When my family comes together for holidays and birthdays, they always end up talking about their life in Kiev. I was born in the United States; their memories feel like stories to me. But I love hearing their stories of my parent’s childhood.
My parents both lived in Kiev, Ukraine while the Soviet Union was still the government. My mother’s mother was a successful and respected pediatrician, and my grandfather was an engineer. Although we are Jewish, my mother had a decent life in Kiev, apart from the discrimination. My father’s mother was a secretary, and my grandfather worked in a utility and construction company.
I especially love hearing my parents tell me about their childhood because it is so different from mine. My mother has told me about her trips to the beach, her love of eating boiled potatoes and herring (which continues to this day). She once told me that she remembers her grandfather standing at the stove, making chicken broth from a chicken he bought the same morning. The chicken broth was rich with fat that the spoon bobbed up and down in the broth, even when her grandfather let go of the spoon.
My father has happily told me of his adventures as a young boy. He bragged to me that he was a very athletic boy who was gifted at soccer. He was a bit of a trouble-maker who seemed to have a lot of fun.
Despite all these happy memories, both my mom and dad have told me about the discrimination they suffered, being Jewish in Soviet Russia.
My parents were married when my mother was eighteen years old, and my father twenty-three years old. My mother had just finished studying in school to be a nurse, my father to be an engineer. My older sister had also recently turned six years old. However, even though the immigration to America would be difficult, the possibilities in America for my family were greater.
My parents received help with their immigration from HIAS. Getting permission to leave was difficult; in the end they were forced to leave many of their possessions there. From Kiev, they travelled to stay in a small town in Italy for three months before they could go to America. My mother spent her time selling produce, while my dad sold various trinkets. My sister told me one day, an Italian girl saw her only doll and wanted to buy it. My dad took my sister’s doll and sold it; you can guess she was pretty upset. My parents told me they really enjoyed their time in Italy.
After three months, they arrived in New York after a cross-Atlantic voyage on a ship. When my mom stepped off the pier, she read an EXIT sign like ‘x-cite’. She immediately turned to my dad and asked whether they should go back to Kiev. They didn’t turn back. Both of them decided to go back to school, while working multiple jobs and raising my sister. My mom now works as a pharmacist in a good hospital and my dad works as one of the managers in a successful engineering company. I am proud of and in awe of my parent’s hard work.