The slender, animated young man standing beside Eitan Shishkoff, translating the Rosh Hashana message into Russian is Sasha Kovnator. We have a number of excellent translators at Tents of Mercy, but probably none are as lively as Sasha. His theatrical delivery and mimicry of both Eitan’s voice and movements convey the heart of the message to our Russian speaking members.
Sasha and his lovely wife Ira (also an excellent translator) made aliyah in December of 1998 from the Ukrainian city of Poltava. It is a city of about 400,000, located in the center of this former Soviet bloc nation. While neither of their respective families was considered poor by Ukrainian standards, growing up in Poltava was not easy. Compared to the affluent West it was another world.
Born in 1972, Sasha was raised by his father with visits to the home of his mother and two sisters who lived nearby. Sasha’s father was not an easy man to relate to. At the age of 5 the father was rescued from a Jewish ghetto in Byelorussia shortly after the death of his parents and spent the remainder of his childhood in an orphanage in Kazakhstan. Though Sasha was Jewish, there were no traditions or visible signs of Jewish heritage in his home.
Sasha grew up not knowing what it meant to be a Jew. He only understood that many of his schoolmates rejected him because of his Jewish surname.
When Sasha finished high school he began working in a factory. He did a brief stint at the university, but found nothing there that stimulated his sharp and active mind, so after a few months he returned to the factory. In time he entered the Soviet army and was involved in combat in the early 90’s in the struggles that ensued as the Soviet Union was breaking apart into smaller nation states.
After his army service, Sasha resumed work at the factory. As a result of negative war experiences, Sasha’s self confidence was greatly damaged. God’s solution was waiting for him back at the factory. His boss was a fine man and a good example for Sasha. He was respected by everyone and was known as a man who was successful in all that he put his hand to. During Sasha’s absence this man had become a believer in Yeshua and in young Sasha he found an eager disciple. Sasha saw in his boss a living faith and an example of what trust in Yeshua could do to transform a life. And so he embraced Messiah Yeshua in his own life.
Sasha became part of a local congregation. As his faith and understanding of the Scriptures grew (he read hundreds of biblically related books during this time), his giftings appeared and opportunities opened for him to teach and occasionally preach.
In this same congregation was a young lady named Ira. Both of Ira’s parents were engineers. Ira was a happy girl until the age of 13 when her beloved grandfather died. From that point a sadness set in and she was devoid of inner peace. As a teen, she studied elementary education and piano, but was more concerned with finding answers to a life which seemed increasingly meaningless. She read philosophy books for three years while involved in a cultish group that sought wholeness through nature and ascetic denial.
Ira began writing poems to God expressing her feelings of depression. In her longing for answers and yearning for love she found herself one day at a Baptist church where she heard a message that penetrated her heart.
Ira saw her sin, wept and received Yeshua. Her life was changed. With a friend from school she visited another congregation where she felt she should stay. After worshiping there for a year, she heard a voice in her spirit saying that Sasha, who happened to be teaching that day, would be her husband. For another three years she spoke of this to no one. Her interactions with Sasha were limited to occasional greetings and a few words about his teaching.
At the same time Sasha began to earnestly seek the Lord for a breakthrough in his life. He longed to give himself completely to the purposes of God. He also yearned for God to give him a wife – probably not realizing that a wife is one of God’s prime instruments to break us men! When the Lord showed him that Ira was the one, he was scared and thought “anyone but her.” He had never seen her in that context before and she seemed too holy and super spiritual for him. It is interesting to note that Ira also saw him as such. They hardly knew each other, but one day after services he asked her to marry him and she agreed. Three months later they were married. Though the marriage was based solely on their belief that God had brought them together, they soon grew to truly love one another.
From the time Ira became a believer she felt a strong connection with Israel. Within a few months after they were married she knew that they would live there.
When she told Sasha they would move to Israel he did not believe it would happen. Less than a year later, Sasha saw a film about Israel. He was convinced on the spot.
Not long before they were married one of the teachers in the congregation had told Ira of a dream in which he saw a map of Israel, an airplane and Sasha with Ira. When he asked her why she and Sasha were together in the dream she surprised him by telling him they were going to be married. Later, when it was time to make aliyah, they ordered tickets to come by ship. However, it didn’t work out and they came by airplane. A year and a half after they were married every detail of the dream was fulfilled.
Sasha and Ira are both very passionate in their love for Yeshua. They live in a simple apartment by the sea with their two children, Michael, 5, and Eden, 3. Ira teaches at a local kindergarten and Sasha works in a small restaurant. Neither is in any way materialistic. Irina loves to pray and prefers the solitude of nature to crowds, yet has a heart of love for people. Sasha is a man who also loves to pray and is a man of integrity. Recently, the place where he works was sold. The former owner told the new owner he could fire all the employees but that he would be foolish to let Sasha go because he was such a valuable man.
Sasha is about to lead a new homegroup at Tents of Mercy. In it he will not just be teaching the Bible. He will be imparting the reality of what God has done in their lives. When I asked Sasha and Ira what they would like to convey, not just in the homegroup, not just in this article, but in their lives, they were in complete agreement. Sasha said that in Ukraine he learned a lot of theology. All those books he read gave him a huge amount of information to digest. But what he has learned in the years he has lived here in Israel is much more valuable. He said, “It’s all about living your life in Yeshua. He is not a theology. He is the source of our life.”
“I have been crucified with Messiah, it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me; and the life I now live in this body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20