At only 19, Tania Leontieff of Safed has an interesting life story. As the daughter of an itinerant Gypsy (Roma) family, most of her life was spent moving from place to place around eastern Europe. Four years ago, Leontieff discovered that she had Jewish roots and made the bold decision to move to Israel alone. She was recently drafted into the Israel Police and become Israel’s first Gypsy policewoman.
“I was born a Gypsy and I spent my childhood and teenaged years among Gypsies who roamed around eastern Europe and Siberia,” she tells Israel Hayom.
“My dad and his family came from a traditional Gypsy tribe that kept all the strict rules. He met my mother on one journey — she’s a Gypsy too, but of Jewish descent. They fell in love but my dad’s family objected because they were against mixed marriages.”
Leontieff’s parents did not submit to the harsh tribal rules. They ran away, married, and hid out on the frozen plains of Siberia.
“When I grew up, my parents told me a little about my mom’s Jewish roots,” Leontieff says. “I became interested in Israel and Judaism. I wanted to live as a Jew and I knew that Israel was the best place for me.”
When she was 15, Leontieff decided to leave the Gypsy life behind, immigrate to Israel by herself, and start a new life. With help from the Jewish Agency, she converted to Judaism, and despite her father’s demands did not return to the Gypsy community in Siberia. Leontieff is finishing the cadets course at the police academy and will be posted, at her request, to a patrol unit in the Jerusalem District Police.
“I’m sure that [police] service will help me realize my dream of being integrated into Israeli society and making my family and the Gypsy community very proud,” she says.