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My Choices and My Heritage

Ilya Gubernik's story posted on September 27, 2012 at 9:39 am. Ilya emigrated from Moscow, Russia to Los Angeles, United States in 1994

My mom traveled to Los Angeles, CA in 1987 to meet our American relatives and see United States. After that trip she decided that we need to immigrate to United States to pursue a better life and have more opportunities.  She started looking for a way for us to achieve this goal. I remember I was living in Mitishi, which is a suburb of Moscow. It is about 10 miles from Moscow. My parents and grandparents worked in Moscow and went there every day.


I was thirteen years old when my parents decided to immigrate to United States. My parents did not ask my opinion whether I wanted to immigrate or not. It happened really quickly, I remember we were getting ready to leave, we sold our apartment, our things and started to pack our belongings. My parents kept it a secret that we were moving to USA. Only our close friends and family knew about it. I did not even had a chance to tell my friends that I was leaving because it happened so quickly. I remember I was scared because I did not know what to except. When we came to Los Angeles, our relatives picked us up from the airport and drove us to the apartment in West Hollywood that they have rented for us. Our family consisted of five people: my parents, my sister, myself and my grandfather. My grandfather has a brother in New York and he filled out a paperwork that enabled us to come here. My grandfather used to call himself  a “locomotive” and we were the “passenger cars”. 


  My family's and my Jewish life was non existent in Russia. I knew that I was Jewish, but I did not know any Jewish customs or traditions. I have never been to Synagogue in Russia. Now I know many Jewish traditions and holidays. I try to learn more and more about it. I also try to learn Jewish history and meaning of Jewish holidays and traditions.


When I first came in to the supermarket and saw so much selection of food, it was pretty memorable for me. Seeing people from all over the world was also memorable for me since in Russia most people are Russians and there are very few minorities. I remember a Russian Jewish guy in my high school, ran away when he first saw a black kid because he got scared and he did not know how to react since he has never seen black people before.  Way of life in USA, was totally different from Russia and it took me sometime to get used to it. On the second day when I went to school, I took a bus by myself to get to school. I had to learn quickly how to adjust to life in a new country. I met fellow Russian Jewish immigrants in my school and I became friends with them.  Having friends helped me to get used to new life and the challenges that it presented since we went thought the same experiences together.I am currently a software engineer. I would like to become a project leader and design systems that will automate manual processes. I would like to learn new things every day. I don't think my immigration has affected what I do professionally. I  have always had a  deep connection with Russian music and culture and I always will. Having lived in two countries gives me a unique perspective on life. I can compare and contrast. Russian values will always stay with me. Most of my friends are Russian Jewish immigrants. I am friends with them because we went thought similar experiences and we have more or less the same outlook on life.


Russian-Jewish to me means that I grew up in Russian culture with very little knowledge of Jewish values or traditions. It means that living in Russia me and my family were constantly reminded that we were Jewish and we could never forget that. If we did, Russian people would quickly remind us. It was very ironic since I did not know know any Jewish traditions. In America it is actually easy to forget that you are Jewish and as a result it is easy to loose your Jewish identity. Being Russian-Jewish in USA gives me a unique perspective to look at things from Russian point of view as well as from Jewish perspective.My grandfather talks about Holocaust very often since he lived through it. He was fighting in World War II against Nazi Germany and he had a very difficult life.He wrote several books about his life in Russia as a Jew when he emigrated to USA. He is very happy that he is living in USA and he loves this country. When he visited Israel, he kissed the ground when he got off from the plane. We talk about Israel and its importance to Jews from all over the world with my family. My grandfather teaches us about Jewish traditions during Jewish holidays. My Russian Jewish heritage played and continue to play a big role in my life. I see things differently, I do things differently and I make my choices because of my heritage. I like Russian culture, music and traditions. I have "Russian mentality" on certain things.  On the other  hand I am learning Jewish traditions and I follow them as well adding them to my knowledge base that I will tap into.  


Ilya is the participant of Russian Jewish Community Leadership Program (RJCLP). A joint program of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the Genesis Philanthropy Group


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