Friday, February 1, 2019

#2 ~ 1960 ~ Our life in Vinnitza, Ukraine

Back to the Beginning

We lived in a small, dark 2 ROOM basement apartment: My Grand Mother Clara, Grandpa Aron, My Mom, my Dad, my sister Alla and I. I was always sick. I guess lack of vitamins and and basic nutrients were the reason. I was in and out of the children's hospital all the time. I found this picture. It was taken after I came home from the long stay in the hospital. They even shaved my hair. I was so little, weak and sad!
Marina Davidovich on the left with Grandma Clara and neighbors, Ludmila and Alex.
When I was in first grade few exciting things happened: we moved from the 2 rooms apartment in the basement, where we lived with my Mom and Dad, my Grandmother Clara, Grandfather Aron and my older sister Alla to a 3 room big apartment in the new development, on the second floor! My father worked for the building company and in order to secure our new apartment, we moved in before it was complete. I remember walking through a" construction" zone for many months. We did not have heat or running water, or even electricity. But it was on the second floor and we did not have condensation running down the walls and we had natural light and windows that were above the ground!!! But the most important: we had bathroom and shower inside!
And then in November my little brother Eduard was born. I was a big sister! My responsibility was to keep the temporary wood stove burning and make sure that baby's blankets were warm. I also remember always being hungry. My Mom would wake me up at 5am in the morning, bundle up my little brother and we would go to stay in line to get eggs and milk and sometimes white bread. Food was rationed and one had to be in line to get ten eggs, milk and sometimes sour cream. I cried "I don't like milk and eggs, I don't want to go!"
In a few months, workers finished the building and it was fun watching other people moving in the vacant apartments.

  Then, in the spring of that year, I was one of 10 girls chosen by my PE teacher to go and try out for gymnastics group in the Youth Sport School. My first coach was Ida Davidovich (who knew she is going to be my mother-in-law?!). She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. Most of the women wore ugly boots (valenki), she had shoes on high heels, most women wore "babushkas" on their heads, she wore beautiful hats. I wanted to be just like her!

Ida Davidovich, my first Coach ( Photo by Marina Davidovich)
Next Post: 1961-1964 ~ School Years

Thursday, January 31, 2019

#3 ~ 1961-1964 ~ School Years

Back to the Beginning
Previous: 1960 ~ Our life in Vinnitza, Ukraine

My school years were happy years. I loved school. Probably because I was a good student, teachers always praised me, I participated in all the school event: social or athletic. I loved my teachers: Aron Isakoich - Math, Rimma Ivanovna - Russian Literature, Valentina Vasilevna - English teacher, Diana Gavrilovna - Geography  and many, many more. They gave me tools, they taught me that MORE I know, more I know that I DON'T know! I was reading lots of books any time, anywhere, even during some boring classes, which got me in trouble many times.
I was very involved  with my gymnastics after school, took piano classes for the first 3 years of school. And since we did not have a convenience of a personal car, every day after school, laden with heavy school books and a bag with gymnastics uniform, I had to take city bus and city tram to get to my gymnastics practice. No wonder I was always tired...
In the 6th grade I was introduced  to the ballroom dancing. My partner, Eugene Vaiman (who is the Chairman of the Ballroom Association in Israel now) and I participated in every state, sectional and Regional competition. The only bad thing I remember is that my feet ALWAYS hurt. No wonder: my shoes were 2 sizes too small, but they were beautiful!
 Our team was the great! We won District and Regional Championships and represented our Region on National Championships many years in a row.

1968 ~ Rhythmic Gymnastics Team after the competition watching the rest of the competitors ( photo by Marina Davidovich).

1968 ~ Marina (Right), Ludmila Goyeva ( middle) ~ photo by Marina Davidovich.

Some families lived better, some worse than us. It was very common to have a kitchen and bathroom shared by 3 or 4 families. They were called commune kitchen. But I really don't remember anyone complaining. Maybe I was too young? Store shelves were empty. If we walked down the street and saw the line in front of the store, we had to get in line and then find out  what they have. And no matter what it was, we bought it, whether it was food or shoes or clothes, regardless we need it or not.

Next: 1964-1970 ~ Teenage years

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

#4 ~ 1964 -1970 ~ Teenage years

Back to the Beginning
Previous: 1961-1964 ~ School Years

As I was getting older, I saw things that were hard to explain.
One day in the 6th grade we went to the city library that was  much bigger and better then our school library. When we stopped by the front desk, we were asked to fill out the library card. One of the questions was: your nationality. I looked over my friend's shoulder and wrote: "Ukrainian" just like she did. After all, we lived in Ukraine. But when the librarian took my card, she looked at me and said: "No, honey, you are a Jew". I could not understand how am I different from my friends: we speak the same language, go to the same school, eat the same food... But apparently, I was different.
My best friend in school was Olga Banit. I would go to her house very often to do homework together, play, or just "hang out". I was so surprised that they always had meat, fresh fruit, butter. They had telephone and even refrigerator! When I questioned my Mom about it, she said:"Olga's father is important, he works for the Government." But I still could not understand, could not agree.

Movies were often the "windows to the world". We especially loved foreign movies. Some of my favorites were "Funny Girl", "Sound of music". When we watched the movie, most of the time it was NOT the plot or great actors that fascinated us. What was incredible is that even simple people (not just in Government) had apartments, cars, food, gum, Coca-Cola (Oh, how we dreamed of tasting Coca-Cola!!!), and people could just move from one place to another without any problems. For us to move from one city to another was close to impossible.

Bit still, I was a very good student in school, was very successful in gymnastics, and in 9th grade I started character dancing, which was fun, exciting and dynamic. I loved performing, loved costumes and of course all the attention...
                                       May 1969 ~ Marina Davidovich performing in the Central theater, Vinnitza, Ukraine.
Posted by Marina Davidovich.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

#5 ~ 1970 ~ High School

Back to the Beginning
Previous Post:1964-1970 ~ Teenage years

Our school was very different from the schools here, in the US. We went to the same school from the first grade (elementary school) to the 10th grade ( high school). Teachers changed, subjects changed, but the core of students was the same. Since I was one of the the top students in my grade (about 120 kids), there was no question if I am going to College. The big question was: which one???
My English teacher wanted me to continue with languages, my math teacher was sure that I will be an engineer, my gymnastics coach had no doubt that I have to be  coach/choreographer and of course my dance instructor would not talk about anything else, but "grooming" me for a dancer/performer. Decisions, decisions...
Around March of 1970 we had 2 young men coming to our school. They were representing Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) College of Aviation Instrument Design. They were very good looking, well dressed, smart, funny, articulate, convincing and did I mention - very good looking. After several days of listening to them describe the College, asking questions, looking at the pictures, reading pamflets,  I made my decision: I am going to Leningrad. My friend, Ludmila Pogoran and I registered for 1 month of preparatory classes, which were going to start on June 1.
In May I passed final exams in school and my math teacher, Aron Isakovich was very happy with my decision.
After the exams, we all fell free, happy, looking forward to our future! We had a very memorable and exciting graduation ceremony and graduation ball. Beautiful dresses (my aunt Marta got me lace white dress), music, dancing, even champagne, staying up all night, watching sunrise. It seemed like anything is possible, anything is achievable!!!
End of June: bags packed, tickets purchased, goodbyes said and we are on our way to Leningrad, the most beautiful city in the world (at that time my world was rather small).

1970 ~ Marina is ready or not...for the independant life in Leningrad

Monday, January 28, 2019

#6 ~ 1970 ~ Summer - Leningrad

Back to the Beginning
Previous Post:1970 ~ High School

We arrived to Leningrad by train in the morning. The plan was: to sleep on the train and be ready for adventures in the morning. But we were so excited and thrilled, we did not sleep at all that night. So needless to say when we arrived, we were dead tired and exhausted. Thankfully, it was pretty easy to find the college, but it took us all day to register, pick up schedules, get to the dorms, unpack. We had all the intentions to go out and explore the city, but both of us fell asleep despite the commotion, noise, clatter, loud voices all around us. I woke up in the middle of the night very confused and hungry. The clock showed 3 am, but it was light outside. I stood by the window and looked into the still of the white night. It was surreal!
Next day started early. Our first class was in the big auditorium. Young professor made two announcements that were rather shocking:
 #1 - Forget everything you have learned in school. HA!!!
#2-The chance that you will get accepted is very slim. We have 7 people applying for 1 spot. Double HA!!
It dampened our spirits for just a few minutes. We had so many great and fun things ahead of us, or so we thought.
Every day started at 7am with classes in algebra, geometry, physics. After 3pm - quick dinner mostly of noodles or potatoes, on the good day a jar of stuffed Bulgarian pepper, and on with the home work. Only after 6 or 7pm we were able to go and explore this beautiful city. I knew the fascinating history of Leningrad, but it was so different to see it, touch it, smell it. Whenever we had a chance we would visit the Hermitage Museum. Several times we took a ferry to the summer palace in Petergoff. It was a magical time. I did miss my Mom and Dad, even my annoying little brother. I missed the warmth and security of my home. But being on my own, making decisions, learning and exploring was very exciting.

Day of the entry exams. I was so nervous. First exam was a written math test. It lasted about 4 hours. I passed with the grade of 4. (Grade system is different: 1 being the worst, like an "F" and 5 being the best like an "A"). So 4 was very good.
Next day was oral math test. We would come into the classroom on e at a time, pull the ticket with 3 questions from the table. After 15 minutes of preparation, we had to answer these questions. So there are no multiple choice questions....I did not do very well. Professor kept interrupting me and asking something so irrelevant to what my questions were. I was very confused. I got a disappointing 3.
Physics and the Essay went very well, without any problems. My total score was15.
Ludmila and 2 other girls from my dorm room already failed and left, so I was in the room all by myself. On one hand, it was lonely and sad, on the other hand, more chances for me to make it. In the morning we got a word that the score to get in is 15. 15!!!! It means I made it. I ran downstairs where they displayed the list of all the students that were accepted, just to make sure. But I did not see my name. First, I thought that it was a mistake. I had 15 points, I had be on the list!
I stopped by the office to talk to the administrator. He was very nice and said the I did great, but they only accepted the certain percentage of girls and that I should try again next year.
I could not believe what I heard. I wanted to scream, to hit somebody, especially those two good looking boys that convinced me to come to this College (only now they did not seem so good looking). Disappointment, sadness, anger, gloom, humiliation. How am I to look into my Mom's eyes? I was sure that all my friends from school got into the Colleges. What am I to do? I was suppose to vacate the dorm room by next day, I had no money or place to stay. I was 17 years old and  life seemed to be over. So the only thing I could do is go home.
I did not realise back then, that it was my first LIFE lesson.

Next: 1970-1971 ~ Now What?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

#7 ~ 1970-1971 ~ NOW WHAT?

Back to the Beginning
Previous Post:1970 ~ Summer - Leningrad

Well, my plans of going to College in Leningrad were crashed. I came home and frankly did not know what to do. It's like my life hit the dead end, came to a halt. But I did not realise that when one tiny door was slammed in my face, so many huge windows of opportunity opened up! I continued with my gymnastics training. My coach could not be more delighted. I helped with younger kids, competed very successfully and enjoyed the fact that I did not have any home work! We trained in a big gymnasium, but did not know that the Gym did not have any heat. It was so freezing in the winter, that our coach and piano player had to wear coats, gloves and hats...I also danced in the company and was available to perform in and out of town.
My younger brother, Eduard was attending the same school that I graduated. One day (I think in September), he came home and said that the School Principal wanted me to come and see him. What? Principal's office? What have I done now? I was nervous and prepared a short speech explaining why I did get into College. When I came into his office, Michael Georgevich, my School principal ( everyone, including all the teachers were terrified of him) got up, put his arms around me and gave me a big bear hug. I did not expect this AT ALL! I started crying, but he took my hand and told me what a smart, talented, bright person I am and that I will have a very successful future in front of me. I practically looked around to see if he was talking to someone else. He offered me a job, paying job! teaching children dance classes in the school. UNHEARD OF!!! I immediately said "YES!" So overnight I turned from a sad little girl into a young lady, with even adults looking at me with respect and admiration.
Another exciting event happened: We got a telephone! OMG! It was a split line with our neighbors, which means: if I wanted to use it I needed to go outside on the balcony and yell "Get off the phone!" to my neighbor, since she was talking all the time. But it was a telephone! And we were one of the very few families that had this luxury.

                                              1970 ~ Marina ~ first year of teaching dance and gymnastics classes.

Friday, January 25, 2019

#8 ~ 1971 ~ Glimpse into adulthood

Back to the Beginning
Previous Post:1970-1971 ~ Now What?

Right after the New Year we had a guest coach from Kiev, Elena Vasilievna. She was fabulous! We trained 6-7 hours at a time and still it was not enough. She was strict, fare, knowledgeable and made us laugh at our own mistakes. I fell in love with her style of teaching. Elena asked me what were my plans for next year. And I said that I am going back to Leningrad to try again. She looked into my eyes and said:” Why? You definitely have talent to be a fantastic coach. If you change your mind, come and apply to the Kiev State University of Physical Culture. That's were I am teaching." I was very touched, thankful and said that I will think about it.
Elena Biruk, one of the best coaches in the World

My very first coach, Ida got married and moved to Kiev when I was 7 years old. (That's one of the ways to move from one city to another...) I knew that she had a son, Felix. Why is this important?
Well, at the end of January he called me and asked if I could assist him in finding Ida's former students. I agreed to meet him and we spent a long day together tracking down Ida's students. We talked about his days in the Army, my failed attempt to get into College, history, art, movies, books. I was surprised how easy it was talking to him, how smart he was and how different he was from the other boys I dated. He walked me home (I insisted on it!), we said goodbyes not realizing that this was THE beginning of the rest of our lives together.
February 23 was a big celebration in the former Soviet Union: Day of Soviet Army. Big military parades in all the big cities, music, celebration. I was sending cards to all my friends (boys), not boyfriends and decided to send one to Felix. After all, he served in the Army.
March 8 is another big Holiday - International Women’s Day. No parades, no fireworks, but men customary gave flowers and presents to women. That night my Mom said that there is someone on the phone for me. It was Felix! He congratulated me with March 8th and invited me to come and visit him in Kiev. I felt very special! After all he was so much older and seemed so grown up and sophisticated and refined!

Felix when we first met
In a few weeks, without telling my Mom, I got on the train and went to Kiev. Felix showed me this beautiful city, we talked and walked the streets of the city, and he was a perfect host. At that time he lived with his mother and her former husband in the 2-room ( not 2 bedroom) apartment. They shared kitchen and bathroom. What a life!
The weekend passed very fast. I got home all giddy, happy and lightheaded. I had to make a decision what to do next. I could listen to people's advice, but decision had to be mine: what to do? Being adult is hard. You have to make your decisions that will impact the rest of your life!
After long and extensive contemplating, I decided to go to Kiev and become a COACH. Did the fact that Felix lived there have anything to do with it? Probably... But thinking how much I enjoyed teaching dance in school, how I loved gymnastics, and the fact that I will be coached by the country’s best also helped me to make up my mind.
So in June I went to Kiev to apply to the Kiev State University of Physical Culture.

Next: 1976 - Coming to America 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

#9 ~ My College Years

You might think that I will tell some crazy, wild stories about my life in College. Sorry to disappoint everyone: it was pretty boring. Since I had very high scores during the entry exams, I was awarded a stipend and a dormitory. Well, it sounds great, but the stipend was $50.00 rubles a month and dormitory was a depressing, tiny room that I shared with a girl from Belarus (Tatyana). The rules of the dormitory could be compared to the one in prison: no drinking, smoking, no boys in or near the building, front doors are locked, at 22:00 (10pm)... You got the point. The worst part of being in the dormitory was noise and total lack of privacy. Anyone could come into you room, take anything they wanted, including clothes, shoes, books, personal items, etc. I could only endure it for 3 or 4 weeks and along with my new friend we decided that we will be better off renting an apartment somewhere near the College.
Well, that was a rush decision based on our inexperience, immature and naive  we were. During our first year in College we had to move 6 or 7 times from a bad place to the worse one. It gives me shivers just remembering some places we had to stay... Few times we were lucky to rent a bed!!! So in about 2 months our dorm rooms seemed like a palace. But it was too late, since we gave it up.
But  despite of harsh leaving conditions and constantly being hungry I enjoyed classes, practice, new sites and new experiences.
I was dating Felix who was older, wiser and more knowledgeable. We would meet at night after my classes and gymnastics practice. He would always bring something to eat: sandwich, sweet cheese, candies. We would go to the movies, or just spent time walking the streets of Kiev. I was always looking forward to our dates. One night after the practice I was running late and coming down from the staircase I did not realise that one side of the huge glass door was closed. I just ran through it. I stopped on the other side of it,  turned around and saw the huge piece of glass just crashing behind me. It was a miracle, but I did not have a scratch on me. I saw all the people staring at me with horror and amazement and pointing at a pile of class on the floor... I guess, I was in a big hurry for my date :-).
My favorite subjects in College were anatomy and biology. I also enjoyed our training, competitions, performances and trips around the country. I was also beginning to practice how to be a judge and enjoyed it very much.
Marina Davidovich judging State Championships at Kiev State University

Friday, January 18, 2019

#10 ~ My College Years Continue

College courses were very easy for me. Now that I am going back in time, it's interesting that I not only remember dates and people and events, I also remember what I was thinking at that time! I remember my thoughts and dreams...One day our rowing team came back from competition in Poland. They brought some things that were not possible to buy in Kiev: lazor blades for men, make up, clothes. We were all admiring those items behind the Gym on the bench. And then I saw a sweater: beautiful sweater. I tried it on and it was a perfect fit. I could not resist. It was $50.00 rubles, my monthly stypend. I bought this sweater and later that night Felix scolded me that I lost my mind, that I am not thinking, etc. My answer was: "But it looks so good on me, it's my money and I am a girl!"
Marina Davidovich in front of Kiev State University of Physical Culture with teammates after practice.

My favorite subjects were anatomy and bio mechanics. But later that year we had a new professor who was teaching psychology. He was brilliant. He introduced us to the works of  Sigmund Freud, Joseph Breuer and many more. I loved his lectures, his presentations and experiments.
 At that point we, my roommate Tatyana and I, were renting a small room in the apartment building. We had a very limited access to the kitchen and bathroom. But it was very close to College and very convenient for us. We could even come home between the classes. Since we did not have refrigerator, we kept some of our food supply outside the window. One day we came home and as usual we were starving. The only thing we had was the container with sour cream. We ate it with a loaf of white bread. In about half an hour both of us were lying on the floor crying from intense (understatement !)pain. Obviously we had food poisoning! I don't remember how we got to the medical center in College, but the nurse was very quick to diagnose us and made us drink 3 gallons of special water with disinfectant. It was horrible, nasty and horrifying! But she was yelling at us:"Do you want to die??? Drink!!!" We recovered, but NEVER ate sour cream again.
Felix was a big part of my life. He lived with his mother, Ida and shared kitchen and bathroom with her ex-husband. He slept in a narrow and dark hallway. But their one room apartment was nice and bright and nicely decorated. I loved coming there. Felix introduced me to some of his friends and there was a lot of talking about people that left Soviet Union and moved to Israel, USA, Canada. Some stories were tragic, some happy. We read letters from people, listened to the BBC radio, which was forbidden, had a lot of discussions about what it would be like to leave Soviet Union. But I never thought that it could be a reality, at least for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

#11 ~ 1973 ~ Decisions, decisions...

On a very warm bright, autumn afternoon we, Felix and I were walking in the park. He stopped, looked at me  and said: "I have a very important question to ask you." After a moment of silence he said that he is planning to leave Soviet Union and go to Israel or USA and if we are to stay together, I will have to come with him. I was in shock. I knew he was thinking about it, talked to a lot of people about it, but I had no idea that he was actually going to do it. So the decision I had to make: stay and live without him or go and leave my family, friends, life as I know it behind. It was just too much. I said that I cannot do it. And that was that...
I walked home by myself, crying, confused, scared. I don't remember if it was hours, days or weeks beeing without him. Nothing seemed real. My friends were trying to help me, but I could not tell them the real reason we broke up. I could not tell ANYONE the real reason.
I was home, tired and depressed, when Tanya, my roommate said:"He is here, Felix is here!" I turned around and here he was. He looked sad and exhausted. He simply said: "I would rather stay here with you than lose you. Forgive me." I was elated, ecstatic, overjoyed, in seventh heaven. Huge, enormous stone fell off my chest.
Life went on. We saw each other every day, I was going to school, he was working. We were busy. Still read letters from abroad, still listened to the BBC station.
 My Coach, Elena Vasilievna was talking to me about becoming her assistant. Life was good, or so it seemed at that time.
I would go home (city of Vinnitza) to visit my family several times a year. Since Kiev was the Capitol of Ukraine, there was a little better selection of food products in the stores. I could buy and bring with me some cheese, sometimes oranges or some kind of cake. My brother, Eduard was always happy when I came to visit.
In the winter of that year, we were walking, holding hands and Felix simply said:"It's time for us to get married." Just like that: no kneeling down, no ring, no big words or flowers. I did not say a word. But as everyone knows, silence is a sign of agreement. So in May we got married. Nobody approved of this marriage at first. My family were saying:"Where are you going to live? Why don't you wait until you finish College?" His Mom just was not happy with his choice.
Felix and Marina Davidovich are getting married in the City Hall, Kiev, Ukraine

Felix and Marina Davidovich are getting married in the City Hall, Kiev, Ukraine
But we did it anyway. We had only close friends and family present at the ceremony and a small reception.
After getting married, we still lived in separate apartments. But we spent every waking moment together: talking, planning, dreaming, laughing, enjoying each others company.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#12~ 1973 ~ Married life

Despite difficult living conditions, we were happy. Felix kept reading letters to me from friends and his distant relatives, who immigrated to Israel, Canada and USA, he was talking again about the possibilities, promise and freedom abroad versus stagnating and hard times in Ukraine. I was beginning to see his point, but still fear, apprehension of unknown and unfamiliar was winning...Strong prpaganda aginst western world was weighing down on me.  I was scared to even think about it.

In August, during my summer school break we went on our honeymoon. Our destination was Georgian town Gagry. 

Gagry, where we had our honeymoon.

Place was beautiful, right on the coast of warm black sea, at the foot of  the Caucasus Mountains.
We rented small room, not too far from the beach. We enjoyed sunshine, stunning views, swimming and exploring.
At the local, colorfl market for the first time in my life I saw banana and pineapple and tried mango juice. We were very tight with money (UNDERSTATEMENT!!!), but I saw plenty of people living "good life", eating in the restaurants, buying expensive clothes, drinking wine and champagne.
One morning, we were in line for breakfast in a local outside cafeteria, and I fainted. Since I never had anything like this happen to me before, I was not ready for it. I just collapsed, my head missing the trunk of a huge tree by inches. When I came to, I saw Felix's worried face and a strange woman standing over me. She was smiling and said:"Honey, you are pragnant". Really? Really??? I am too young, I am still in college, I am not ready! But the fact was that I was preagnant and I was happy.  I knew that we will manage, I was confident that everything is going to be allright.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

#13 ~ I am a MOTHER!!!

There were several students in the College that were married, but I was the only one who was expecting a child. Very few of my close friends knew about it and nothing changed in my appearance until I was about 4.5 months pregnant. In September before the school resumed I moved in with Felix and his Mother, Ida. The situation was very awkward: Ida lived in the same flat with her x-husband Isak Aronovich. They had 2 separate rooms, but they shared kitchen and bathroom. Felix's bed was in the narrow hallway. An that's where we slept. Isak was a school teacher, so he was up at 5:30am and was gone from the house from 6am-6pm. School, where he worked was far away and he had to use bus and city tram to get there. Sundays were difficult since he stayed home all the time. But he was a very nice man and tried very hard to stay out of our way.
I was busy at school, and tried not to think about the future. Ida's cousin, Bella and her family left for Israel and promised to send us an invitation. I asked Felix why do we need an invitation, and he said:"Just in case". We kept getting information from friends about the life in America, Israel and Canada. I gradually started to realise that we have no future, we did not even have place to live. And we are going to have a baby!
I took an early midterm exams and in December I went home to be with my Mom and Dad. At least there I had my own room. It was very weird for me to see changes in my body, feel the baby move in my stomach. I was so young, so naive, but very inspired and curious.
In 2 months after I got home, a very beautiful healthy baby girl was born. And it changed my life FOREVER!!! I was responsible for this little tiny person. Mother's instinct took over immediately! There were 12 women in the same room with me. We did a lot of talking, exchanged stories: some sweet, some horrifying, some scary. I was the youngest one, so everyone felt obligated to teach me "life". Babies were brought to us every 3 hours for nursing. I could not wait to see my little girl and she was the most beautiful child I have ever seen!
It is a mandatory 7 days stay in the hospital. Food was horrible and I was so hungry! Relatives were allowed to bring food to us. Every day my Mom would bring me a little pot with chicken soup, or mashed potatoes or pirogi (pastry with meat inside). There were no showers, beds were very uncomfortable, my robe was 4 times my size, so were the slippers. I could not wait to get out of there. However, nurses and doctors were wonderful and very helpful and understanding. I was dreaming of going home and take a long bath...or at least a short shower.
Finally the day came when I was allowed to leave the hospital with my baby. Felix and my Mother met me downstairs and when he saw me, his eyes said it all. I was so skinny and pale, worn out and exhausted, he was speechless. But when he saw our perfect, beautiful girl, he cried. And I cried with him. The nurse  looked at me and simply said:"You are going to be a wonderful mother."
Marianna Davidovich (Masha) ~ my beautiful baby!
I cant remember how we got home, but I know that we did not have a stroller yet, so we must of carried our precious bundle in our hands all the way home using the city bus.

Friday, January 4, 2019

#14 ~ 1974 ~ No turning back

Being a full time student and a new Mother had lots of challenges. I was always going, going, going. I was studying for tests while nursing, and falling asleep during the lectures. The fact that we did not have diapers or store-ready baby food had all of us constantly washing, ironing and folding. My hands were raw from the soap.
It was also a luck and a miracle that we were able to buy a stroller. We used it as a crib as well.
Felix started talking again about us leaving the Soviet Union. Now he had facts, stories and advice from the letters that were coming from friends and relatives abroad. I was beginning to see that we had no future, but it was so scary, frightening and worrisome to even think about it.

One morning in College, we had an announcement to report to the large auditorium for an important meeting. It usually happened only in the beginning of the school year. We  were all very happy, because we would miss our boring philosophy class. Once we were seated, the dean escorted to the stage one of the students, Michael and without any formal introductions, greetings, etc. announced: "Meet the enemy of the state, the trader, possibly enemy agent..." Everyone was stunned. We new Michael. He was a shy, quiet, always pleasant and smiling boy. The reason they made those accusations was: Michael and his family was immigrating to Israel. One by one professors and students were coming on the stage and were saying horrible, stabbing words to him. Michael was ghastly white, with tears in his eyes and his head down. He was only 18 years old and not prepared to this cruelty, humiliation  and accusations. It lasted for two excruciating long hours. I felt his pain and hurt.
I also was terrified. I thought: "I would rather die than go through this".
No caption needed!
Baby Masha was our source of joy and happiness. She was so beautiful! Every sound and move she made seemed like a miracle to me, a very proud and a very young mother.

Marina, Felix and baby Masha
One day I came home from school and went straight to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I took Mashoonya with me and put her on the sofa in the hall, so I could keep an eye on her while cooking. She was sound asleep. I heard the front door open and knew that it was Felix coming home from work. He ran up to the sofa, picked the baby up and was walking to the kitchen to give me a kiss. Before he reached me, a huge piece of the ceiling fell down, right on the spot where Masha was sleeping 3 seconds ago. We both froze in disbelief. I started crying, and shaking from the horrible thought of what would've happened, that she could be killed. For months I would wake up from the nightmare and thoughts what if Felix would be late, or did not pick Masha or...
At that very moment we both decided that no matter what we have to go through, what we have to endure, we must leave this town, this country, this life.
I had to tell my family about our decision and I knew it was going to be very, very hard. But it was NO TURNING BACK!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

#15 ~ 1974 ~ Getting Exit Visas

 In 1971, when the United States made a deal with the Soviet Union for improved trade agreements in return for more lenient immigration policies, the doors were opened some. At this time any Soviet Jew could obtain an exit visa for Israel, but they still could not go to the United States. Then in 1976, HIAS ( the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society ) started to give Soviet Jews the chance to settle in America. Many Soviet Jews soon applied for visas for two reasons: first, Soviet Universities were continuing to restrict the number of Jewish students, and secondly there was a shortage of food, clothing and housing in the U.S.S.R which had been a problem since the World War II. Close to 700,000 Jews immigrated from former Soviet Union t the USA.
We did not have this information back then. We just knew that it is time to go. Felix's Mom, Ida decided not to join us. The process was long and complicated. First we had to have personal invitation from a relative in Israel. Thankfully, we got one from Ida's cousin. When we were ready to apply for visa, she changed her mind and begged Felix to  take her with us. Well, back to square one. We did not have phones or emails or faxes back then. Communication was ONLY via painfully slow and not reliable mail. Without any hope Felix went to Moscow and he approached a couple that were leaving Netherlands Embassy. They looked happy. So Felix asked them if they received visas. They said:"Yes, we are leaving for Israel in 7 days". So he begged total strangers to send invitation for our family. To our huge surprise after one month of waiting, we received an envelope with red ribbon on it and an invitation inside. We kept our decision in secret even from our closest friends and relatives. But now with invitation on our hands, we went to OVIR, agency that grants exit visas. And from there on, our decision was public. We had to get certificates from the places of work, school, place where we lived, permission from our parents and so many more documents, that it was overwhelming and sometimes devastating. I was still in College, and very busy with the baby. So Felix took it upon himself to do most of the work.
He did not see his father, who lived in Novosibirsk (up north) with his new family for over 20 years. Felix flew across the country to get his permission. When he got there, his father was very sick. But he signed the papers, asked for Felix's forgiveness, wished him good luck and gave him 200 rubles. Felix was touched. He said Goodbyes to his father and he knew that he will never see him again.
My family refused to sign papers. My Mom was so upset and angry. She could not imagine life without her new granddaughter. So we had no choice. We forged their signature...
There was no copy machines and in order to translate every document, we had to take it to the office and have it copied by hand, and then notarised. And goes for all the documents, since we could not take originals with us: birth certificates, marriage certificates, school and medical records, etc.
I cannot describe the tension and pressure we had to endure. And of course, the secret was out. Our neighbors found out, our friends found out. No one wanted to be associated with us any more. My best friend, Olga cut herself out of all our pictures together and dropped them in our mailbox. I understood.
Felix's boss said that Felix needs to quit his job or they will set him up as a thief. Both Ida and Felix had to quit their jobs.
I was called to the Dean's office. I was so very afraid that they will put me in front of all the students, just like they did for Michael. When I came into the Deans office, I was prepared to beg him not to make me go through this process. But he was very nice to me. He asked if I was sure of my decision, told me what a great student I am, promised a very bright future in College if I stay. And at the end he shook my hand, gave me my transcripts and wished me and my family best of luck. I was relieved and thankful!
After we submitted our documents to the government agency, we just had to sit and wait. If they will say "No" - we are finished. No one will ever hire or help us, we will have no place to live, no friends to turn to. Scary!!!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

#16~ 1975~ Still waiting for Exit Visas

Waiting is one of the worst things one can experience, especially when your life and lives of the loved ones depends on it. We were all very nervous, anxious and fearful,but tried not to show it. Felix and Ida were forced to leave their jobs, I was almost done with College. Financially we were struggling. Ida started selling some of her clothes, shoes, dishes, even furniture. We decided that it will be easier on everyone if I would go and live with my parents until we get permission from the Government to leave the country. In the middle of May, as soon as I was done with my final exams, I took the baby and left Kiev to live with my parents. My Mom still did not want to accept the fact that we are going to leave. She did not want to even talk about it. I was trying very gently to tell her and my Dad that we had no chance making a normal life for ourselves here, that it is a perfect time to escape this misery while the iron curtain is slightly open. One episode is so fresh in my memory, when my Mom said for the first time: "Maybe you are right". We had a tomato in the refrigerator and my brother who was 14 years old (and growing!)  at that time, came home from school and ate it. Yes, he ate a tomato. My mother screamed and yelled at him:"It was for the baby! What were you thinking?!?" The look of hurt, question and pain in my brother's eyes was unbearable. He did not cry, but I did.
One night I woke up from a frightening almost barking sound of  Masha's cough. It became worse and worse by the hour. Next day in the afternoon, we had to call the ambulance and they took us to the hospital, hospital for infectious disease. I hated and feared that hospital. My Grandfather died there and I was "held" a prisoner there for almost a month when I was only 7 years old. Masha had a croup. She had a very high fever, horrible dry "barking seal" cough, she had hard time breathing. As soon as we were admitted to the hospital, a nurse took the baby from my arms and brought her to the "steam room" they called it. She had a basin with scalding hot water and without even checking the temperature of the water, she put Masha's legs in it. I touched water with my hands, and screamed that it was boiling hot, but the nurse did not even acknowledged my cries. Baby was screaming and kicking her little legs, I was fighting with the "Nazi-nurse", but she was so much bigger and stronger then me. It seemed forever, until another nurse came in and wrestled my baby from her. Masha's legs and my hands were red, burned. But I did not feel the pain. I was so angry, so concerned for the baby... They put some kind of ointment on the burns and took us a long time to calm her down. Thankfully, I nursed her at that time. We were in the room with about 14 other patients. Bed was very narrow, with saggy mattress, so I was sitting on the chair all night, listening to my baby breath. People were crying and coughing all around us. I fell asleep and woke up sitting on the floor, with my head on the bed. That's how we spent almost 2 weeks. Doctors were coming once a day to check on patients and their progress. While I was in the hospital two children died and we watched with horror their grieving parents escorting the stretchers. If you don't know what fear is, that's how I would describe it: Fear to lose something so dear and important to you, fear to lose your child. I was so determine to get out of this horrible place. In 2 weeks, which felt like an eternity,  they let us go. Again, I felt that I escaped from a prison! But we left the hospital with a present: both of us had head lice. Oh, what a joy... We had to shave my baby's beautiful curls and cut my long hair.
Baby Masha after the hospital. "Where are my curls?"

Friday, December 28, 2018

#17 ~ June 1975 ~Time to go!

While I was staying with my parents, waiting for the news from Felix, who was still in Kiev, it looked like we tried to avoid the subject. When I would try to talk about the future, my Mom would say: "Everything is going to be fine". But my parents did not want to even consider the possibility of leaving the Soviet Union. What Felix had to go through, what he had to endure, is simply incredible. And maybe I can encourage him to write a story about it, which I will include in my blog. But the fact is that on June 12, 1975 I received a phone call that our family received permission to leave Soviet Union. They gave us 2 weeks to complete all the necessary arrangements and leave the country. We were allowed only one suitcase per person, about $150.00 a person. No jewelry, except wedding bands. We had to buy one way ticket from Kiev to Vienna. We also were allowed to pack a box, size 1 cubic meter (approximately 3 feet high and 3 feet wide). It was going to be kept at the customs and as soon as we will know the address, it will be shipped to us. What do you choose to put in this box, that we were not sure when or most important IF we will ever see it? So we packed it with pillows, linen, dishes, lots of books, pictures, some winter clothes, toys for Masha.
When we went to the bank to exchanger Russian rubles for the American dollars, I felt that people in line knew that we are about to leave this country and were accusing us, judging us, disapproving our decision.
When I held American dollars in my hand, it seemed very strange. I had to count it several times to make sure it was the right amount. It was $600.00. We had no idea what this amount was, what could be done with it, how long it would last...
Finally the day came when our carefully packed suitcases were loaded in the taxi, and our small family along with my Mom and Dad, Felix's cousin and uncle left for the airport. June 22 1975. It was hard to look at each other, tears were in everyone's eyes, but everyone tried to show courage an support each other. My Mom was holding Masha. She made chicken soup, packed some cookies, fruit and sandwiches and  kept explaining where everything was. When we got to the airport it was time for final goodbyes. How do you say Goodbye to your loved ones, knowing that you might never see them again? Gut wrenching...
At the customs, soldiers were doing everything possible to make our departure more difficult. They took everything from the suitcases, even tore  head from Masha's doll, checked the thermos with chicken soup. "What are you looking for? What are you doing?" Ida kept asking them. Felix begged her to be quiet and just do what they were asking. Well, now I know. They were looking for bribe, for money.
Next to us was an older woman with her son, Erik, who was a violinist. The were so rough with his violin and when he asked to please be careful with it, one of the soldiers said: "Actually, this cannot leave the country". He pleaded with them, said that he had an authorisation for it, but they confiscated it anyway. Oh, so much anger and pain in his eyes.
 They even took mine and Felix's golden necklace. For some reason, one of the guards allowed me to go back to the waiting area and give it to my Mom. Finally, we were in the International Waiting area. There was a big glass wall and we could see people on the other side. And to our surprise, we saw my Mom and Dad, uncle Alex. They came to the glass, Masha stretched her arms to my Mom. They touched through the glass and she mouthed: "I love you". One of the guards came up and with a smirk on his face drew the curtains closed. "Have you no heart?" Erik's mother lost it. She was hysterical and panic-stricken. We all tried to console her, to keep her quiet, because they still could escort her out for "disturbing piece". After we boarded the plane, it seemed that we transformed into the different world. And it was. It was the world of freedom, sanity, and possibilities. But we did not know it then. We just felt it. There were 7 families on the plane  leaving  Soviet Union with the one way ticket among the other passengers.
Marina Davidovich and Marianna ( Masha)  ~ Exit Visa Photo

Saturday, December 15, 2018

#18 ~ 1975 ~ Vienna

This was my first time in the airplane. I felt like a kid in a toy store. So many buttons, lights, handles. Flight attendants offering us drinks and food, little pillows and blankets... Everything was so different. I even forgot all the agony and pain we just went through in Kiev. I concentrated on taking care of the baby. She seemed fascinated with the new sights, sounds and  smells as well. Since we did not have diapers at that time, I had to go take her potty often. Everyone was very helpful and offered to hold and play with her. I did not have time to think who is going to meet us, where to go once we arrived, what to do, etc. There were 7 families traveling with us and we started to get to know them, share information, learning from each other. Before we knew it, we arrived to Vienna. As we walked down from the plane, I saw the Western World for the first time. Beautiful landscape, cleanness, polite people. We were told to wait. In a few minutes an older man with black coat on, approached our little group and said that he was from the organization HIAS, he welcomed us, asked if everyone was OK. He spoke Russian with a very heavy accent. Then he asked if we are going to Israel or other countries. And everyone said: "Other countries". We followed him inside and were blown away by the beauty of the airport. It was so big, colorful, bright and alive with sounds, smells and activities. First thing I did - I took Masha to the bathroom. Boy, I was not ready for this. It looked like a ballroom: big, bright, with mirrors everywhere and plenty of TOILET PAPER!!! When we finally came back, Felix was already nervous, because we were gone for a very long time. But when he saw my huge smile and wide open surprised eyes, he knew that it was something nice. I made everyone go to see it. And we all had the same reaction. After waiting for some time, we were told to collect our luggage and put the suitcases in the small bus that was waiting outside. We were taken to the charming hotel/pension "Bettina". Our room was small, but it seemed like palace to us. Big, soft bed, table, chairs, pretty lamps and our own bathroom. We were so tired, but I could not fall asleep. We were very excited. In the morning I was nervous, because there was nothing left from the food I packed for Masha. Chicken soup was gone, fruits were gone. Just a few cookies left. And just as I became really panicky, the door opens and Felix walks in, takes my hand and says: "Come with me". We were walking for a few minutes and came to a grocery store "Lyon". When we walked inside, I was shocked. I could  never imagine, in my wildest dreams, what I saw in front of me. I could not help myself. I was just standing there, holding my baby and crying, sobbing and smiling at the same time. Smells of salami, coffee, freshly baked bread were overwhelming. Packages of items I've never seen before, and how could I??? I only wish I had more literary talent to describe my thoughts and feelings at that time. I don't know how long we were standing there, at the entrance of the grocery store, taking it all in. Finally, we were given a shopping cart (WOW!) and we started our way through the store. I did not know what most of the jars, packages and bags were. Thankfully, there was a family that came to Vienna few days earlier and pointed out for us items like milk, yogurt, cereal, coffee, tea. Explained how to order meat, cheese, how to select breads, grind coffee,etc. We did not know how much it all costs. Since we were given a small allowance, we were very careful not to spend it all at once. I did not want to leave the store. Ever!!! I wanted to touch each and every item, read and understand what it is. And of course, I wanted to try and eat everything. Sheer happiness, glee, delight!
We stayed in Vienna about 10 days. We purchased a small stroller and went out exploring this beautiful city. Manicured lawns, properly dressed people, incredible architecture, free outside concerts, shady and colorful parks, and stores full of beautiful clothes, shoes, purses, makeup. One time while walking in the park, we saw a small cafe and for the first time we bought and tried Coca-Cola. It was so sweet and bubbly and I thought: "Well, that's my first dream come true". I've always wondered what it tastes like. Now I know. Next thing I wanted to try - was gum... Just like in American movies :-) At that time I felt that I was in a movie.
Unfortunately I have no pictures to share.

#19 ~ July 1975 ~ Saying goodbye to Vienna

We stayed in Vienna a little over 2 weeks. Felix got to practice his German. He was very proud that he could get around by asking people for directions and  help. We lived in a small hotel/pension owned by Bettina. Since we had about 10 families living there, it was very difficult to cook something for us, especially for Masha. There was only one kitchen with one stove and the gas was turned on very low. I guess it was done to save money. It took about 4 hours to make a simple soup or hot cereal. We did not have enough allowance to eat in the cafe or restaurant and we were determine to to use our $600.00. Some families did eat out all the time. And I noticed that women had their jewelry. When I asked (oh, how naive I was!) how did they manage to get the gold rings and necklaces through the custom, they simply said:" You need to know who to bribe..." Well, we did not have enough money to do that. But we did not complain. We were safe, we were together and we had hope, trust and anticipation of something wonderful ahead.
Representatives from HIAS held several meetings where they explained what to expect, what to do and what to avoid. They asked us not to talk to anyone, stay close to the hotel and be ready for a long train journey to Rome.
I loved Vienna. Gorgeous parks, lovely gardens, charming theaters, palaces, stores and beautiful people. But still my favorite place was the grocery store. I could walk around the store for hours, explore the colorful packages, bottles and cans. One item fascinated me the most: it was a mascara. First, it came in different colors. Wow!!! And it had a small brush, that was tucked away inside the tube. And it smelled so good. Mascara that we used to have was a small box, the one you had to spit in and then apply to your lashes with a tiny brush. Gross and nasty, right?!  I wanted to buy it so bad, but everyone told me to wait. Things are going to be much cheaper and better in Italy. So I was patient.
One of the Palaces in Vienna.

On the night before our departure from Vienna, we packed all our belongings, prepared small packages with food and drinks. A small bus took us to the train station very early in the morning. Thankfully we did not have many bags, so we boarded the train without any problems. But there were so many people, and most of them had a lot of luggage. Our small compartment was very crowded. There were shouts and screams, people shoving each other, kicking, fighting. It was a nightmare! Finally, when everyone was on board, and the train moved, people started to calm down and settle. It was still crowded and very hot and stuffy. I remembered when my Mom told me how they had to evacuate from Nazis during the World War II and I felt better. At least we were not transported like animals...
In the middle of our trip, last car caught on fire and everyone had to be moved to the front. So our crowded compartment got even more crammed. Some people had to sit on the floor. Someone started singing. It was such a familiar and bittersweet song, that everyone joined in. We had a chance to talk and share our stories.
Soon we ran out of water. When the train stopped somewhere around Yugoslavia, we had people from outside giving us bottles of water through the windows. We could not understand what they were saying, but their kindness was so appreciated. The guards told us that we have to wait. For security reasons, we had to arrive to Rome at night. So we waited, but we were not allowed to go outside. That trip seemed to go on forever!

Finally, late at night we saw the lights of Rome. Everyone started moving, get their things together. But there was no more fighting or screaming. We all sort of bonded, got to know each other. We were so tired, hungry, exhausted and dehydrated. Small buses took one family at a time to a 4-story hotel. And all I remember, how we all fell asleep, finally being able to lie down and stretch out in our own beds.

Monday, December 10, 2018

#20 ~ July 1975 ~ Rome, Italy

When I woke up next morning, it took me awhile to figure out where I was, and what am I supposed to be doing. I saw a big room with bare, white walls and cold tile floor, 2 military style beds, small table and few chairs. And then I felt my little girl snuggled up under my arm, sleeping peacefully. We are in Italy! Somehow I did not feel any fear or stress any more. I was looking forward to what is going to happen next. To me, Italy was the country of beautiful songs ( I loved Robertino Loretti sinc I was a small child), amazing arts, history and romantic movies. What and how are we going to fit in? How long are we going to be here? How are we going to understand anyone? Oh, there were so many questions. Breakfast was in the dining room with other families. We knew some of them from Kiev and Vienna. It was a happy reunion. Since there was nothing that Masha could eat, I found the kitchen and asked if I could use some milk to make hot cereal for the baby. Italian women, who were working in the kitchen looked at me like I was insane. They kept saying:"Mango, mango" and I kept pointing on the stove and saying: "I need milk. I have everything else". Finally, they let me cook, but they were watching me closely and kept talking and laughing. I was smiling and kept pointing on different subjects and they were teaching me Italian words. After breakfast we went for a walk. One of the boys from the family that arrived to Rome a few days earlier showed us a small grocery store, pretty park near-by, bus stop to get to the train station. It was very hot. I got enough nerve to walk into the bar and ask for cold water for the baby "freddo acqua". And it worked. I was so proud!!!
Later that afternoon we had a meeting with the representatives from the HIAS.

What is HIAS?
HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is the international migration agency of the American Jewish community. They provide rescue and refuge for persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world. In recent years, as the population of Jewish refugees has diminished, they have directed their expertise to assist refugees and immigrants of all backgrounds. HIAS also advocates in Congress for fair and effective policies affecting refugees and immigrants. Since 1881, HIAS has assisted more than 4,500,000 people worldwide.

 We were told that we have 2 weeks to find an apartment, that we will be getting financial help for rent and food. That we need to economise, which is nothing new to us. That we will have to attend school to learn English and that information about our familly will be sent out to different Jewish Federations and as soon as someone will be willing to "accept" and sponsor us, we will be notified. They also told us that we are very, very lucky, because immigrants that came before us, did not have any support or this kind of help. All this was possible because of the financial aid and donations from Jewish people, mostly from the USA. It was hard for us to understand any of this, but we were so grateful and humble and ready to do whatever possible to become independant. I knew back then, that I really wanted to repay the kindness and compassion, care and empathy that we received from people that we did not even know.
So everything looked wonderful, until we were told to be on the lookout for thieves and con artists. Apperently there were two kind of immigrants: families, like us that did not know anything and just wanted to live a normal, happy life, who were not afraid to work hard and people who took advantage of our situation.
It was impossible to rent an apartment in Rome, so we had to find something in Lido de Ostia, a suborb of Rome, where Italians had their summer homes and were renting apatments for the Fall and Winter. We did not know how to do it, where to go, who to ask. And that's when a Russian speaking man approached us and said that he will help us. But it would cost us pretty much all the money we had: $180.00. As a family we received about $200.00 a month. There would be nothing left for food or train fare or anything else. We could not afford it by ourselves. So in order to rent this place, we had to have 3 families move in and live together. It was no fun...
Apartment itself was very nice: very clean, one big room, with small kitchen, thick red carpet, inside bathroom and bath. Great thing about it was, that it was one block from the beach. But living with 2 other families was simply impossible. We could not get a good night sleep, there was no privacy, no place to even talk to each other unless we went outside. But we had to live like this at least for awhile, until we learn by ourselves how things worked...
 Local post office was the place for meetings, gathering information, learning, socilising, selling and buying. We would go there every night for the latest news, since we were cut off from the world.
Pretty soon we found big farmers market, clothing stores, learned how to bargain with locals and how to find things on sale. When we bought a pair of tiny jeans for Masha, it was such a joy! We could not help and bought a pair of jeans for myself and Felix as well.

Felix, Marianna (Masha) and Marina with newly purchased jeans in Ostia Lido, Italy.
We were learning how to survive, how to enjoy life, sunshine, beach, new sights and each other.