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  My name is Mikhail Manevich and I was born in Leningrad, Russia. As a child, I did what all other boys around me were involved in. We were playing, running, fighting, getting in trouble –but I really liked to sing. When I was seven my parents enrolled me in Glinka's Choir School where I sang in All Boys Choir; a career in music was my destiny. The school was very rigorous academically speaking and musically speaking.  Most of my classmates are now conductors with major orchestras and choirs inside and outside of Russia. I grew up in this school and later graduated as a choir conductor from the Leningrad Conservatory and married my wife Ema. We felt like second class citizens in Russia and we didn't like it so we decided to immigrate to find freedom and more opportunities.  We decided to immigrate to Canada because my wife had a family there. So on December 31st of 1975 at the age of 22 and 18 two of us left Soviet Union leaving everything and everyone behind. Little did we know that it would take us years and a hard work to reunite with our families again. Though we wanted to go to Canada, we were not allowed entry and instead went to New York where I had just one friend.


            We arrived in New York on July 7, 1976 at JFK airport and knew that a new life had begun. When we first arrived we stayed with my friend,Semyon Bychkov-now a world renown conductor, and his wife in a small studio apartment. In America everything seems to be different. Things were bigger, people were happy, and all immigrants lived together in the same community because almost no one spoke English. Once we received our first stipend from NAYANA(New York Association for New Americans) we moved to our own studio and finally could start our own life. Ema had studied dentistry for one year back in Russia but had no other training. I was a musician in New York; my chances to work in a music field were also slim to none. Instead I found a job as a messenger and therefore I was forced to learn the city fast and Ema became a clerk in a shipping company that dealt with immigrant’s luggage. We used TV to learn the language and slowly but surely were getting used to America and the bustling city of New York.


            After a few months in America, a NAYANA case worker sent me for an interview to Temple Emanuel in Manhattan to audition for a position of a choir singer. The cantor suggested that I should investigate the opportunity to become a reform cantor. I visited the Hebrew Union College, the school that trains reform Rabbis and Cantors, and realized that “Jews are Jews!” The students and I, we all looked the same, all dressed in jeans and T-shirts.  The stereotypical image of a Rabbi and a Cantor which we all had in Russia was not true in America. I was interviewed and auditioned by the admission committee, and after that they were split right down the middle about what to do with me (this I learned much later). I couldn't read Hebrew but I had fantasticmusic training from the world renowned Leningrad Conservatory and I was the first Russian Jewish immigrant who knocked on their doors. They told me to learn the basics of Hebrew, take some Jewish music classes. And only after I'd successfully done that, I was accepted to the school on a trial basis. It was a five year course and I had to start another chapter of my life right from the beginning.


            The first three and a half years were the most difficult years of my life. I had to learn English and Hebrew on a college level, to learn Jewish history and liturgy, and of course the beautiful but very difficult cantorial art. At the same time Ema has decided to continue with her education and was enrolled into Columbia University and studied to become a dental hygienist. We had to quit our jobs since we were now full time students and it was very challenging to find the money for food and shelter. At one point we had to move to welfare projects because we couldn't afford anything else. We never received any public assistance and always believed that we were young and strong and could take care of ourselves.


            My first year of school was very challenging because of the need to learn two languages simultaneously.   What saved me then, in my first year I’ve passed through all five years of music classes due to my background. In my second year I’ve got my first cantorial job. I became a student cantor in Long Beach, Long Island, where I chanted Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, a position that paid. In my third year I was asked to be a conductor of Hebrew Union College’s Cantorial School Choir. So I was a student and a faculty member at the same time, but most important it was another job that helped to pay the bills. Gradually things were getting better as Ema and I became more used to the country and found more ways to support ourselves. I graduated from Hebrew Union College and Ema graduated from Columbia University dental hygiene program at the same time, in 1982.


        My first full time cantorial job was in Livingston, New Jersey at Temple Emanuel and it seemed like we had achieved our “American Dream”. At that time we already had 2 children, we lived in suburbia, it was a great congregation and I really liked the job. We lived there for seven years when the opportunity came to move to DC. I applied for a job at Washington Hebrew Congregation, which is the premiere congregation for the whole country, and I was chosen despite a high competition. I became the only second Cantor in the Temple’s 160th year history. My family and I moved to DC in 1989 and for the last 23 years it has been a work of love and dedication. There is more to being a Cantor then Hebrew and voice. This year marks my 30th year being a full time Cantor. During these years I’ve trained and participated in thousands of Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, in hundreds and hundreds of weddings and funerals, worked with different synagogues choirs. But the most important, people let me in to their lives during the most joyous and the saddest moments. It takes a special kind of person to be a Cantor.


            In addition to my congregational duties I had an opportunity to perform on stages of Carnegie Recital Hall (New York), Merkin Hall (New York) and at the best concert halls in Washington DC; the Kennedy Center, Constitution Hall and National Cathedral. I also made several recordings.


            I owe everything to this country; it gave me opportunities I would never have had in Russia. I watched my three kids grow up in freedom, we also have three grandchildren and I have my dream job. I couldn't ask for anything else.


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