Thursday, November 8, 2012

#26 ~ April 1976 ~ Elizabeth

Winter slowly turned into the spring. Felix was working, I stayed home and took care of baby Masha. She loved playing outside, and one of her first words were:"One, two, three, jump!" Oh, my baby could speak English...
I watched TV in the afternoon when Masha was taking a nap. I could not understand most of it, but when I caught a word or a fraise, that I knew, it was so exciting. Our landlady Dorothy helped me with so many day to day things. She gave me a book with recipes and I was learning what some of the items meant. I was trying to make sense out of oz, cup, pint, quarts, gallon...
Our friends were coming to visit every day. And every time they would bring something for me, for Masha, for the house or for the soon to come baby.
One night Felix said that it was time for me to learn how to drive. It was a scary thought. Before coming to America I was inside a car only twice in my life. Now that we had our own car, I felt that it's probably possible, but still it was very scary for me to think that I will be able to operate this bid car. Well, let's just say that after the first lesson, Felix said that I need a lot of help. And we decided that I need to take driving lessons. And I did. The teacher came down to pick me up. It took several lessons for me to relax and trust myself. I was shaking and did not see where we were going when I actually driven a car for the first time. After 3 lessons my instructor said that I am ready to take an exam and get licence. I studied, and passed the written test easily, but the driving test was a different story. I don't think I did very well, because the officer said that he will give me licence if I promise not to drive by myself for a while... I guess he felt sorry for a young pregnant woman who did not speak English.
Finally the day came and Felix drove me to the hospital. I was in pain, but every step of the way I could not help but comparing my experience with my first baby and this one. Hospital in Vinnitza looked and felt like prison. And how we were in the hospital, with beautiful, bright, clean rooms, and everyone so friendly and calm. Thankfully labor did not take long, and in a few hours after being admitted, I held my beautiful, healthy baby girl! With big blue eyes, dark hair, perfect tiny fingers and toes!!!! And exciting thing was that Felix was right there with us. He did not have to wait a week to hold his new baby!
1976 ~ Hartford, CT ~ Newborn Elizabeth
They put me in the room which I shared with another woman (I think her name was Linda). We had our babies practically at the same time. We started talking and I was telling her how I had my first child. She kept asking me questions and then telling the stories to all the nurses. So I had visitors all the time. Nurses and even women from other rooms loved to hear about how I had my first child: the rooms, shared by 18 women, lack of fundamental hygiene items, having robes that were so old that they had holes in them and shoes that were 5 sizes larger. That we were not allowed to bring anything from home. "It was not sterile..." Visitors were not  allowed in the hospital, so we showed our new babies through the window from the 4th floor. I was fascinated by every little thing: meals at your bed, special table with the mirror, call button, our own bathroom with the shower, recliner. I can't even remember most of the things that were so mesmerizing...But I had big happy grin all the time. I kept saying "thank you, thank you, thank you".
1876 ~ Hartford, CT ~ Our happy family

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#25 ~ Spring 1976 ~ Hartford, CT

Every day we woke up, we were wondering if this is for real, is anyone going to come and take it all away...The apartment, the furniture, clothes, dishes...  But the fact was that after being without a home for so long, we finally had one. Our new friends were coming to visit every day to bring more groceries or toys for Masha, take us out, or just to talk and explain things. Oh, we all  had so many questions. I think I had a surprise on my face at all times. One day Diane and Sharon came and brought a huge box full of clothes and said that it was all for me. FOR ME???????? I was almost 8 months pregnant and had only one dress, if you can call it a dress :-(  that I wore every day. "Well, here is maternity clothes for you". What is maternity clothes? I did not have to open my dictionary, because I understood after they showed me a pretty blouse. I was so astonished that special clothes for pregnant women even existed and that I will be able to wear it. It was beautiful! I started trying things on at once. Shirts, jackets, pants with stretchable elastic, dresses... It was unreal! We had such a great afternoon. After that I was changing my outfits at least 3 times a day!
Our landlady Dorothy was very helpful. Every time she would go shopping, she would take me with her. We bought eggs in one store, then drove to the bakery to buy bread, and then go to the big grocery store to get the rest. She would show me how to shop, teach me what to look for, how to get the best bargain. But I kept thinking what an incredible place we live in now, how lucky we are and hoped that it will never change.
Felix and Ida started going to the evening English classes every day and came home with new words, expressions and big smiles. But I was still the designated person to answer the phone, translate and talk to people.
In 2 weeks after being in the USA, our Social worker Mr. Kay came and said that he found a job for Felix at the General Elevator company. Felix will have to take a bus to work and find his way around town. Evelyn had an old bicycle, so Felix used it to get to a bus stop.
I stayed home with Masha. I cleaned and cooked and started to feel more comfortable and at ease with my surroundings.
We were introduced to more families, who were so helpful, loved to teach and show us the American way of life. In the beginning of  March, And Felix worked for a few weeks, Dorothy (the landlady) took us to the bank to open the checking account. I COULD NOT understand, how it worked... How the little piece of paper could substitute money? I did not even know what questions to ask...I just listened. But after we made our first deposit, and after I wrote my first check for rent, I understood... We were on our way! I loved it! We were in charge of our lives. We will work hard, we will save, and we will be happy. We did not have to say it, we knew it!

Our friends started talking about buying a car. A CAR????? For us??????? Martin said that he will help. He also explained that having a car in the USA is a necessity, not a luxury. We need it to get around. And he did help to buy our first car! It was cheap, and looked like an ambulance. It was white and big, but it was ours!
Martin (he helped to buy our first car), Linda, Marina, Sylvia, Masha, Ida, and Felix ~ March 1976

My first doctors appointment went very well, even though I was nervous and uneasy. He was gentle, kind and attentive and said that the baby is doing very well, but I need to take vitamins and eat more.
I am so sad that I did not write the names of all the doctors that helped us. I would love nothing more than to express my gratitude and thankfulness to them: to my obstetrician, to the pediatrician, who took such a great care of Masha and Elizabeth, the dentist who helped to save my teeth. Literally!
I am looking back and thinking how lucky we are, how very fortunate!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#24~1976~Hartford, CT

On January 16, 1976 we woke up bright and early. As much as I liked this room and especially the bathtub and a shower, I was anxious and excited. Today we were going home! We did not know where our home was or how we are getting there or what we are going to find there, but we knew that we were going home. At that point we did not have anyone else who spoke Russian. All the families that came with us from Italy were flying to different cities, so we had to speak English and understand everyone around us. I don't remember how we got to the airport, but I remember sitting on the plane and thinking that this plane is not as big as the other one and the food was not as good as the other one and there was no movie!!! When I mentioned it to Felix, he gave me such a hard time and said that I am getting used to good things too fast and that I am getting spoiled. He was right. It humbled me for a while. Flight was short. When we arrived to Hartford and came out of the plane, we saw a group of people looking at us, waving their hands, smiling and coming over towards us with flowers. They were there to meet us, to welcome our family to the United States of America, to welcome us HOME!!! They were from the Jewish Family Service and National Council of Jewish women. I did not know it then, I know it now.
Diane, Sharon, Mr.Kay, Barbara and Marsha. They were so excited, especially when they saw that I was pregnant. They were talking all at once and I had hard time translating what they were saying to Felix and Ida. I could not understand most of it, but I felt that they were happy to meet us.
Such lovely, kind and generous people! They became our friends for the rest of our lives. Then we saw their cars! Long, big station wagons. I have never seen anything like this. All the cars in Europe were compact and small. These cars looked like buses to me. Amazing!!!
We put our luggage in the cars, got in and started driving. First I was impressed that WOMEN were driving and I thought to myself: "I will never be able to do it, but I would love to!" I was looking for tall buildings, big stores, bridges, but all I saw were 2-3 story houses, quiet and mostly empty streets, lots of trees and snow, lots of snow.
I was very confused: "Are we still in America?" Diane was smiling and said: "Yes, You are in America".
Then we stopped at the restaurant, I think it was Pizza Hut. We were sitting at the table and baby Masha immediately fell asleep on my knees. We ate pizza, drank Coca Cola and I was so happy. Everything seemed like in a dream and I was hoping that that dream will never end.
After we finished our lunch, Diane said: "Let's get you home!" In my wildest dreams I could not imagine what happened next.
Our first home in Hartford, CT. Our apartment on the 3rd floor.
We arrived at 53 Arnold Street in Hartford. It was a nice, 3-story light blue building with balconies, small back yard and a garage in the back. Our apartment was on the 3rd floor. When we walked in, I asked "Who lives here?" And all of the women smiled and said: "You do". It was the most beautiful site I've ever seen. Big kitchen, dining room, living room, 2 bedrooms, bathroom. And all of this for us? We don't share it with anyone? Furniture is ours too? I was walking around and touching everything, almost afraid that if I do or say anything, it will all disappear, vanish. I was crying, Ida was crying, I don't remember if Felix was crying, but baby Masha was running around and even her little feet made a happy noise. There was food in the refrigerator, flowers on the table. A little later our landlady, Dorothy walked in with a big smile and a huge basket of fruits. It was not a dream, it was so much better! That's what happiness is. We were free! We were home!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

1985, July 15-25, The 12th Maccabiah Games

1932... A milestone in Jewish sports history. The vision of a world-wide sporting event becomes a reality. A total of 350 courageous athletes traveled to Palestine for the first Maccabiah Games. Twelve Americans journeyed across the ocean to represent the United States in this landmark athletic event.
1985...Another milestone in Jewish Sports history. Participation has grown to over 4,000 athletes who represented 4-0 Nations. What commonly known as "Jewish Olympics" has become the pinnacle of amateur athletic competition among Jews, who gather in Israel every 4 years from the far reaches of the World.
I was so proud to be a Rhythmic Gymnastics Coach to represent the US at the 12th Maccabiah Games!
On July 8th we all got together at the Rutgers University campus, located in New Jersey for a 3 day preparation camp "Pre-camp". This was the initial gathering of the entire US 12th Maccabiah Games contingent, over 1,000 people. It was so fascinating to meet athletes from all over of the United States in all the different sports. It provided the opportunity for athletes to meet their teammates and coaches prior to departure. It was imperative to disseminate information about the procedures, schedules and events in Israel. We had lectures, we were shown movies, given literature about Israel and the Games, evening entertainment, uniform alteration and of course information on safety.
On July 10th, a 10-bus caravan rolled out of the Rutgers campus for JFK Airport. The surge of energy radiating from each member of the US delegation was unmeasurable!
The ten hour flight to Israel passed swiftly with the buzzing of conversation,card games, walkmans, naps, and even hot bagels. At last the sign flashed "fasten your seat belts"... We were landing in Israel! Clad in red, white and blue Adidas warm-ups, the American delegation promenaded down the gateway to the cheers of the Israeli media. Once through the customs and luggage collection, we all boarded buses to different  accommodation centers. We stayed at the Wingate Institute, not too far from Tel Aviv.
Our accommodations were very much military style. Small beds, tiny bedside table and few chairs. But everything was very clean and orderly. We woke up at 7am for breakfast at the big cafeteria: hard boiled eggs, bread, tomatoes and cucumbers. Training at 8am. Free time until 3pm.Training again at 4pm. Dinners were wonderful: delicious food, loud and  happy people, singing and dancing afterwards. We did have military protection at all times. Soldiers with rifles on the roofs, in the hallways, on the buses. It was so strange at first, but after few days it was part of our lives.
The opening ceremony, July 15, 1985 was a celebration of pomp and pageantry that will be everlasting in my memory. Ramat Gan Stadium overflowed with 55,000 zealous spectators and over 4,000 Jewish participants from 40 Nations. All were united by a love of sport and a common heritage. Barriers of language, culture, age melted under the stadium lights. Mark Spitz, 2-time Maccabiah participant was the first non-Israeli to light up the torch symbolizing the commencement of the Games.

Our competition was held in the Sports Center in Tel Aviv. Girls did an outstanding job, taking Gold medals All Around and in individual events.
            I will treasure every moment of these 2 weeks for the rest of my life! 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

1984 Olympic Games

Everyone who is ever involved in any sport, dreams of taking part in the Olympic Games. This is every athlete's ultimate goal. Since all my life I was involved in the sport of Rhythmic Gymnastics, and this sport was not part of the Olympic Games program, I can't tell you how excited we all were when the decision was made that Rhythmic Gymnastics FINALLY will be part of the Olympics as of 1984.
Here is a little history:
Competitive rhythmic gymnastics began in the 1940s in the Soviet Union. The FIG ( Federation of International Gymnastics) formally recognized this discipline in 1961, first as modern gymnastics, then as rhythmic sportive gymnastics, and finally as rhythmic gymnastics. The first World Championships for individual rhythmic gymnasts was held in 1963 in Budapest. Groups were introduced at the same level in 1967 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rhythmic gymnastics was added to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, with an Individual All-Around competition. However, many federations from the Eastern European countries were forced to boycott by the Soviet Union. Canadian Lori Fung was the first rhythmic gymnast to earn an Olympic gold medal.
In 1984 we just moved from a small 3,000 square foot facility in the Industrial Court in Orange Park, Florida to a large  (our own!!!) 10,000 sq. ft facility. We had 2 gymnastics floors and one of the gymnastics floors was dedicated to Rhythmic Gymnastics. I already had a very strong team: Kerrie Jackson, 13 year old  was a member of the Junior National Team.
Around May of 1984 I received a phone call from Michelle Berube, actually her Mother Kathy. Michelle was one of my students that I coached while we lived and worked in Detroit. She was one of my most talented girls: strong, flexible, expressive, aggressive, determined and very beautiful.
During the 1984 National Championships Michelle was one of the two girls who qualified for 1984 Olympic Games. She asked if she could come to Jacksonville and train with me in order to prepare for the competition. It was a very important decision. By agreeing, I assumed a role of an Olympic Coach. It's a lot of responsibilities. My baby Joanna was only 8 months old, our business was fast growing and my presence was necessary. But who can say "No" to the Olympic Games???  Not me!
So Michelle moved to Jacksonville. She lived with us and we trained every day 4-5 hours a day. Everything was going very well. Routines were challenging, difficult and original. Michelle was getting strong, consistent and confident! We were planning to travel to Los Angeles together.
But right before we were ready to leave, I received a phone call from the US Gymnastics Federation informing me that there is going to be only one coach representing the US on the Olympic Games and it's going to be Alla Svirsky, coach from Los Angeles.
So, I could not go...I was heartbroken, Michelle was very upset, but I told her that Alla is a very good and experienced coach and she will be in good hands. And all Michelle needs is confidence and positive attitude! I did my job. Michelle was ready!
So in July 1984, Michelle left for Los Angeles. My heart, my thoughts and my spirit was with her. I was so proud of her!!!

One of many newspaper articles: "The Florida Times-Union/Jacksonville Journal" July 7, 1984
Michelle Berube ~ 1984 Olympic Games ~ 14th AA

Monday, July 23, 2012

#23 ~ January 1976 ~ Good bye Italy!

1976 New Year celebration was very bitter sweet for us. We had about 10 families get together to celebrate the New Year. Some families were already informed that they will be leaving Italy to go to the United States, but most of us were still waiting.
Our first choice of destination for permanent residency was Canada (we were told by the "experts" that Canada is in great need of PE teachers, coaches and Physical Fitness instructors). But as soon as it was known that I was pregnant, we were refused the entry visas to Canada. We had to re-apply for the entry visa to the United States.
We said "good bye" to many families that we got to know during our 7 months stay in Italy. We all promised to keep in touch, but we also knew that once someone left Italy, they never looked back.
On January 5th we had an appointment at the HIAS office. Without any hopes or expectations we went to Rome. It was a full day affair. But to our great surprise and delight, we were informed that the Jewish Federation of Hartford, Connecticut agreed to sponsor our family and we will be leaving Italy on January 15th. We had only 10 days to get ready, pack, and prepair for the journey. We came home that day very excited and energized, pulled out the map of the United States and started looking for Hartford on the map. Where is it? Where is our new home going to be? Not only we could not find the city, we could not even find the state! We were told that Hartford is the world capital of insurance, that it is located in New England. Well, it did not tell us much. I've heard of New York and Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas, but we had never even heard of Hartford.
But it did not upset or disturb us. We were very excited and looked forward to our journey across the Atlantic from Italy to the US. What bothered me all of the sudden was the memory of the lectures in school and college about America: all the daunting images of the "evil" American people, intimidating and angry police, poor people being exploited by the capitalists, images of black people in jail, war hungry government, etc. I knew that it was nothing but propaganda, but it was so powerful. And I started  questioning our decision again, if we were doing the right thing. But it was NO TURNING BACK...
So, on bright and sunny day on January 15, 1976 we said "Arividerchi" to Italy and set on our way to the United States of America!
Flight was very long and I did not feel very well. Although I enjoyed the comfortable seats, great food, wonderful service and free movies!!! And  everyone was very attentive, thoughtful and kind. And before we knew it, we landed in New York City. Looking out of the window of the terminal we saw houses, roads, cars, huge cars. I've never seen such long and big cars in my life. This was our new home. Are we going to be happy here? Are we going to make it? I was so nervous and excited and the same time. We were told that we will spend one night in New York and in the morning we will take another flight to Hartford. I was looking around, looking for monsters and "evil" people, but all I saw was friendly and pleasant looking crowd, smiley men, lovely women and beautiful, healthy children. Everything looked so clean, organised and orderly. So where are the "war loving monsters" that lived in America???!!!
We were met by a very nice man who welcomed us to the US, took us to the nearby hotel, gave us vouchers  for dinner and said that he will come and get us in the morning. Wow! I felt that I finally came home! We were safe, happy and secure. My baby girl was safe and fed and happy and the new life inside of me gave me even more strength, vigor and confidence that everything is going to be OK!

Friday, July 13, 2012

#22 ~ Fall 1975 ~ Ostia Lido

Our life in Ostia was full of discoveries. We saw happiness and despair, tragedy and triumph, death and birth. We were surrounded with families with their own, unique stories. And I wish I kept a journal back then to document it all. It would make a fascinating book.
During the warm days, we would go to the beach and enjoy the sunshine, warm sand, beautiful blue water. We studied English, dreamed about our lives in the USA or Canada, anywhere in the Free World.
We were able to move to a 3 bedroom apartment. We stayed in one of the bedrooms and rented out the other two. This way we could afford to live there and have money for food and transportation. We all shared kitchen and a bathroom. A little tight, but livable.
In October warm weather turned into the cold, bitter, windy and very unpleasant. No wonder most of the apartments were empty. All Italians went back to the City. We lived on the top floor and one night the wind blew out large glass of the sliding door. We had nothing to repair it with. I hung blankets to shield from the wind and rain, but it was not very helpful. We all slept fully dressed, and it was still very cold. It took several weeks until the landlord sent  a repair man to fix the broken window. In a meantime, I found out that I was pregnant. We were very happy, but not knowing where we are going to be in a week, a month, a year added stress and anxiety, constant worry and nervous tension to our already strained lives. But the new life inside of me made me smile, made me more determined to succeed.
One Sunday morning, one of our neighbors invited us to come to the Vatican. Felix stayed home with Masha and I went with the group. Vatican is a magical place. I read in our guide book that Vatican City is home to some of the most famous art in the world. I did know what to expect. When we arrived to the St. Peter's Square, there were thousands of people standing and looking up. They explained to me that the Pope is going to appear and wave to the crowd from the window on the top floor. Well, I did not see the Pope, because I fainted... Maybe it was too hot, or too many people, or too much excitement, or maybe the fact that I was pregnant, or most likely all of the above. When I came to, I was carried on the stretchers by two funny looking men. They were Swiss  Guards in their traditional uniforms. I got so scared, frightened and panicky. They tried to comfort me, but I just wanted to get away and I did... That was my first encounter with the Vatican City. Just want to ensure that my next visit (years later) was much happier and very exciting.
St. Peter's Square ~ Vatican City

As I mentioned before, every day we were meeting so many different people with their own special stories, but one thing united us all: we all had to flee the country where we were born, face the unknown, and start our lives anew. We also shared new information from the books that were forbidden in the Soviet Union. One of the authors was  Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His novels tell about horrifying experiences in prison and war: "One Day of the Life of Ivan Denisovich", "The First Circle", "Cancer Ward". They describe the prison scenes, hospitals, atrocities by Soviet Government, corruption and dishonesty. The most dramatizing book for me was "The Gulag Archipelag" about the  the prison camps. Horror! Death! Bereavement!
Reading those books just confirmed that we made the right decision.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

#21~Summer 1975~Ostia Lido

Our first month in Italy was very interesting, to say the least. Every night we would go to the Central Post office to find out what is happening, who is leaving Italy for the US or Canada, who is coming from Russia, ask questions and get advice from people who lived in Italy for a while. That's how we learned how to survive and what to do.
As we settled, we started the ORT School, where we studied English. Felix and Ida would go to the classes in the morning and I attended afternoon classes. This way one of us was taking care of Masha. School was in Rome, so we had to take the train and then use the bus to get to school.

Train Station in Ostia Lido
To save money I often walked to school instead of using the bus. I enjoyed my long walks along the river. I discovered short cuts and to my delight found beautiful piazzas, old churches, fountains and museums. I don't remember being afraid to get lost. I knew how to ask: "Where is the river?" And I could find my way from there. I loved school. Our teacher was a young man from Chicago. He did not speak any Russian, so everything was in English. We read American newspapers, asked questions about American way of life and shared our own stories. What is ORT School?

In 1880 a group of Russian Jews petitioned Czar Alexander II for permission to start a fund to assist Jewish trade schools and establish new colonies, agricultural schools and model farms in order to help lift Russia's five million Jews out of crushing poverty. The success of the appeal led Russian authorities to create the "Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor," for Jews of Russia. It is from this original name—Obschestvo Remeslenovo i. Zemledelcheskovo Trouda—that the word ORT is derived.

After the first month living with 2 other families in a 1 room apartment, we had a chance to rent a 3 bedroom apartment, which was not as new and not as comfortable. But we used only one room for ourselves and rented the other two to 2 families. It saved a lot of money for us and we had our own room. I loved going to the market. I learned how to find bargains, how to "make deals" with the merchants. On the weekends we decided to explore Rome. We bought a Guide book: "Rome and Vatican". It was so helpful to read about the certain place and then go and see it: Piazza Venezia, The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, The fountain of Trevi and so much more...
Some museums were free of charge, some had a very small admission fee. My most favorite was  The Pantheon.
One night when we walked by the Piazza Nationale, we saw that lots of people gathered around the fence. When we got closer, we saw a small stage and around it tables and chairs were set. People were sitting at the tables, sipping wine or champagne and listening to the singer. His name was Mario Rovi. Oh, how I wanted to be among those people, to sit comfortably and listen to the artist and not  behind the fence. And I made a promise to myself, that WE WILL COME BACK AND WE WILL SIT AT THE VERY FRONT TABLE AND WE WILL HAVE CHAMPAGNE  AND ENJOY THE MUSIC!
One of the most memorable discoveries we made was Town of Tivoli, about 30 km from Rome. One Sunday afternoon we packed sandwiches, got some water and fruits and got on the bus. We did know what to expect. But what we saw was so incredible, we simply got lost in the past, away from troules, questions, worries and uncertainties. Villa D'Este was something from a dream: fountains, gardens, statues, waterfalls... we spent an entire day there and enjoyed every minute of it!
I did not mean to turn this into the guide book, but just could not help it. Yes, it was a difficult time of our life. We did not know what is going to happen to us and where we are going, but we had high hopes and big dreams and we were free!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

#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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#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.

Friday, June 1, 2012

#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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

# 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, May 11, 2012

#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!!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

#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!