RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) – A 57-year-old woman dubbed “the wandering Israeli” by Peruvian media left Lima’s international airport after living in the arrivals area for 19 days and making headlines across the country.
Olga Babaev’s story was reported by Peruvian newspapers and TV channels, which likened it to Steven Spielberg’s film “The Terminal.” A nearly eight-minute broadcast June 19 followed her as she left the airport and visited a medical clinic, went on a sightseeing tour and called her son in the United States, whom she hadn’t seen for 22 years.
During her stay at the airport, which started when she landed May 29, the Israeli Embassy in Lima offered her assistance, but Babaev refused it, according to consul Limor Sherman. A Peruvian Jewish institution offered her shelter, which she also refused.
“I don’t want to go back to Israel. I don’t have anyone there. Also, I have problems with my family name, which is not Jewish,” Babaev told the El Comercio newspaper last week. “I want to go to a warm place.”
Peru is Babaev’s second stop in South America. After begging for food for two months on the streets of Rio, she was rescued by Jewish volunteers in May thanks to a rapid response initiated on Facebook. Soon after being taken to an upscale Jewish elder home, she decided to leave. She was then given a one-way ticket to Lima by a local Jewish-owned travel agency.
Born in Azerbaijan, Babaev reportedly made aliyah in 1991. She said she had suffered discrimination in Israel as a presumed Russian immigrant. Her situation and plans since leaving the Lima airport are unknown.
On June 20, Peruvian banker and former prime minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, whose father was Jewish, was elected Peru’s president. A renowned pathologist and one of Peru’s leading public health administrators, his father fled Berlin in 1933 because his family was Jewish.
Peru is home to some 3,000 Jews in a population of nearly 30 million.