This story was collected by Karina Gaft, the Brandeis-Genesis Institute fellow, as part of a joint project with the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, MA.The Brandeis-Genesis Institute (BGI) is an initiative that prepares Russian-speaking students from around the world to become effective community leaders fortified by Jewish knowledge, a systematic understanding of Russian Jewry, and a commitment to the future of the Jewish people.
Moisey was born in Kiev, Ukraine. He says that this was a wonderful and very green city, which suffered much destruction during the war and was restored after. Moisey lived on Kreshatik Street (a very prestigious area of Kiev). He talks about his native city with love in his voice, describing the city's streets and buildings. The building his family lived in belonged to some countess before the revolution. The front of the house looked out onto Kreshatik Street. The building had four stories. On the 2nd floor of the building, there was a hair salon on one side, and nice apartments on the other side. There was a livable basement as well, that was the location of a brothel. “I remember before the revolution, there was a small orphanage next to it, upon which there hung a sign saying ‘No Jews or Poor People Allowed”, he recalls with a smile. The access-way into the building was very pretty and had a hand-made iron-cast gate. Later, after the revolution, the building became the property of the Artists’ Union, but Moisey's family didn’t have to move. They were allowed to stay there because Moisey’s aunt was a member of this Union.
As a child, Moisey was fascinated by the process of inventing. He loved to experiment with objects and made his first invention when he was just 6 years old. It was a boat that could move on both water and land. Moisey’s work was shown at the Kiev Exhibition of Children’s Creative Works. Then Moisey took on magnets and energy: "A friend and I wanted to invent a magnet." He smiles and makes a side note: “You know, when you don’t know much about a subject, then it’s easy to invent whatever you want”.
Jewish LifeMoisey recalls that his parents celebrated all Jewish holidays. He says that the inhabitants of his apartment building belonged to different cultural traditions and that everybody would celebrate all of the holidays together. For example, Moisey's family would buy decorated Easter eggs and kulichi (Easter bread) from their neighbors. The family would go to Moisey's uncle's house for the High holidays because that uncle was a rabbi. At the uncle's house they celebrated in accordance with all traditions and even sang songs. Moisey smiles as he remembers that Passover was his favorite holiday. Later, he married a Jewish woman whose family was also religious, but in their own family life they kept with only the most basic of customs.
Work LifeMoisey has two degrees: one from the Leningrad Military School (specializing in tanks) and the other from the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute (a very prestigious university in the USSR). “I had a pretty good job,” says Moisey humbly, "I even had my own car". He was the head constructor and then the director of the Technical Department in the Ministry of Transport. He was in charge of developing car diagnostic tools and maintenance requirements.
In addition to his man job, Moisey continued working on his inventions and created many interesting things. He explains that in the USSR there were two ways to register an invention: inventor’s certificates and patents. Unfortunately, patents were not given out liberally. Moisey has only one patented invention, but more than forty inventor’s certificates. He managed to bring 40 of these certificates (which had been published in the USSR) to America when he emigrated.
Moisey has also been awarded medals for his inventions. At the time of the Soviet Union, there were yearly general-purpose trade shows hosted at the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements in Moscow. Moisey received a gold medal, a silver medal, and five bronze medals at these highly prestigious trade shows.
Love Life & War“My wife’s name was Betty. She was from a very religious Jewish family”, explains Moisey with a twinkle in his eye. "Her parents lived in Kiev in a Jewish neighborhood of Podol. Her father was a handy man: he made all of the harnessing for horses and was a phenomenal glasscutter - he made windows for home and for display. He was a very hard-working man".
Betty had a legal degree and after college came to work to the place where Moisey was already working. “You see, our love story is not simple”, explains Moisey. Betty's first love was Moisey's brother; she married him right before the war broke out. Her husband, Moisey's brother, was drafted, fought heroically at the front rising to the ranks of a platoon leader. He was a tank commander and died when his tank was hit by the Nazi artillery, having burned to death.
At the start of the war, Moisey was an engineer and was not drafted. Instead, he fought the Nazis at "the labor front", as it was called in the Soviet Union. His job was to work on improving the existing and developing new artillery weapons. He and his family were evacuated by the Soviet government to the East . Betty evacuated with Moisey's family as its member.
When her husband was killed, Betty stayed with Moisey’s family. Moisey and Betty became great friends, and Moisey supported her for a very long time after his brother’s death. "And then we had a daughter together," says Moisey as if still ashamed for their love. The couple registered their marriage only in 1956. There was no large or formal wedding, but Moisey and Betty celebrated their marriage with a close circle of family and friends. Betty’s parents were never opposed to her second marriage, as they knew Moisey’s family well. The parents named their daughter Elena.
When Elena’s husband decided to emigrate to America (for religious freedom as well as better life opportunities), Elena followed him and soon arranged for the emigration of the now widowed Moisey.
Creative Life ContinuesIt is interesting that Moisey started writing poetry well into his older years in immigration. He has a collection of poems, which he keeps in his room. Some of them are about the war. An excerpt below describes the horrors of the siege of Leningrad and is called "In Memory of Little Sonia":
The picture is so common: A mother dragging a corpse on an old sleigh That may be her son or daughter, Wrapped in a white sheet
Other poems are about love and are dedicated to his late wife:
I barely knew you and still I was enchanted by you. I saw you - and Goosebumps ran down my skin You disappeared - and I am no longer myself.