Polina Fradkin talks with Aviva Zacks about her life in Michigan, her early Israel experiences and what motivated her to move to Israel.
Polina Fradkin, 26, grew up in Farmington Hills and moved to Israel four years ago. She wanted to be the one to make the decision to make aliyah so her future offspring wouldn’t have to deal with saying goodbye to her.
Q: Tell me about your life in Michigan.
PF: I moved to Michigan from Russia with my family when I was almost 2. My parents sent me to Hillel Day School and then I went to Frankel Jewish Academy. After that, I did a gap year in Israel.
Q: What were your early Israel experiences?
PF: My first trip to Israel was my eighth-grade trip, and when I came back, I was sobbing every day about how much I wanted to be in Israel. I was just so upset to be back in Michigan! This sentiment clearly stuck with me.
For my gap year, I did an academic coed program called Kivunim. It was based in Jerusalem and focused on learning about global Jewry, bridging studies in Jerusalem and travels to all the places we learned about. We visited a total of 10 or 11 countries and spent a good amount of time in Israel as well.
I went back to Michigan after my gap year, but I continuously tried to find ways to come back to Israel. This included staffing Birthright trips, finding programs that would take people on, for example, trips for creatives in Israel, or any way to get back here. Any possible excuse to come back to Israel — winter break, summer break, spring break — I was here.
Q: What motivated you to move to Israel?
PF: It felt natural that when I graduated that I would spend more time here. So, I started applying for programs and fellowships based in Israel. I ended up getting a Fulbright Fellowship here, researching music. In retrospect, I guess I was softening the “I want to stay here for good” blow I later dealt my family.
During that year, I had an amazing friend group and apartment in Tel Aviv. Somehow, my apartment got the nickname “the Quad” and, thanks to one professional chef roommate of ours, we were hosting massive Shabbat dinners every single week. Eventually, we got sponsorships from Nefesh B’Nefesh and even raised money on Kickstarter to support these dinners.
Then, when the year was ending, I started thinking about what to do next. All the options were in front of me — moving to New York, maybe going to Europe. But I was just so happy here. I meditated on the beach about it, and it became clear to me. I had an amazing life. Why would I want to go looking anywhere else? I decided to stay.
I made aliyah a year after I had already been living in Israel. It didn’t feel like a difficult decision at all. Very natural. I thought of it in this framework: Being here means I’m deciding for future generations of my family. I’m pivoting the future Fradkin lineage, leading our thread which started in Eastern Europe and recently Russia and the U.S., back to our home and heritage. I envisioned staying in the states and my kids eventually leaving me to come here as I’m leaving my parents. I decided to make that decision for myself.
That year, my parents came for Pesach, and I told them at the seder that I wanted to stay. My mom said something amazing: “Your father and I are the generation that left Egypt. But you’re the generation that gets to enter Israel. We can’t conceive of the kind of freedom it takes to be able to come back to the homeland. Stay!”
Q: What do you miss about living in Detroit?
PF: Seasons were nice. We don’t get much of that here. Tomatoes Apizza in Farmington Hills — ah, I miss that place. And of course, my family.
Q: What do you love about living in Israel?
Polina: On the day of the most recent election, everyone was out. I saw people dancing, live jazz bands in the street, kids handing out lemonades to people who’d voted. Everybody was so alive and so happy! And all I could think looking around at the shops and the streets and at these gorgeous colorful people around me was that I could not believe this country exists.
I cannot believe that there is a place like this, that is so new, where all Jews can come, build their businesses, make a living, raise their children, vote democratically (we’re still working out the kinks on that one …) and speak our own language.
I couldn’t believe how privileged I am to live here, to live in this moment, in this modern and ancient, beautiful and slightly dysfunctional state. There’s no place I’d rather be.