My memories of being Jewish before immigrating to America are fuzzy, at best. They’re also quite negative. I do remember that being Jewish is the reason my family ultimately chose to leave/were forced out of the FSU if they ever had hopes for a better life; that notion of being kicked out of your home still resonates with me today. I would say that my personal story of immigration started two years before I actually left my birth-town of Bobruisk. My best friend at the time was my 20-year-old aunt. She helped raised me for the first five crucial years of my life. To my great dismay and lots of tears, with her infant child and new husband my aunt left for Israel, via Italy, and ultimately ended up in America. I associated America with reuniting with my aunt and that was the ultimate dream for this five year old.
My aunt and I were reunited at LAX in 1991, when I was 7 and she had just turned 23. I have a picture in a red jacket and denim overalls to prove it. I don’t think I left her side for a full week after that reunion. I remember the conversation in the car on the way to her one bedroom apartment. My family arrived 3 weeks earlier than we were supposed to, so our apartment wasn’t ready yet. It turned out 10 of us would be living together until our apartment was ready…Not so bad, considering we were in America, right? The eye-widening experience began then and there. From the choices of schools to attend, to the abundance of produce at Alpha Beta, to the toy commercials that interrupted my cartoons on television. These are all things that flash into my mind when I think of my first week in America.
I remember starting school and being overwhelmed by the kindness of my peers. Other 7 year old immigrants who came to America a few months to a few years before me. They helped me with everything from asking where the bathroom is to showing me how to write my name in English. Many of them I still keep in touch with today. One of them is my best friend.
Today I am an American citizen working for the State of Israel. I love my job because it combines several of my passions into our exciting and fulfilling adventure! In January, I had the opportunity to meet people like myself who currently reside in the FSU, who don’t necessarily work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but who volunteer their time and experience to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Would I be one of those people if I still lived in Bobruisk? I can’t say for certain. But I honestly don’t think that my knowledge, understanding and love for my religion and my heritage would be what it is today if my family didn’t take the courageous steps and sacrifices to move to America.
Marina is the participant 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.