Jul 7 2014
I remember my grandfather reading The Forward (in Yiddish) on the back porch. I remember my grandmother in the kitchen cooking all the wonderful Eastern European foods from her childhood for me and my brothers and sisters.
I loved my grandparents, but they were foreign to me. I knew they weren’t born in the U.S. and came from somewhere else. I knew they had to leave their childhood home suddenly and it had something to do with them being Jewish, but the details and the reasons were fuzzy to me. I had a vague sense of something heavy and intense, but couldn’t quite sort it all out. Nobody really talked about it much.
Even though I was just a little girl, I knew my father loved his parents, but also felt ashamed of them. He would avoid driving through the Bronx and Queens where he grew up. He hardly ever spoke about his parents at home with us and rarely said the word “Jewish.” I used to eat my grandmother’s chopped liver by the spoonful when I was younger–it was so delicious. My father, on the other hand, gravitated to more refined food. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 26 2014
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio recently kicked off Russian Heritage Month by proclaiming that, “it’s about time government and municipal agency forms and documents be translated into Russian.” He added that NYC is the ultimate city of immigrants and that Russian immigrants keep the city strong.
When my family and I emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1977, I was 7 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. No, that’s not true. I knew two words: “apple,” because it was on the first page of my English alphabet book, and “the,” because, for the life of me, no one could explain what it meant. And no one around me could pronounce it correctly.
In 1977, it was believed that the best way to learn a new language was through complete immersion. I was put into second grade, into a class where I was the only kid who spoke Russian. (I was one of just two Russian-speaking students in the entire school.) Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 10 2013
I had my oldest son a few months before I turned 30. Not young in the majority of the world. Not even particularly young in the United States. On the Upper West Side of New York, however, when I asked my doctor if, at 36, I was too old to think about having a third child, he told me, “Most of my patients your age are still thinking about thinking about having their first baby.”
The thing is, even though I gave birth to my first child in 1999, I’d already been raising one for about two decades prior to that. My brother. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 28 2012
Even now, I can't handle a messy room like this.
When I was growing up, any item of mine not put away in its place was, more likely than not, tossed out the window by my mother. At the time, my parents and I were living within an 18-square-meter room (“A very good size by USSR standards,” my father assures me. “Usually it was 4 meters per person.”) in a 1970s Soviet communal apartment (i.e. a single family dwelling crammed with as many people as the government felt like cramming there, with a shared bathroom and kitchen). There wasn’t exactly a lot of space for clutter.
As a result, this was how I learned to clean. Something not in its proper place? Out it goes.
My husband, on the other hand, likes his stuff. He likes his stuff a lot. His love for his stuff extends to a transitive love for all stuff, especially our kids’ stuff. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 6 2012
My first Purim, I was 7 years old and newly arrived in the United States from the Soviet Union. I still barely spoke English, and was the only Russian-speaker in the second grade of my San Francisco Jewish Day School. (There was one more boy who spoke Russian, but he was in the fourth grade and, well, way too cool to speak to me.)
Somehow, I managed to understand that costumes would be required. And somehow I had also convinced myself that the kind of homemade costume my mother wanted to send me in–the kind that she’d made back in Odessa: Little Red Riding Hood, the Snow Queen, Ethnic Ukrainian with a garland of flowers in my hair–simply would not do. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 19 2012
I spent hours planning this educational field trip to Ellis Island for my kids...
We were sitting on the ferry as the sunset painted the New York skyline a rosy gold. It was an unseasonably warm January day, and I’d taken my boys and baby daughter with my husband to the museum at Ellis Island. Read the rest of this entry →