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Sofia Gelman, The Head Doctor of Batumi

Sofia Gelman's story posted by David Leibman on August 02, 2012 at 7:53 pm. Sofia emigrated from Batumi, Georgia to Los Angeles, United States in 1992

I came to America at the age of 62, from Batumi, Georgia, on January 29, 1992. I first came to New York, and from there flew over to Los Angeles, because my son was already living here. My husband and I immigrated here only because of our kids, because in Georgia, there was little to none of anti-Semitism, however Ukraine was very different. My grandson lived in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.  When he was 11 years old, he was sitting in class one day with a fellow Ukrainian girl (and at that time many Jews were leaving Ukraine, so the Ukrainians had begun to hate them more and yelled at them,  "***** ***** leave our country,”) and the girl that was sitting next to him, starting to scream "**** **** leave", to which my grandson responded, "be quiet or I will hit you."  The girl did not react, so he hit her.

The next day this girl's mother came to the school, and beat my grandson up to such a condition that when he came home he had so much blood and bruises everywhere, my son's wife, a doctor as well, had rushed him to the hospital and made it mandatory for the doctor to write down everything that he saw, just as it was, so that she could sue the woman who did this. It was one thing to have children fight amongst each other, but it was a completely different thing for another person's mother beat the living soul out of a child. This doctor that my grandson went to was Ukrainian as well, and he did not like Jewish people, but he could not cheat his way out of writing what he saw on the child's body because my daughter-in-law was a doctor who knew how everything was run.

So when my grandson finally left the hospital, this doctor immediately called the school and told them that my daughter-in-law was going to sue them, and on the same day, all of my grandson’s teachers wrote that he had a mental issue and could no longer study at that school, but had to go to a school for children who had disabilities. This was a horrible thing that had happened. My daughter-in-law's mother was a teacher in another city, and she took along my grandson to study with her there. However my grandson had a sister who was two years younger than him, and she still attended this school; when word got out that my grandson had hit a girl, his sister was beat up, and that was the last straw for my son's family. They immediately got out of Ukraine and immigrated to America, using some of their connections.

At this time I was the head of the neurology department in all of Batumi, but when my children immigrated to America, I left too, which was very difficult and sad for me. When I left many people told me that they would truly miss me. I had spent thirty years of my life living in Georgia, and I only dreamed that I could be buried there, but I do not regret coming to America at all. As I was coming to America I didn't think much of it, all I thought about was that I would be closer to my children. All our furniture was sent to Israel, because the more you sent the cheaper it was, and from there we sent all our furniture to Los Angeles.  When I first came here, it was so hard, because all I thought about was how to live in this country.

I brought along three doctors whose credentials didn't mean anything in America, so they had to go out and study while still bringing food on the table, which was very hard. We had no money,  there was no food, everything we bought was cheap. But we lived through it, and we say now that it is nothing but it was a difficult time of indescribable pain and suffering. The only thing that kept me going was that there was always something to do. The first thing that I did was learn English and begin volunteering with the Senior Club.

 Those classes taught me so much, I had never imagined in my life  that I would be a writer, but now I wrote a book and am a very well known poet throughout the world.  I got so good at writing that I translated a play from English to Russian, and the writer was so happy with it, that he begged me to act in it. I played Eleanor Roosevelt!  It was my childhood that had helped me accomplish such things. I was always an honor student, even though I was studying in school dying of hunger, with no father around because he was in jail. It was then that I learned how to get through my suffering.

There was nothing funny that happened when we first came to America that we can remember; we were crying it was so depressing, and we would have to go get food stamps and be on welfare. We had to wake up at five in the morning to get in line, which was very scary. We would have to wait 3-4 hours, and one time people gave us a hard time and told us that we had to wait at the end of the line again because my husband came a little later to wait in line with me.  It was very very sad, and very hard for us at first.

 There was no Jewish life in Soviet Union , even though there weren't problems with Jews in Georgia but there just weren't many Jews there in the first place. Everyone loved me there and we had many close friends who were Jews, so I felt that I had to help them as many of them were very old and dying, and there was no one to bury them. I was there to help the many World War II veterans when they were sick, and I was just there to take care of them, because I felt as if it was my responsibility to take care of them. I made sure that they were buried under the Jewish laws. Today I am happy that Israel and Georgia are closer together, helping each other when hard times occur. I felt that I was Jewish everywhere I went but only in America did I feel like I was a real Jew who celebrates holidays.

 I was not afraid to be a Jew in Georgia, but we didn't celebrate or decorate ourselves as the biggest Jews on the planet, but in America due to the freedom I felt a push to be more Jewish without shame.  I feel that I am a full citizen of America, and Los Angeles as my new home.  I have been trying to forget Kiev my entire life, because the scariest part of my life was in Kiev. I waited for two and a half years to become employed and by that time I nearly lost my diploma.

While my husband was studying in the academy I was looking for work as a doctor, that is what I am trying so hard to forget, to never live that life again, because I had to go to the ministry of Ukraine and make a huge fuss that I couldn't get a job due to my religion. They didn't want to make a big scandal so they gave me a job in the farthest area of Kiev, which took me two hours to go to on one end, and I of course agreed. They didn't even let me work full time as a doctor there.  

 What I remember when I first came to America, the most memorable moments, was how people connected with each other. Americans have a different attitude, but even from the beginning I knew that I had to help out. With my efforts the teenage center in West Hollywood was established, close to the senior center. The city center responded to my complains to city hall to build the teen center on the side, and the kids stopped doing drugs and messing around horribly at Plummer Park. I feel that I at least did something for this community.