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Russian Jews Don't Cry

Uri norwich's story posted on May 01, 2013 at 7:43 pm. Uri emigrated from Novosibirsk, Russia to New York, United States in 1977

I continue to offer to the esteemed readers of this site excerpts from my newly published book “Russian Jews Don’t Cry.”

Back in August 2012 and February 15 and March 21 of this year, I posted some stories. I'd like to offer to you another small episode. Once again, it's related to experiences of many immigrants who went through Ladispoli.

Excerpt from Chapter 18: 'Mosaic of Ladispoli'

'Pyatachock was a wonderful place to observe life in its essence, concentrated and packed into a confined space. People were arriving over here already uprooted, leaving behind their life experiences and their entire beings. People were coming over here without any preparation or know-how about fending for themselves in the Fee World. Most people were simply lost. If not for HIAS, many wouldn’t survive here; many wouldn’t leave the Soviet Union, to begin with. It was the human tragedy and the comedy, playing out here at the same time. Most of local inhabitants of Ladispoli preferred not to get involved with immigrants, leaving them to their own devices, as long as everything was in order. There were necessary contacts between the immigrants and the local community, but locals appreciated the immigrants’ presence around. Immigrants breathed a new life into Ladispoli, dead otherwise for the most of the year. Immigrants brought new business to locals, otherwise they could never have. Apartment owners benefited from their properties rented not only for the two months of the year but a year around. Store proprietors couldn’t be happier, seeing food and other goodies sold off their otherwise stale businesses. Local Tuesday farm market was busy with the immigrants too. Everyone was benefiting from the shelter Ladispoli extended to the Soviet refugees, as long as everybody played by the rules. Local merchants looked the other way for as long as a mutually beneficial commerce was happening, even if the immigrants were giving them hard time sometimes, driving a hard bargain. Even local police looked the other way when our immigrants walked a fine line, thinking they were still back in the Soviet Union, and sometimes not treating a private property with respect. Our people didn’t know better — the Soviet regime washed it out of their system pretty well. But by the most part, everyone in town was content with the immigrants being around. There was that invisible balance which only the free market economy could create. That balance couldn’t be forced onto people.Some of the most dared local Italians tried getting closer to immigrants. Native population of Ladispoli derived its roots from local peasants, by the most part. Vast farm landscapes surrounded the town. Ladispoli was hailed as an artichoke capital of Italy. Endless grape plantations were spread out as far the eye could see. Many local people hardly finished high school. Immigrant community, on the other hand, consisted by the most part of highly educated people. The language was the biggest barrier, of course. So many times I was taken aback by Italians staring at me in disbelief that their bombola (propane gas tank) delivery boy had an engineering degree. I could see in many eyes their struggle of emotions: their admiration for value of education, their still slight doubt whether it was true or not and why such educated man bringing them their bombolas. I also could read in their eyes unsaid sense of their own security for themselves being home, in their own great country, and that they didn’t have to uproot themselves and run for their lives across oceans. Or maybe, I was reading too much into peoples’ minds…If people were likened to animal creatures, there was a strange couple hanging around Pyatachock who would make a perfect pair of roosters. They were circling around at a respectful distance from the immigrants’ gathering place, just on the outskirts of the square, walking proudly with their chests curved out in front. One of them, the older gentleman by the name Vincenzo, was always dressed in a light color suit. Underneath, his shirt was imprinted with large size flowers and usually unbuttoned below the front pocket of his jacket, exposing a big gold crucifix on his bare but still grey chest. His friend by the name Manfredo was much younger, probably by twenty years, putting him in the forty-something category. Manfredo was always underdressed by Vincenzo’s standards, wearing blue jeans and a checkered shirt. His hairless chest was also exposed, revealing a much smaller crucifix. They were always suntanned to the crisp – it took long days of hard work of sitting around the beach together.Every evening when the day’s heat was settling down into the sea and the Pyatachock was abuzz with people, the rooster pair was slowly circling around, eager to talk to anyone from the crowd. There were no takers because of the language barrier. Not to me...Soon I found out that the rooster-friends harbored high inspirations for picking up a lovely Russian lady “for mutual companionship and entertainment,” or at least, that was how I understood it. They were asking for a little assistance in communicating that desire to any object willing to listen to them. I had big doubts about their success but then again…Some time later on, I had seen some Russian ladies eating gelato with Vincenzo and Manfredo at an outdoor café. Was that a cheap date? Who knew…?And then, there was another character pair hanging around the Pyatachock in the evenings. One of them was an American, named Amadeos, and the other was his Italian friend, named Federico. They were both in their fifties and looked diametrically different. Amadeos was trim, slim and wore always a light suit with a flower in the front pocket. Federico, on the other hand, was fat, overweight and a big slob on the outside. He would usually sit in his white Mercedes, parked by the curb, and look out through the open window at the “going-ons” at the Pyatachock. Meanwhile Amadeos would weave busily through the crowd, trying to score a date for his buddy Federico and, if they lucky, for himself too. His biggest advantage was Amadeos spoke some Russian, and a lot of Yiddish he picked up from his grandmother who had long passed away since in America. Why Amadeos was hanging out in Ladispoli? I never figured that out for sure. There were many rumors swirling around about him: he lost some “big business” to mafia in New York and now was hiding in Italy, of all places. Of course, Ladispoli was a perfect hideaway …The other version was he owed Uncle Sam a lot of money in back taxes and again, Ladispoli was a perfect hiding place. His buddy Federico was also rumored to be connected to mafia and owned half of Ladispoli. So they matched each other perfectly on paper. None of those rumors were ever confirmed, but Federico owned one of the best buildings in town. I went inside of his own residence a few times with my bombolas. Federico was generous with his tips too. He had a nicely-cheerful large wife at home who offered me an appropriate large glass of soda and a light conversation. They were the nicest people.The characters’ parade never ended in Ladispoli. Immigrants were coming and going; some stayed longer than the others but eventually left for their destinations. There were some families stuck seemingly forever here, if forever was a year’s time. Many of them were heading to Canada and Australia. Those immigrants behaved themselves as “already seen it all” types. Some were tired of their compatriots and even stopped coming to the Pyatachock, and lived their “normal family life,” pretending it was normal. It was easy to do for people who came here with their entire families. In the end, everyone had his own destiny waiting ahead. It was just like “everyone would have to die by himself; no one else would die for the other.” So was the immigration process — it was a lonely journey, whether it was a single person or a family.People were moving along, but permanent set of characters always remained. Just like a stage set, they were always there. The “Israeli boys,” for example, were the first ones to greet immigrants in Rome, trying to beat everyone else to the goodies immigrants were bringing for sale. Then there were “assistants in finding apartments for rent.” For a small commission, they would lead newly arrived to a “great” deal. Sometimes they did. They were the same “Israeli boys,” only putting a different hat on. Rabbi Hersh was another permanent figure in Ladispoli, always there too, trying to tend to immigrants’ spiritual needs of bring them back to their roots. Most people were more interested in kosher cookies, his wife supplied amply to a makeshift synagogue-club, than in finding their spiritual selves. Some bored old timers actually enjoyed every day a small prayer service at the Rabbi’s house. At the end, they were still munching on the same kosher cookies. And the last, but not least, permanent fixture was Gary Shtock, tending to immigrants cultural needs and trying to lure them to his excursions around Italy. So the life around Ladispoli was going on in its monotonous flow until one day in the early October a new character arrived on the scene. The way he stormed into our quiet lives, and into Ladispoli’s quiet swamp on the whole, reminded me of a personage by the name of Ostap Bender from the famous Soviet era novel “The Twelve Chairs.” In my imagination, he even looked like the one.”


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