April 22, 2009 / 28 Nissan 5769
Abe Lapson’s family history reads like a spy thriller. His maternal grandfather fled Nazi-invaded Poland in 1939 and fought as an officer for the Soviet army. After the war, he found out that his family had been slaughtered in the Holocaust, and requested to go Palestine. He was discharged on grounds of disloyalty, but recruited by an organization to illegally smuggle Jews into Palestine. After saving many people, he was captured and sentenced to a life of hard labor in the Gulag. He was released in 1956 upon Stalin’s death.
Abe’s mother was raised with a love of Israel and the Jewish people. His paternal grandfather was a member of the Communist party and his grandmother was Moscow’s chief doctor and a high ranking military officer. In 1982, his parents, both electrical engineers in senior positions, were fired, interrogated and almost thrown into prison when they requested to leave Russia. They managed, with Abe’s maternal grandparents, to get to Italy, where they were stopped by the CIA on suspicion of being Soviet spies. They finally arrived in the United States as political refugees in 1982.
“My family had nothing when they arrived,” says Abe. “But they were highly intelligent and willing to work very hard. My grandfather did physical labor to help the family until my mother and father were both employed at Northwestern University, where my father eventually became the director of networking.”
Abe, 22, and his younger sister and brother were born and grew up in Chicago. Their paternal grandmother and uncle arrived in the U.S. in1991 and the children grew up on stories from both grandparents. “I grew up with a strong Russian and Jewish culture and Russian is my first language,” says Abe, who sounds like a native Chicagoan. “But our family embraced American, Jewish and Russian culture and found a beautiful balance.” Before starting college, Abe decided to spend a year at a pre-military academy in Israel in the Golan Heights. He developed a strong appreciation for the people and the land, and at the end of the year he knew that Israel was the place he wanted to be.
Abe made aliyah in 2006 and enlisted in the army. He felt a strong personal commitment to Israel, and went on to become an officer. “My soldiers look to me for inspiration,” says Abe. “The fact that I gave up everything to make aliyah says it all.”
Abe feels that he is continuing his grandfather’s dream. His grandfather passed away two weeks after his 95th birthday, and the family buried him in Israel. When Abe finished his basic training he went to his grandfather’s grave in uniform and silently saluted this beloved man. “Making aliyah was the best decision in my life,” says Abe. “I have never been so happy.”
“My parents risked their lives to leave Russia in 1982," adds Abe. "I grew up in the U.S. with a strong appreciation for our freedom and for being Jewish. When I made aliyah, serving in the army was important to me. This was the most practical way to actualize my Jewish values and give to my people and my country.”
Abe is currently speaking to Jewish communities across the US. For more information about how Abe or other Jewish Agency program participants can speak to your communities about their experiences, click here.
The Jewish Agency supports hundreds of lone new immigrant soldiers, like Abe, who are currently serving in the IDF with a range of programs and assistance packages. To learn more about how you can get involved and help them, click here.