel Aviv and Moscow reached an agreement on pensions: former Soviet citizens migrated to Israel are to receive Russian's pensions (if I understood correctly the essence of the agreements). In the end, do they get this money?

We don't know all the details of this agreement. One thing I can say: we are waiting for exact figures and instructions, how it will operate. It is known that the treaty has been ratified in Russia. In Israel, it got through all the instances. Now it is the last final stage, when Israel should receive directives from Russia about who, how much and how to claim these pensions. Those who live in Israel shall confirm work experience, send a query to the archives. But those who can prove their employment record on the territory of RSFSR, they shall receive pensions. The minimum amount of pension, as I understand it, is 4.500 rubles.

Now it is the last final stage, when Israel should receive directives from Russia about who, how much and how to claim these pensions

Sabantuy in the forests of Israel

Are there Tatars in Israel?

It's a difficult question. According to our data, about 6.000 people migrated from Tatarstan.

Are they Jews?

Not all of them. It is those moved for permanent residence here. Some of them moved to other countries. We can not keep statistics, it is public institutions who are responsible for that. Now about 5.000 people, who came from Tatarstan, live here. Among them, there are also mixed families.

The Tatars, probably, are just one of those mixed families.

Mostly yes. A husband is Tatar, a wife is Jew, or vice versa — a wife-Tartar and a husband-Jew. When we hold Sabantuy here in the woods, you have to see these rides, sack races, egg in spoon, gifts, people singing Tatar national songs.

Leonid, tell us about the organization ''Tatars for Israel''?

I can't explain it exactly. I understand that this organization, apparently, is not tied in any way to Tatarstan. It is small, it includes Tatars, who came to Israel from different parts of the world. And they position themselves as Tatars, who are very loyal to Israel, encouraging it — at least, that's what I've heard.

Why did you move to Israel?

My grandfather wanted to go to Israel. It seemed to me that I can realize his dream. When I served in the army, he died. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to the funeral. I hurt me very much, I was very upset. It was my grandparents who raised me because mom and dad were busy. Grandpa was to me a second father, but I couldn't be present at his funeral. Then I got married and we decided to move to Israel with my family. I wanted to achieve more, to open the gate.

Here the great mass of Jews come from different countries, and here it is very difficult to break through and achieve something. Therefore, it is difficult to integrate into Israeli society, I had to prove myself from scratch

How did the society accepted you?

I think that the process of integrating into Israeli society is difficult. My friend from Kazan came to me and seeing what's going on here said, ''there is a very high degree of competition between people.'' Here the great mass of Jews come from different countries, and here it is very difficult to break through and achieve something. Therefore, it is difficult to integrate into Israeli society, I had to prove myself from scratch. In Kazan you are born, you have parents who spent a lot, they have their own social circle. You are perceived here not only as Timur, but as the son of your parents. When you go abroad, you have to start from scratch, you know, you have to prove yourself from the very beginning. It's not easy. Not to mention the language barriers, it is necessary to learn the local mentality. I had to prove myself, I think we succeeded in it.

Realnoe Vremya expresses gratitude to the Director of the Russian cultural center in Tel Aviv (Rossotrudnichestvo) Natalia Yakimchuk and coordinator of cultural programs of the RKTS Natalia Podolskaya for organizing the meeting

By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo by the author