The difficulty in writing my story - the story of my family's immigration to Los Angeles - lies first and foremost in where to begin. Do I jump right into it and get into the packing, the bureaucracy, the anxiety, the train and the plain? Or do I go back a year, when my sister, then 23, left to the U.S. with her husband and two-year old daughter? We certainly hoped to follow a year later (we did), but no one was exactly sure if we would see each other again. Or do I go back even further, to 1990 or 1991 when my small hometown called Beltsy in the north of Moldova started its Sunday school, where I first learned about Judaism and about Rosh Hashana? Or to the time when my family thought we were going to Israel, and I went to the first ever Jewish summer camp in Moldova organized by Sohnut? (Ironic as it is, 20 years later I am working closely with Sohnut as a co-chair of the Los Angeles Russian Jewish Community Leadership Program - sometimes it’s still feels like summer camp). My family was not one of those that left for ideological reasons. With the exception of one of my grandmothers, we did not practice Judaism in any form, my parents had what was considered prestigious jobs, my grandfather was a 'bolshoy nachalnik' (a big macher) and my sister graduated from a state university. We did not have any refuseniks nor any holocaust victims in my immediate family. My parents, who lived fairly comfortably, decided to pack their lives into two duffel bags and one hand bag per person, and take themselves, their three elderly parents and their children, and move half-way across the world to the land of which they knew nothing for one very simple reason - to give a better life to their children! When we arrived to L.A. (by way of Moscow and New York) on October 28, 1993, as we were driving down Santa Monica Boulevard, with its bright lights and the Mormon Temple towering on the left, my mom told me "Well, we brought you here..." The rest was up to me. My grandmother turned 80 that day. It is difficult now to imagine that we were so naive. Even though many friends and relatives immigrated earlier, the information was scarce and the advice from abroad was minimal. For example, someone should have told us that no one wears the types of clothes that we brought with us. We simply did not know what to expect. The one thing we were certain of was that our "Russian" life was being left behind. And so, before we left, I was frantically copying my favorite Russian music onto audio tapes, arguing with my dad how many of them I was allowed to fit into our luggage, because I was certain that where we were going there would be no more Russian music. Ever. And my mom was packing her favorite poetry books out of the 5,000 volumes we had in our home because she was convinced these were the last books in the Russian language that she would ever read. Ever. Thank G-d we were wrong. Yes, this was before all the Russian book stores in West Hollywood, and certainly before the internet. We did not know! Looking back, I don't know where the last 18 years went. I mean, I know what I did with myself (high school, college, law school, been practicing for seven years already) but it just doesn't feel like it has been over eighteen years. One of my favorite stories from my high school days was when my English teacher asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I told her that I was considering being a lawyer, her response was "But you need such good Engish for that." I was fifteen. A year later, I won a city-wide writing competition (and $500) against native English writers. And yes, the judges and the court reporters understand me, even through my ever-present accent. (Even though about a year ago an opposing counsel tried to argue that because of my accent he couldn't understand if I said a hearing was at eleven or at one. Do me a favor: In your thickest Russian accent say "eleven" and "one" - do they sound similar to you?") I, a little boy from Beltsy, population 150,000, am a Los Angeles lawyer. It's completely surreal! But I digress. Everyone's immigration story is different, but many are the same. To my American friends: please don't ask me why we left. I was a pretty happy teenager, I am not going to tell you that it was horrible there. Some of you think of us as heroes. Thank you, but I don't feel that way. We are just living our lives, having gone through some different and difficult circumstances, and we are just trying to make it from day to day. We are not extraordinary. We are just people who made a choice to better their lives, and thank G-d it worked. We still watch Russian TV, eat Russian food and sing Russian songs and tell Russian jokes because that's what we grew up with and that's what formed us as individuals. Balancing between my Russian heritage and my American life is a daily task. Having immigrated at the end of 1993, 18 years ago, I recently became "an immigrant adult." On that day, I was in Jerusalem, at the Western Wall. Somehow my Jewish, Russian and American identities all converged on the 18th anniversary of my immigration at the holiest site of my people. The circle closes, but my story continues... Alex Grager is th eparticipanmt of the Russian Jewish Community Leadership Porgram (RJCLP). A joint program of the Jewish Agency for Israel, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the Genesis Philanthropy Group.