Meet_The_Oleh: Kenizsa Wang
Aliyah Date: August 2008
Home Country: Philippines
Current City: Tel Aviv
Israel may always be our home, but it doesn’t always feel that way at first.
Stepping off the plane with Israeli flag in hand and a smile on your lips is just the first step.
Then you have to actually live. You have to create a new life, and allow for the journey to unfold. And for many, that journey doesn’t always look magical.
There are twists and turns, bumps and dead-ends, and even some tears.
Kenizsa Wang’s Israel story looks different to most, and is an inspiration to us all. As an Asian Jew living in Israel from the young age of 12, she has learned how to navigate unique challenges that most never encounter, all while staying true to herself and her values.
Kenizsa grew up with her grandparents in a traditional Chinese family in the Philippines.
Back in the 90’s, her father’s family officially converted to Judaism, after studying and practicing the traditions for many years. A few of his siblings made the move to Israel, and settled in the religious community of Har Nof, Jerusalem, while he stayed in the Philippines with his parents- Kenizsa’s grandparents, who raised her.
Childhood as a Jew in the Philippines is complex. Kenizsa and her two sisters, who also grew up in their grandparent’s home, struggled to find their place. As active members of the Jewish community of the Philippines, they felt a strong sense of Jewish identity, in a country with very few Jews. Their home life was filled with Jewish tradition, Shabbat dinners, and nighttime Jewish stories. But Kenizsa and her sisters attended an all-girls Catholic school, and the chasm only continued to grow. While Kenizsa was bullied at school for being Jewish, her sisters began adopting different Catholic customs from the girls around them.
Eventually, her grandparents made the decision to pick up and move to Israel, to try and create a better life for their grandchildren. But for Kenizsa, the move to Israel was a shock, to say the least. No more life of comfort and ease. They left their mansion and glamorous lifestyle behind, and instead, they settled in the Charedi community of Har Nof. It was in there that Kenizsa began to understand even more what it’s like to feel like an outsider. Not only did she look different, but Kenizsa felt different too. She began a new life in a community that didn’t truly see her, and was sent to a Charedi religious school that she felt didn’t allow her to explore her own authenticity.
For many years, Kenizsa dreamed of going back to the Philippines; back to her father and back to comfort. But overtime, she began to explore different communities in Israel, and discovered an Israel she never knew existed. After some trial and error, Kenizsa made her way to Tel Aviv; and 6 years later, she is still thriving.
Today, Kenizsa has recently begun a new career shift in the ever-growing and fast-paced hi-tech world of Tel Aviv, after years in the field of child development and behavior, and is excited for the challenge! She’s a part of a community that accepts her and nourishes her, and finds freedom in living her religious truth there.
“I am the happiest I have ever been in Tel Aviv. I have a very strong Jewish community here. I found where I belong. My friends have become my family. It takes time, but once you find your community, there is nothing better!”
In Tel Aviv, Kenizsa found her voice; and it is her warm, open and friendly voice that has made her so loved among her peers. Each week, she hosts large Shabbat meals- in her home, anyone and everyone is welcome- regardless of background or religious belief. She is involved in organizing and running different social events in Tel Aviv among young professionals and loves bringing people together! She has also found the love of her life in Tel Aviv, Eli, who has been a huge support and source of joy for her along the way, always encouraging her to be her authentic self.
Kenizsa is known for her bright spirit and home filled with different and unique people. If you are ever in Tel Aviv and looking for some love, find Kenizsa, who is on the board of The Kerem House- a social space for Tel Aviv young professionals- and is involved in Chabad on the Coast community!
Finding your place in this country may take some time, and we may even make some mistakes along the way. But that is all part of the journey. And the journey is what makes us stronger.
But life in Israel still comes with its challenges for Kenizsa, and she still feels different here. As one of the few Asian Jews living in Israel, the experience can be both frustrating and saddening.
“There is still so much work to be done with racism in Israel. I still get asked if I can clean someone’s home, or assumed to be the building staff at my work before I get the chance to even open my mouth. Most assume I am not even Jewish.”
There are so many different kinds of Jews, and Israelis are beginning to experience that more and more.
But what makes Kenizsa so inspiring, among other things, is her resilience. She has learned to be proud of her heritage and stand strong in who she is. To her, being an Asian Jew is a beautiful thing, and it makes her the woman that she is today. Being different makes her stronger.
So how does she respond to the blatant racism she faces every so often?
Well, she whips out that good old Israeli chutzpah (sass), and puts them in their place! Sometimes, chutzpah can only be met with chutzpah, while continuing to proudly maintain her Chinese roots.
Like every place, Israel definitely has its areas of improvements, and these are things that we should not shy away from.
Kenizsa also really encourages parents who are making Aliyah with their children to be sensitive to their children’s needs. Just as adults need Aliyah prep, so do children. They need information, reassurance, and respect in the process as well.
Living here has given her thick skin, and today, Kenizsa uses that to live her life unapologetically. She marches to the beat of her own drum, and encourages those around her to as well.