Living A Dream, Zell Enlists in Israeli Army

[By Phyllis Shaikun]

In just a short time, 19-year-old Eliza Zell, president of the Hillel Chapter at the University of Louisville, will be living her dream by making aliyah for three years and serving in the Israeli military for at least half that time – and she can’t wait.

“I first went to Israel with my parents when I was 16,” Zell says, “and from the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew I belonged there.” She wanted to move to Louisville after high school graduation, but delayed her plans to attend college.

She spent the summer of 2008 in Israel as a counselor at a camp run by the RJC (Russian Jewish Community Federation of Boston) and this past summer, she worked at an RJC camp in Sderot on the Gaza border. The city has been subjected to relentless mortar and rocket attacks over the past few years and their plight motivated Zell to want to go to Israel to “fight for and with them” to make things better.

Over the next month, she will participate in a birthright Israel trip for two weeks and then spend two weeks at home before moving to Israel on February 13. Her friend, Zach Shields, will be accompanying her to an ulpan at Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan near Haifa where the two will be staying until July. In August, they will take part in the Garin Tsabar program, which also has an ulpan component, and will be officially enlisted in November.

Life has already been exciting for Zell, whose parents brought her from Minsk in Belarus when she was just five months old. The family lived in Chicago for two years where they learned English at the JCC. They brought their family to Louisville two years later


Her parents, both college graduates in Russia, realized their own dreams in Louisville, where they found a welcoming Jewish community and the opportunity to work – her mother in a grocery store and her father as a tow truck driver. Thanks to the support they received, her mother now owns her own medical resources business and works with individuals with diabetes, many of whom live in Shalom Tower. Her father is a highly respected engineer at General Electric.


Zell recalls she was introduced to Hillel by Peter Anik, who worked for many years as Hillel director at the former Jewish Community Federation. “I love the group and stepped up this year to be president this year,” she said. “I was able to bring my friends in and am proud that the chapter has grown so much. I am sure Gairy Ocheretner and Barry Mordukhaev, the chapter’s new president and vice-president respectively, will take it to a new level in the coming year.”

Zell actually introduced Ocheretner, a 21-year-old pre-med student at UofL, to Hillel. “She told me,” he recalls, “that it is an organization for Jewish students, a place where we could socialize, celebrate Jewish holidays together and participate in the Jewish community as a group.”

Ocheretner, who was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and moved to the United States in 1994, has been active with the chapter for about 18 months. He is grateful that  Hillel has given him the opportunity to openly express his Jewish beliefs without fear of “adverse retaliation.” He considers his involvement a great experience and opportunity thus far.

As president, he hopes to identify and involve more Jewish students on campus in Hillel and involve them in the Louisville Jewish community through volunteer opportunities and other projects and programs.

If you are interested in learning more about Hillel, please contact Hillel Director Tzivia Levin at 451-8840 or

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