5/9, May 9th is Victory Day. I thought I’d take a break from honoring the mothers who hold a special place in my heart and remember those who perished in the last world war. There is no better way to remember, than to recount the impact and tell a story — a personal one.
My Deda was born in Poland. He was supposed to immigrate to America in 1939 and attend university. Poland was invaded mere weeks before his departure and so he (aged 18), along with his cousins ran east. He was captured and sent to concentration camps twice. He escaped once and once he was let go by a german soldier. He left behind his father, step-mother and sisters — never saw them again.
My grandmother (father’s mother) had three sisters. Two of her sisters and their children perished … executed point blank at Babi Yar.
My Dad’s father fought in the war. He never talked about his experiences much.
In my family, on this day especially, we remember those who gave their lives to defend others and those who perished in vain. Remembering means we will never forget and never let history repeat itself.
I was playing the role of a tablescape designer for my brother-in-law’s birthday celebration. A few people asked about the flowers that I used to create the casual, effortless spring country arrangements. I am no Martha Stewart, but I think they turned out okay.
They were Ranunculus (see below)
and Lilacs. The ranunculus are best when arranged free-form and the lilacs just add an immense aroma. Actually, I forgot all about lilacs and when I smelled them at the store, I remembered where I smelled them last — my Baba’s house. I am now on the hunt for a lilac bush to plant in my garden.
June 1st is coming up … that would be hubby’s and mine fifth wedding anniversary. Seems just like yesterday and also so long ago. Just like yesterday because I remember the day quite well and so long ago because I can see quite a few more wrinkles on my face now. We are likely going to make it a low-key celebration again given that we aren’t planning to leave Sophia and have had bigger celebrations in the past.
For our first anniversary, we went to Rome, the Positano Coast and Sicily. For our second, we went to Japan. Charleston and its glory welcomed the pregnant us for our third anniversary and I am pretty sure our fourth was spent at home trying to get sleep since we never do anymore.
But this post is really about what led to all these anniversaries. This post is about how we met in the summer of 2001 (12 years ago… wowza). Hubby was about to enter Drexel University as a Freshman. He had secured a research position in the same lab I had been working in. I had already been at Drexel a year at that point. Anyway… it just so happened that our research advisor at the time decided to send us and a few other students to a conference in Bologna, Italy for a week. Now, I ask you, who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity and take another week or two to sightsee? I know I did.
I remember arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport with my parents in tow. They insisted on dropping me off AND taking a look at these other students that were going. My parents are fairly protective and I like that. My mom takes a look at hubby, walks over to me and asks me who he is. I admit that its just another student and I don’t know much about him. She declares that he seems like a nice guy and that I should go out with him. Jewish mothers have some sort of a jew-[ra]dar — especially when their daughters are unmarried. Keep in mind now, that I was at that time seeing someone else. Thanks, MOM! That suggestion sped into my one ear and was kicked out instantaneously. Dating one person is hard enough… I never aspired to multitask in that department.
We ended up traveling to Florence and Venice and riding around in the hills of Tuscany together. Our trip was plutonic (hubby was seeing someone, too) but plenty of fun. I learned a lot about him and then our trip came to an end. That was that… until a few months later when he asked me out when neither of us were seeing anyone. The rest is … well as they say, History.
I’ll always have a warm place for Bologna not just because it shows old Westerns on an enormous screen in the evenings at the main plaza, but because it was a place where I found a new friend who eventually became my partner for life.
Moments — the kind I post every week. Each one a snapshot of something special to me. Tied together, they tell a story. Enjoy almost a full year of moments with us. *Please turn the volume up as you play the video.
Imagine being eleven years old and finding yourself suddenly blind, deaf and mute. That is exactly what it felt like when I moved to the United States. We landed at JFK in the afternoon of August 21st, 1994. Dusk had settled over the Big Apple by the time we exited immigration, customs and picked up our luggage. We drove to my aunt’s house in the suburbs of Philadelphia and began our new life.
I was enrolled into a local middle school and started 6th grade on September 6th, 1994. That would be a short two weeks after we arrived here. Here are a few facts about me on my first day of school:
I did not speak any English. I did not know anyone. I had never used a school locker or seen a locker lock before. I was 11 and most other 6th graders were 12-13 years old. I was enrolled into ESL (English as a Second Language). I was also enrolled in Spanish class — and why not? It was all the same for my brain… English, Spanish… they could have added Mandarin and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I had to take a test to be admitted into 6th grade. My math level was that of a 9th grader.
I was sad, nervous, anxious, relentlessly teased by my classmates for anything and everything. I could not complain to my parents or my sister; They were busy getting on their feet so that we could move out of my aunt’s house and begin rebuilding our lives in our new homeland. My parents and sister had to get drivers’ licenses, jobs, and find an apartment.
… and move out we did a scant three months later. My mom and sister got jobs first, my dad followed. My sister enrolled into Drexel University. My parents worked hard, incredibly hard — all the time. My dad worked three jobs initially and my mom two. They helped pay for my sister’s college education (though like me, she paid part of the way herself).
Fast forward four years — my sister married and my parents were homeowners working normal jobs and saving for retirement, for my college education. We were comfortable…
Fast forward two more years and I was attending Drexel University on a merit-based scholarship.
Fast forward five more years and my parents were attending my graduation from college.
Fast forward three years and we celebrated my marriage to an amazing man.
Fast forward three more years and my parents were helping my husband and I move into our first house. Fast forward another six months and my parents were helping us bring Sophia back home from the hospital.
This is the truth. This.. this is a story of determination, of hard work, of not being spoiled. This is a story of immigration, of the American dream. This story isn’t really about me. It is about my parents. It is and always was just about them. I dedicate this story, this series to them.
2 suitcases per person. Your whole life, your children’s lives — all in 8 suitcases. Memories, special mementos, family heirlooms — all in 8 precious suitcases. I don’t remember those suitcases — I don’t want to remember those suitcases.
I do remember my parents sorting through hundreds, maybe thousands of family pictures and albums and selecting a precious few. I remember the rest were burned … no other option. Perhaps more tragic than the fact they were burned, is the fact that each and everyone one of them, my dad took. He enjoyed photography as his hobby and would take, develop and print every picture. He let me “help” him when I was a little bit older and it was such an amazing treat.
I remember amazing pictures he took of my mom when they were dating. I remember pictures he took of my sister and me, of my family, my aunt when she and her family came to visit in 1988. They’re all gone. In fact, and I am sorry I missed seeing some that my aunt has from when my grandmother would post them to her. I want to see them, I want them. It made me very sad.
I was 8 or 9 when my parents began the application process for moving to the United States and thankfully unaware of the difficult road they were embarking on.
Immigration is a tricky word you see. One can immigrate for different reasons such as seeking political and religious asylum, for a new employment opportunity and many others. Most Jews immigrating from the Eastern Block countries were seeking asylum from religious persecution. Your emigration status was directly linked to the assistance you would receive upon your arrival in the states. HIAS was formed especially to aid in the resettlement of Jewry in the United States.
We had family in the United States (my mother’s sister) and applied to emigrate based on a re-unification program. The reunification program meant that the United States would allow you to immigrate to rejoin your loved ones (mother, father, sibling, child). Any social assistance had to be applied for separately. We did apply for social assistance (refugee status), went through an in-person interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and were the only family out of hundreds interviewed that day to be denied.
An especially poigniant moment of the interview stands out in my mind; we were in the office of one of the embassy employee undergoing the application interview. The interviewer, a man in his middle to late 40ies or maybe even 50ies, speaking in almost flawless Russian said:
“Mr. Colonel, you want to apply for refugee status and come to the United States asking for aid? You are a Colonel and in America, Colonels have staffs of employees and aides. Do you think it is something you will be able to do, to stand in line with your hand open asking for free flour?”
The employee didn’t have any comprehension that my parents’ number one goal was to bring their children to America, to raise and educate them and enable them to live a normal life with rewards based on their achievements — and that yes, they would do whatever it takes to do that — forget who they are, let go of statuses and possessions. The fact is, that while esteemed and enjoyed a comfortable living, a Colonel in the USSR army didn’t retire with staffs and aides.
By denying my family refugee status, the United States essentially denied ANY and ALL assistance (financial and otherwise). They were permitting us to enter the country with the right to work. The reasons for the denial are unknown but could be any or a combination of the following: my mother’s sister who resides in the suburbs of Philadelphia was enjoying a very comfortable middle class life and my father was in the military and the embassy had a difficult time envisaging his new identity in America. I suppose the government had decided that if we did emigrate, my aunt was going to support us. I should also say that most families denied social assistance did not emigrate to the United States, instead opting to stay back or head to Germany or Israel who had more social aid oriented programs.
The lack of assistance did not weaken my parents’ resolve. We sold, donated and distributed all of our possessions packing up our 8 suite-cases (2 per person) and heading to a new life in America.