IZHEVSK, Russia (Dec. 8)
Galina Bukki is so good at cooking gefilte fish and other Jewish specialties that local Jewish women asked her to head a new Jewish cooking club.
Though she liked the idea, she refused, as she thought it would be inappropriate if a non-Jew taught Jews how to cook traditional dishes.
Still, each Friday evening Bukki — whose husband is Jewish — comes to the Izhevsk Jewish center to help prepare a Shabbat meal for the small community. And on weekdays, Bukki volunteers to make home-care visits to the elderly Jews for Hesed, the local welfare organization.
“I’ve always felt myself at home in a Jewish environment, even more so than with non-Jews,” says Bukki, 59.
Bukki is one of a growing number of non-Jewish partners of Jews who are showing a commitment to the Jewish community.
Valery Bukki, Galina’s husband, knows this is true and not only through his own experience.
Every week, he drives his car, a small Russian-made Lada, to towns across Udmurtia, an autonomous republic inside Russia of which Izhevsk is the capital.
He is in charge of the Jewish community’s meals-on-wheels program that delivers food packages to a half dozen locations, including the town of Votkins, the birthplace of composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.
Valery Bukki says every Jew he met on his weekly trips to the hinterland is of mixed heritage.
An ethnic Russian, Galina Bukki was raised in Uzbekistan in Central Asia, which at the time had a significant population of both Bukharan Jews and Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. She said most of her classmates were Jewish, as were many teachers.
“From my early age I was surrounded by Jews, and it came as no surprise to anyone when I married a Jew,” she says.
It was her Jewish mother-in-law who taught her Jewish cooking.
The Bukkis spent 30 years at remote Russian naval bases on the Barents Sea, where Valery Bukki, a naval officer, worked on Soviet nuclear submarines. When he retired from active service, the family settled in Izhevsk, an industrial city 700 miles east of Moscow.
Both their children married non-Jews, and both now have children of their own.
The couple’s son left for Israel three years ago, and their daughter followed him with her family in late November.
Galina Bukki now feels deeply connected to Israel, which she has visited several times.
“I’m in love with the country,” she said of Israel. “I love absolutely everything about it.”
She says she wants to learn as much as possible about Judaism and Israel, the country of her children and grandchildren. Twice a week, she attends Hebrew classes at the Jewish community. On her recent visit to Israel, Galina says proudly, she was already able to test her Hebrew skills.
“I know some people are quite surprised at what I’m doing,” she said. “Yet I feel I must have more Jewish knowledge than Jews so that people should respect my interests.”