Sasha has a twinkle in his eye and a joke for every occasion. I imagine that his mischievous sense of humor and creative approach to life may have presented something of a challenge to his parents and teachers. But there is much more to Sasha than a ready smile and cheerful demeanor.
Sasha was born in 1975, the second of seven children, raised in the inhospitable Communist environment of Byelorussia. His mother was a godly woman and his father a man of strong principles. Largely due to their mother’s influence, he and four of his siblings became believers.
Tamara is Sasha’s wife, but looks so much like him that she could be his sister, including the smile. When she laughs, you want to laugh with her. Though she grew up in Byelorussia, her Jewish father came from Ukraine. Tamara’s family story is a rare one, for not only was her father Jewish, he was also a second-generation believer in Yeshua. Her grandfather was led to the Lord by his Ukrainian wife and then brought his parents to faith. That makes Tamara a fourth generation Jewish believer!
“Grandfather was KILLED for his faith”
Tamara’s grandfather paid the ultimate price for his faith. As she tells it “He was taken away by the NKVD (the pre-KGB police) and executed. He left behind a widow, who for many years did not know whether her husband was dead or alive, and five children. They suffered through the hardships of World War II – living in a Jewish ghetto and undergoing imprisonment in a local camp where the children, including my father, were experimented upon. My father survived, but after the war my uncle was also liquidated for his faith.”
“These hardships only served to strengthen Papa’s faith, and he married a young lady from Volkovisk. They raised me and my three siblings.” When Tamara met Sasha she was already a mature believer who had experienced trials of her own in the form of thyroid cancer.
When Sasha and Tamara decided to marry, they were told it was a foolish step. Tamara’s health was poor. The doctors warned them “You’ll never have children.” But these two were no strangers to trusting God in difficult circumstances – their families had done so for generations.
“You’ll never have children”
After they married, Tamara underwent a second operation to control the cancer. Miraculously, she soon became pregnant and gave birth to a little girl, Alexandra, followed by Benjamin and Marta! During this time Sasha, who was a certified mechanical technician and could do almost anything with his hands, worked in construction and renovation jobs to support his growing family. At the same time, he actively served in their local congregation, first as a youth leader, then as assistant pastor and later as a planting pastor in a town 30km away.
During the early years of their marriage, though Sasha and Tamara were devoted believers, they gave little thought to the significance of Tamara’s Jewish heritage. This began to change after Benjamin’s birth. He was a happy, curly haired little boy who resembled Tamara’s father. Family and friends regularly commented on his “Jewish” appearance. These remarks were not always complimentary and the young couple, already sensitive to the anti-Semitism of Communist Byelorussia, started to question the wisdom of raising their children in this climate.
“Do you want us to live in ISRAEL?”
Sasha and Tamara began to read the Bible in a different way. They prayed “God, do you want us to live in Israel? Is our family’s Jewish connection important to you?” Such a step would bring more hardship, traveling alone to a place with few friends and no family. The sheer difficulty of procuring immigration documents caused them to put it off.
Years passed and a chance meeting with people from Ebenezer, an aliyah assistance ministry, reintroduced the question of Israel. Now it was even less realistic. Tamara was pregnant with their fourth child. The original health problems remained. The move made no sense. But Sasha prayed. In his heart, he believed that God would again say no. Astonishingly, every door opened, bureaucratic problems were solved and the family was on its way to Israel – with only a few months left before Tamara’s due date.
They arrived in the summer of 2002. They chose Haifa because they knew only one person in the entire country – and that’s where she lived. This friend was a member of Tents of Mercy’s new daughter congregation, Shavei Tzion, led by Leon Mazin. So in spite of the fact that Sasha and Tamara had no family, no money, knew no Hebrew and were living in an empty apartment with only one bed and a table, they had a congregational family.
No Picnic, But the Lord’s Feast
As they expected, life in Israel was no picnic. There was joy and celebration when Tamara gave birth to their little sabra (Israeli-born) daughter, Miriam. But there were also more medical tests, followed by radiation therapy and another operation. Work was hard, Hebrew an ongoing challenge. But through it all they have kept the faith and their sense of humor. Sasha and Tamara are now an integral part of Shavei Tsion, serving as one of the primary leadership couples. Sasha works as manager of the Tents of Mercy warehouse and head of maintenance for the entire ministry. Tamara recently received great news regarding her illness – in answer to countless prayers the disease is inactive!
In Israel, in Yeshua, in Messianic community Sasha and Tamara have found the answer to their questions about the meaning of Jewish life as believers born in anti-Semitic, anti-God Byelorussia. Tamara’s grandfather did not die in vain.