My grandparents were born in Former USSR, grew up in Leningrad, and eventually left Leningrad in 1989. Before they left Russia, Victor, my grandfather, had been working at a military plant, which he thought would be his last working job before pension. When his wife’s sister moved to America in 1978, he and his wife, Bella, were forced to give up their current jobs and begin searching for any work they could find, even if it didn’t relate to their field. They began attending an underground “Ulpan”, led by a “Refusenik” where they studied Hebrew, read historical books on Judaism, sang Israeli songs, and discussed problems about Israel and Soviet Jews. Victor and Bella were living in Leningrad during dangerous times, when Anti-Semitism was spreading and the KGB was spying on all “Refuseniks.” Because the teacher was a “Refusenik”, they were under suspicion and had to change the location for their classes several times. Being a part of “Ulpan” was conducive to Victor’s and Bella’s decision to travel to Israel.
In 1985, Gorbachev came to power and some of the ‘Refuseniks” were allowed to leave. Even though Victor and Bella knew they had to leave Russia, they couldn’t because their son was in the Russian army. When he came back home in 1988, the family immediately began preparations to depart for Israel. On Victor’s birthday, December 1988, every family member (Victor, Bella, and their son and daughter) handed in an application. For six months the family was anxiously waiting for permission to leave Russia. Once the answer came, it turned out that Victor and Bella were forbidden to leave while their son and daughter were permitted. Gaining permission to leave was very significant because once someone got that permission there was a specific deadline when that person was able to leave. After that deadline the person didn’t have the right to leave anymore. It was a onetime deal. Victor was tenacious in gaining permission to leave and after two months he and his wife were finally permitted to depart to Israel. The next few months were the hardest part of their immigration. Ada, their daughter, got married on June 16 1989, three months before her permission expired, and couldn’t depart because her husband did not have permission to leave the country yet. Eugene, their son, had to leave first because his date of departure (September 1989) was different from Victor’s and Bella’s and his visa was about to expire. It was an onerous and distressing task to pack their son’s belongings and watch him leave for Israel, the country that they thought they would soon arrive to.
Victor and Bella had no intentions of separating with their children nor did they consider the thought of ending up in different countries. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the case. Victor’s and Bella’s son-in-law wanted to live in the USA rather than in Israel and Ada was pregnant. With which of their children should they be together with? After a long and arduous discussion, Bella and Victor came to the conclusion that they would travel with Ada and help her with the pregnancy. It was difficult and heartbreaking to leave their son in Israel, but they knew that he would be okay on his own. On November 23rd, 1989 Victor and Bella left Leningrad to Vienna, where they stayed for 20 days. They took as many belongings that fit into two suitcases, had $100 in their pockets, and said goodbye to their friends and home country. They didn’t know if they would ever return to Russia or when they’d see their son again, but they knew that they couldn’t stay any longer in Leningrad.
The seven months in Italy, after the 20 days in Vienna, were hard and gloomy, but on January 20th, 1990 there was only joy and happiness in the air; Victor’s and Bella’s granddaughter was born. When they came to Italy, they rented an apartment in Ladispoli, near Rome, prepared all documents for INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) with the help of HIAS, and received money for living from the American Joint Distribution Committee. Bella and Ada looked after the newborn baby while Victor worked as an editor for a newspaper called “Voice of Ladispoli”. During their time in Italy, they couldn’t stop thinking and worrying about their son in Israel. At one point they even thought of splitting up; Victor would go to Israel while Bella would go with Ada to America. However, this idea was too good to be true and was never carried through. Bella’s sister urged the family to come to the USA and get citizenship. In 1990, The UJC (United Jewish Council) in Bergen County invited the family to the United States and they happily agreed. One their way to America, they realized that they had no place to live, no car, and no one to meet them at the airport. When they landed, it was pleasing and relieving to see a man with a sign “Zaydens” (their son-in-law’s family name).They put their luggage in the car and were driven to their new home. It was hard to believe that they were in America, the land of opportunity. Bella truly believed that America was the place where anything could happen. “? ?? ???? ????????, ??? ?? ????????? ? ??????? ? ???? ?? ???????????? ??????? ” were the words that Bella told Victor in the car. After an hour and a half of driving, they reached their new place. It was a one bedroom apartment with simple furniture, a crib, clothing, and food. Everyone was amazed and grateful for all the help that UJC provided.
In 1991, Victor and Bella traveled to Israel where they saw their son for the first time in two years. Victor and Bella couldn’t be more ecstatic to see their son alive and healthy, and with a son of his own, who was 10 months old at the time. It was hard to believe that they were in Israel with their son, his wife, and his son. Finally, everything started to work out. After Victor and Bella saw their son, they tried to convince him and his family to move to America. In 1999, Eugene, his wife, son, and daughter came to America. Victor and Bella couldn’t be more thrilled. At that point, they already had a house of their own in New Jersey, Victor had a well paying job, and both of their children were with them at last. Victor and Bella never regretted leaving Leningrad in 1989 because they knew that a better future awaited them, their children, and grandchildren in another place. Little did they know at that time that America would be their final destination.