WINKLER -- Among the many challenges for a small group of Israeli immigrants who have started landing here is saying the "ch" and "th" sounds of the English language.
Evgenia Malyarevsky and Dmitry Elyason are originally from Ukraine when it was controlled by Communist Russia. There, they spoke Russian and Ukrainian. They immigrated to Israel in 1995 after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and learned Hebrew.
Now, with learning English, they are encountering some phonics that none of those languages shares.
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"In Russia, we speak with the back of the mouth. In Hebrew, we speak with the throat," said Evgenia. "Now..."
"We must open our mouths," finishes her husband, Dmitry, to their combined laughter.
The Israeli immigrants settling here are big hits in their new community, which is historically Mennonite but has become increasingly pluralistic the past 15 years through immigration.
"People here like to listen that we are from Israel. For them, it is like a miracle," Evgenia said.
They get asked questions ranging from politics, to their Jewish religion, to what the Holy Land is like. "People are very interested to know about Israel and they ask a lot of questions. They even ask a lot of questions about religion and Old Testament," she said.
It has been a very positive experience for his family, Dmitry said. "We feel, here, very friendly. People here like to help newcomers."
Times have certainly changed from when countries, including Canada, turned away Jewish people. Canada turned away a ship carrying 907 German Jews in 1939. Nearly a third died after their ship was forced to return to Europe.
Today, people arriving here from Israel are prized immigrants. Adele Dyck, of Star 7 International Inc., who assisted them with the immigration process, is very impressed with their skills and work ethic. "It is truly humbling to see just how hard they work," she said.
As an example, Dyck pointed to Evgenia, who is now learning her fourth language. Evgenia studied English for two months in school in Israel so she could pass Canada's new higher English-language standards. Now she is taking four English courses in Winkler to improve her language skills so she can work in her field as a lab technician.
Star 7 has landed 10 Israeli families in the area in the past two years, with more scheduled to arrive. Many of the newly arrived Israelis are trained in health care, such as nurses or lab technicians. Dyck said two more male nurses from Israel are on the way to Winkler. Their skills position them for work at Boundary Trails Hospital, a modern facility that serves a region of about 50,000 people, located halfway between Winkler and Morden.
There are also two Israeli families in Birtle in western Manitoba and two families in Winnipeg but who work in the Steinbach area.
Evgenia and Dmitry and their children left much behind.
"We really liked Israel," Evgenia said. "It's a very beautiful country. We adapted to this country. We love Israeli people. We have a big and beautiful house. We have cars. We have jobs."
But in Israel, they also had rocket fire.
They lived in the small city of Sderot next to the Gaza Strip, a regular target for rocket attacks from Gaza. While they lived there, 13 people were killed by rocket fire, more than half of them children, Dmitry said, and many more have been wounded. The family was particularly traumatized when a rocket struck their daughter's school. Fortunately, the children were away on vacation.
"We left Israel only for a peaceful life without rockets," Dmitry said.
They're starting over again as they approach their 40s.
They immigrated now because their two children are getting closer to the age when they will be drafted into the Israeli army. Young men and women receive a letter from the military at age 16. They can no longer leave the country after that, even though their service doesn't begin until 18.
There is no synagogue in Winkler, but five families -- four from Winkler and one from Morden -- meet every Saturday night for Shabbat, a time of dining and socializing. The other Winkler families come from Haifa and Jerusalem, the Morden family from Ramat Gan.
Evgenia and Dmitry have not ruled out settling in Winkler. They like small cities, said Dmitry, noting Sderot has a population of just 24,000. It will depend on what jobs they can find. Dmitry is currently working at Decor Cabinets. He was a department store manager in Israel.