How a Facebook Ad Promising Free Sushi Brought This L.A. Man to Israel

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: This Jewish-American's family is averse to religion – but he felt he had no choice but to become observant

Stan Kirillin.
Tomer Appelbaum

Stan Yehuda Kirillin, 29, from Los Angeles and arriving from there

Hello, what brings you to Israel?

I’m here to study at Aish Hatorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem, near the Western Wall. It took me a year and a half to persuade myself to do this, and five years of growing up to get to this point. I left my family, mother, grandmother. It was very hard for them. I also quit my job, of course.

What was your job?

I was a risk manager. I got agreements with loan terms and checked the existing policy, whether everything was done properly.

How did the idea of coming here start?

I was in a program called the L.A. Jewish Experience, three months of weekly teaching, lectures. You do Shabbat and fly [to Israel].

How did you get to the program?

There was an ad on Facebook – “Come and get information about a trip to Israel and get free sushi.”

Did you think you were lacking something?

No, it was a moment of clarity. I understood that I was the last person in my family who had the chance to continue the Jewish line, and I wanted to do it responsibly.

What happened in the program?

You had to meet with a rabbi to see whether they would accept you. I thought I wouldn’t be. There’s a line of people waiting, and each of them sits with him for 15 minutes. In 40 seconds, I say, “My name is Stan, I don’t know anything about Judaism, I don’t observe the commandments.” He answers, “Okay, good to see you. Bye.” I thought they weren’t looking for me, but they were. That’s actually the goal.

What kind of people have you met since starting the process of being more observant – people like yourself?

The families I met were totally different from regular society, especially in L.A. Suddenly you see fathers talking to their children, no one yells, everyone sits down and you speak to one another during meals, share your life with them. No one is on drugs, no one is a bad influence. I know families that are unstable, families with drug abuse issues; I saw a contrast between Hollywood life and a Jewish home. It was addictive.

What about your family?

We’re very close. They took my leaving very badly. We’re just seven people. When we originally came over from Russia, in 1997, we were even fewer and we were secular. The only thing that was related to Judaism was that I went to a Chabad summer camp in primary school; that was it. Two years ago they didn’t object to what was happening; it was a slow process of five years for me. I only studied; I really hadn’t been observant. In a moment of clarity I understood that I really had no choice but to become observant, but they didn’t understand that and they weren’t supportive.

You’re obviously very important to them.

It’s also because I’m the link between my family and America. I still translate letters and bills for my family. It’s true. (Laughs) My grandmother got down on her knees and prayed to God that I would be less religious.

Incredible. I can imagine the scene.

Yes – and it’s not that she’s against God. She believes, only without being religiously observant. The fact that I got closer to Judaism made her feel so bad because her only reference point is Soviet Russia. She saw family members being killed, in the worst case, and being sent to Kazakhstan for no reason in the better case scenario. We lost many family members when they were moving about in Russia, so when my family sees someone becoming religious they remember the terrible things that happened to the Jews. Now my grandmother is worried, yes, but is praying for the best.

And what did they say at home about your going to Israel?

They didn’t support the idea of my coming here, but it’s all right. I spoke with many rabbis, and they said that all the Russian families have the same attitude. The family is totally against it until you get married and have children, and then everyone calms down.

So what’s the plan for the year ahead?

To learn enough so I will have the knowledge I need to be the best possible husband and father.

Very nice. And if things work out, you’ll stay in Israel?

My return ticket is for next June and I’ll be on that flight. But I don’t know if I’ll go back to study more, or to raise a family. Maybe I’ll get married and stay here and I won’t go back to the States in June for good. Still, there’s no way around it: I have to go back to see my family.

Erika and Uri Doron.
Tomer Appelbaum

Erika and Uri Doron (both 70), from Kibbutz Beit Ha’emek; flying to France

Hello, where are you headed?

Erika: To Brittany, in France. Our daughter lives there with her son, and we’re going to visit.

Uri: We’re going for two-and-a-half months. We’ll go on outings and I’ll teach him chess. He’s 7.

So you must very excited.

Erika: There’s one thing that bothers me quite a bit. Our daughter, Anita Doron, studied film and is considered a Canadian director, because that’s where she went to school. She wrote the screenplay for “The Breadwinner,” a full-length animated film produced by Angela Jolie that was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

You must be very proud of your daughter.

Erika: Yes. The thing is that we immigrated to Israel from a place on the Ukraine-Hungary border, and though the press in Hungary and Canada wrote stories about her, in Israel – not a word. At first that bothered me, but then I thought that maybe it’s better if people in that profession don’t know, because, you know how much people don’t like Israelis and try to hurt us. When I was going to school in the Soviet Union, Jews often tried to hide their Jewishness. I felt that it wasn’t fair and never hid mine.

Did that hurt you in some way?

Erika: In the end, no. I have this dissonance between wanting my daughter to be recognized in Israel, and the fear that her Israeliness will hurt her.

Why did Anita leave to study in Canada?

Erika: I don’t know exactly. She was 15 when we got to Israel. We lived on a kibbutz, which wasn’t the best idea for her. She tried to get into the Sam Spiegel [film and TV school in Jerusalem] but wasn’t accepted. She went to Canada and was accepted in three places. She completed her studies there, and the rest is history.

You seem to have a penchant for art – I’m referring to the jewelry you’re wearing.

Uri: It was made by me. I’m retired, but I still work in chip processing on large lathes, six meters.

You haven’t been replaced by robots yet?

Erika: We also thought the profession would disappear, but there’s still work.

Uri: Not many people know how to do it, and there are always jobs for cutters and turners [who work with non-rotary tools]. It’s all manual. I work on pieces of three-four meters. We manufacture chips in small quantities. It’s interesting work, because there’s something different every time.

And the jewelry?

Uri: That’s my hobby. I buy broken, rusty copper pipes from air conditioners and turn them into shapes with a hammer and my hands.

You have a good model.

Uri: Yes! But it’s not that I make living from it. I usually do it for gifts. I like working with copper and silver. I put a drop of silver on the copper and heat it, and it creates protrusions. It’s not something you can predict in advance; something different comes out each time, and that’s the beauty of it.

When you came to Israel 30 years ago, did you plan to live on kibbutz?

Uri: We read a lot about the country, and the kibbutzim had a program called “First home in the homeland,” which made it possible to study and work.

Erika: Let there always be work.

Uri: It was good in the first years. After a year and a half we knew the language.

And then what happened?

Erika: It was good, and we were treated well, but over time, before the Lebanon War, on the kibbutz we went to, we understood that we weren’t like everyone else because we weren’t part of a so-called core group, we didn’t have seniority.

It hurts to hear about your feeling of alienation.

Erika: Still, we feel very grateful to the kibbutz, for the soft landing in Israel. But there was a point there when Uri had a work accident.

What happened?

Uri: I lost two finger pads.

Erika: And he was fired from the factory, which is unacceptable. It’s true that we got funding before and after, but that’s not what was promised. That’s not the mutual surety they talked about.

The kibbutz enterprise, with all due respect, is definitely also known for that kind of thing.

Uri: But something good came out of it – I discovered that there was a lot of work in my profession. We told the kibbutz assembly that we wanted a year’s leave to try to find different work, and they said no.

Erika: Today we live on a different kibbutz, but we aren’t members.