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!!!

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