Doctor, Performer

Please tell us a little about your education and career. NELLY TSIRULNIKOVA.jpg
I graduated with honors from the First Moscow State Medical University and worked as a doctor for more than thirty years. At first I worked as a local doctor, then an ambulatory doctor. I did my residency at the Botkin Hospital in Moscow in laboratory diagnostics and hematology. At the Institute of Gastroenterology, I defended my dissertation, and before leaving for Israel I worked at the First Moscow State Medical University.

When did you come to Israel, and what prompted you to leave the former Soviet Union?
I moved to Israel in January 1993. There were tanks on the streets of Moscow, a state of complete rejection of what is happening. We realized that morally we can no longer live there: there was no room to breathe. And so we left, leaving behind a wonderful job, an excellent apartment, our eldest son, family, friends. We left for the unknown. We understood that in Israel we most likely would never succeed in gaining the same level of success and status that we enjoyed in Moscow. In additional to my medical career, my husband was the head of a large department at the State Polytechnical Museum.

How was life in Israel?
My husband, being a metallurgical engineer by education, got a job at a jewelry factory, and later at a Judaica workshop. I came across a wonderful sewing workshop (everything was sewn in my family, and since childhood I loved sewing). It was an atelier of artistic Judaica. We sewed beautiful things to decorate religious houses and synagogues: Parochet, the special curtain used for the Aron (Torah ark) in the synagogue, cases for Torah scrolls, bags for tallit and tefillin, napkins for Shabbat and festivals, pouches for matzah, among other ritual crafts. Everything was made using exquisite fabrics – velvet, brocade, satin, patterned ribbons. I worked there for thirteen years, after which I retired.

Where does your family come from?
I was born and raised in Ukraine. My parents were completely non-observant. But my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Khaya Nokhimovna, with whom I spent most of my childhood and youth, was very traditional, especially when it came to Jewish dietary laws. For example, if the soup was dairy, then the second course would be fish, not meat. She had separate dishes for milk and meat. When my grandmother was to get married through traditional Jewish matchmaking in 1909, she submitted a document called a “Teudat ravakut,” a rabbinically certified document attesting to the fact that she was single and had never been married. When my youngest son married in Israel in 1993, his Jewishness had to be confirmed before the marriage ceremony. This document served as evidence to the rabbi in Jerusalem. The rabbis were shocked to see such a rare document. In general, our family carefully preserved all documents related to Jewry. My grandmother’s husband, my grandfather, Gidel Berkovich, who was of Lithuanian descent (my grandmother lovingly called him “Litvok”), was a cabinet maker by profession. I remember the extraordinary beauty of the of his work. There was one cabinet door that was always locked, where my grandmother kept the Passover dishes. For most of my life I was distant from observing Jewish traditions. My husband and I grew up in ordinary Soviet families, and only after arriving in Israel did we really feel our Jewishness. There I realized that one cannot live in the Holy Land without faith. I am a non-religious person, but a believer. We discovered a huge layer of Jewish history, Jewish culture, literature, Jewish traditions. We traveled a lot around the land, and completed courses on the history of Jerusalem. We were imbued with the beauty of the Jewish holidays, and we came to appreciate their significance. Now it’s even difficult for us to imagine ourselves without Judaism as part of our lives. Wherever we live there is always a mezuzah on the door of our house, and on Friday nights I light Shabbat candles.

What do you like best about JRCC programs?
I constantly read the Exodus Magazine, where I always find interesting articles and stories.

What do you do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
I have been retired for a long time. I run the household, and work on my English. I read a lot, I love music and theater very much. We attend symphony concerts and guest performances at the Richmond Hill Arts Center, which is located near our home. For the past twenty-five years, I have been performing literary performances at the Sounding Book Theater that I created. This is the theater of one actor, which I conceived back in Moscow, and then began at the Jerusalem Russian Library. I performed in many cities of Israel, from Haifa and Hadera in the north to Sderot and Mitzpe Ramon in the south. Only one month after arriving in Canada I was graced with the good fortune of having the opportunity to continued my performances here. Within the first three years, thirty-six solo performances took place. Now the theater’s repertoire has thirty-four large solo programs, and in all over the past quarter century, six hundred performances have taken place. In my theater, I try to build a repertoire in such a way that it has a vibrant Jewish theme.

What are your plans for the future?
To live, enjoy every day we live, enjoy the successes and achievements of children. I have two sons, three granddaughters and a grandson. An, beyond staying strong and healthy, to continue my work with the Sounding Book Theatre.