My Story Raisa Silechnic
There are certain people in our lives, who although their stay with us is short-lived, produce and effect on our souls that does not die in an eternity. Raisa Silechnic was my aunt, and I remembered her from the depths of my childhood. Her name was always music to my ears, and she lit up my entire childhood. I had a very rough childhood, since my family and I lived in Sakhalin in a militarized town, because my father who served in the Red Army. Life was harsh, food was scarce, and everything was more of a struggle to survive than to enjoy ourselves. But a clear memory persists to this day. Every year, my aunt Raisa would visit us. Although she lived in Riga, she filled out all the necessary paperwork, and after over a week of travelling across the entire Soviet Union, she would come to our Subarctic, frigid, remote little town to visit her relatives. This was a period very distant in my memory, but I remember exactly why her visits were so dear to me. She brought us warmth from the world outside, love from her boundless heart, and most importantly candy. Here, out in the farthest, coldest corner of the world, where even obtaining food was a problem, she brought us the greatest delight, and filled us with love and pleasure. That was first, most distant memory of my dear aunt. Before, when I was young, I did not realize the magnanimity of her actions, but as I grew up and analyzed this, I was truly amazed at her kindness.
As I grew up and moved to Riga, Raisa more and more of an imprint on my soul. One story in particular amazed me the most. For years Raisa had studied in college for a stewardess. She had exceptional grades, and perfect prospects. However, when she graduated, she was not allowed to practice her profession since she was Jewish. However, her best friend, Irene, who went to the same college, was allowed to fly international flights (a great privilege), under one condition: she had to formally denounce Raisa and Raisa’s family as her friends. The decision was tough, but when Irene weighed out the possibilities and reconsidered how much Raisa had done for her, Irene chose to stay with her friend. This was a stunning story, and it perfectly illustrated to me what kind of person Raisa was.
Raisa came to the United States in 1979 and settled in Fairlawn, New Jersey. She had no job and little money, but never complained and never depended on anyone other than herself. Years passed in toils and pressing hard work, and she finally managed to build her foundation. She worked many hours at a small technological plant in New Jersey, but she slowly progressed in this new land. When I moved to the United States in 1992 with my daughter, Raisa took us both into her house, and welcomed us with great warmth and joy. She provided us with food, bough us clothes, and made our first experience in the United States a true joy. She took us in with more kindness than even the closest relative would have. Her benevolence did not end there. When I received my driver’s license, she gave me her car as a gift. Here in New Jersey, Raisa helped numerous immigrants realize themselves. She helped everyone she possibly could. Her kindness had no end. I did not understand how and why she did these things, and often I would talk to her about it. She told me that it brought her innumerable happiness to see her close ones happy. She was truly a marvelous woman, and even thought me how to do good. She opened my eyes to a world of genuine happiness.
Everyone knew that Raisa had no family. She had no husband or children, but she was not alone: she was never alone. She came home to an empty apartment, but she was happy with her life, because she brought happiness to others. She survived only on her love towards others. She was like a saint to me. I knew not one person with a more pure and beautiful soul as hers. But everything changed very rapidly when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In the first stages, her illness was not visible and she kept it a secret. She followed her life principle: do not depend on anyone and do not cause anyone pain. She kept her sorrow away from me and the rest of her family. When she was getting the operation, she told us that she had to remove an ingrown nail. After she went through chemo-therapy and the rest of her procedures, Raisa returned home. No one understood what happened, and only after she was diagnosed with metastasis did we realize what was happening. It came as the greatest shock possible to us. We could not believe that so holy a woman could have such a horrible illness. When Raisa’s case worsened, and she was hospitalized, day after day, every single one of her friends would come to visit her and support her at the bedside. Everyone who at one point knew her was in despair for she was that great of a woman. She died slowly, bringing unbearable pain to all the people that she had helped and loved. In July 2004 she died. Raisa asked only for one thing before her death; to be buried in Israel, her homeland. Her relatives, at first, did not want to bury Raisa there since they wouldn’t be able to visit her grave. But it was a dying wish, and when Raisa left this world, her family could not refuse. She was buried in Israel and to this day, twice a year her relatives visit the grave to pray to her for help.
Every immigrant has his own story, but Raisa has a very unique and beautiful one. She was not helped, but rather helped everyone around her. For this she was loved, and is immortalized by her deeds. Raisa was like an angel; her stay here was short but had a deep, moving effect on us. Her story is more than that of just an ordinary immigrant. There were those who succeeded and made their fortunes here, others became celebrities, and the most found their loves and live happy lives. No, Raisa is a remarkable woman who conquered the hearts of other with her compassion. She might not be famous, but she will always be remembered.
Written from the person of Stella Prokofiev, close friend of Raisa Silechnic.