As a first generation American in my family, I understand the importance of that status. What is unique about my story, is that although I was born and raised in Queens, New York I never for a second let it slip my mind that my grandparents sacrificed their status, to allow me to have mine today.
The year was 1979, my grandfather had just finished his dissertation in Leningrad. He now had his PhD and proved to all that he was capable of achieving his goal, despite those who did not believe in him. He was constantly told that because he was a Jew he would not be able to pass the examinations, or better yet be allowed to even take the exams. Simply the professors could say, " There is no more room in the program". Yet he overcame the hardships, he was able to graduate. It took a lot of determination to complete the program because that year his mother had been diagnosed with cancer, it was spreading at a rapid rate and my grandmother was left to take care of her, hundreds of miles away. A couple of months after his mother's tragic passing, his father remarried to a woman who was determined to emigrate to Israel.
At the time emigrating to another country basically meant "betraying your country", meaning that your relatives and family who were left behind were deprived of certain rights and opportunites- as limited as they already were. Due to this, he had to leave. There were no second thoughts, he understood that he would never get a job and his children would be looked down upon as well.
Leaving behind their homeland, relatives, and memories they took off to a destination where they would be accepted for who they were, and not what they were. Until the very last minute, my family thought that they were going to Israel. However, destiny pointed in the other direction- they understood that the chances to come back to Israel were very high, but to come to America was a gift. Although their baggage was already sent to the Holy Land, they did not change their mind.
Immigration had it's own hardships and struggles, they had to survive in Vienna, Austria for six months. Just when they thought that it could not get any worse with the Muslims in Uzbekistan, they had to face fascists in Austria. Luckily, my grandmother knew German as for she worked as a German translator in Tashkent. They managed to get jobs and slowly adjust to the life in Vienna. My mother was nine at the time attended school there, although she did not speak German. My uncle who was just a toddler went to daycare.
Soon after, it was time to go to America! They had the chance to stay there, since my grandmother had an excellent job and the family was adjusting. Yet they were determined to get to the land of the free. Arriving in New York was a mission complete, or so they thought. It turned out that the roads were not paved in gold, nor was anything "given'. Just like anywhere else everything had to be worked for, especially for those who emigrated early. My grandfather who had his doctorate, took any job that he was given. My grandma who also had a high education in Tashkent, worked in a nursing home for years. She did overnight shifts, and later that day went to classes to further her education in this country. My mother walked my uncle to nursery school, and then walked herself to the opposite end of town to attend school.
They did not have privledges like generations after them had, there was nobody to give them furniture or clothing- they were one of the first immigrants to arrive! Everything they had was worked for with sweat and blood. My mother and uncle wished that they could have the stylish clothing that others had in their class, but my grandparents could not afford to buy the most modern or stylish clothing on the market. Children in their class made fun of them, teased them and one even said "Go back to Russia". But they were never ridiculed for being Jewish. As of now, my mother is an Occupational Therapist, and my uncle is very successful as well.
Although I was born in America, my grandparents always reminded me of our story. That way I can carry it on to my children, who will be second generation Americans. I speak fluent Russian, since it was my first language. I can also read and write in my native language, I am fully up to date with russian culture, literature as well as music. I feel as though my roots always need to be enriched with my heritage to keep myself nourished and motivated to be successful. My motto for success was not only for myself, but for my grandparents too. They went through such a struggle to allow me to be raised in such a country in which I can walk around with my Hamza and Megan David on my neck and not be afraid to appear publicly. Everything that I achieve in my life is thanks to them!
Keeping this in mind, I never failed to realize that being born as a Jew is nothing to get rewarded for. However, being able to honor the fact that I am Jewish, and to continue spreading this feeling of nationalism and joy is something that can be honored. This is why I hold my position as President of NASH JEW TEEN CLUB, I was gifted by Hashem to pass on our culture and beliefs to other teenagers who might not realize all of this. Although it has been years for most of us that our family has lived in America, it should never be forgotten how and why we are here. We should allow our religion and traditions to flourish from generation to generation, that way hundreds of years from now children can know our stories. The only way to accomplish that is by allowing our parents, grandparents, great granparents to share their experiences with us and to remember them for eternities to come.