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Interview with Faina Baum

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OLD LIVES, NEW LIVES: SOVIET JEWISH WOMEN IN
MINNESOTA
Interview with Faina Baum


Interviewed by Linda Schlott
Interviewed on January 29, 1992
at the St. Paul home of Mrs. Baum


LS: Usually the way we get started with these interviews is to just
get some material down for the first questionnaire. It's background
material about your mother and father and where they were born,
etc. So, why don't you first give me your birth date?

FB: ·My birth date is July 28, 1948.
LS: And where were you born?
FB: Khabarovsk, Russia.
LS: And this is still part of Russia? It is in Siberia. Did you live


anywhere else? Where else did you live?
FB: I lived in Novosibirsk in the middle of Russia. I studied there


and after I graduated from the university, I lived there about ten
years.
LS: What did you study?
FB: At the Novosibirsk University, computer science. And I married


there too.


LS: So, your education was in computer science. And when you got a
job, was it in· computer science?
FB: Yes.
LS: What's your husband's name?



FB: Bronislav.
LS: Is his last name Baum?
FB: Yes, the same.
LS: I had a question. Some women keep their maiden names. Is


that correct?
FB: Yes. My mother had.
LS: What's the rationale? Why do some people do it and some don't?
FB: Usually, the women, when they marry, they change their names,


but sometimes some women want to keep their maiden name. It's
not a really serious reason.
LS: What year did you marry?
FB: 1970.


LS: And was that in Novosibirsk?
FB: Yes. (speaking to daughter) Alina, I ask you to go there (away)
because she always laughs at my English pronunciation. She does not
like our English pronunciation.


LS: That's always the case. At the turn of the century people used to
write to the Jewish newspapers saying, "My children are ashamed of
the way I speak English and yet they don't want me to speak
Yiddish. What am I supposed to do?"

FB: I don't know Yiddish.

LS: I mean this was their language, and so children are never
satisfied. What was your mother's name?
FB: Rebecca.


2


LS: And what was her maiden name, her last name?

FB: Rabinovich. It's a very popular Jewish name in Russia. You
know, Sholem Aleichem, Jewish writer, his name was Rabinovich.

LS: And where was she born?
FB: In Belorussia.
LS: Do you know where?
FB: It's hard to spell.
LS: Was it a little town?
FB: Little town.
LS: Do you know when she was born?
FB: Of course. 1921.
LS: And is she still alive?
FB: No, she died.
LS: In what year?
FB: 1982.
LS: And your father's name?
FB: Zalman. [?]
LS: And his last name was Baum?
FB: No, my husband is Baum.
LS: That's right. You took your husband's name. And his?
FB: Kabakov.
3


LS: Was he born in Belorussia too?
FB: Yes, Minsk.
LS: I know it because it is the capital and I know the Tyleviches. Do


you know them? They come from Minsk.
FB: A lot of people came from Minsk, especially in St. Paul.
LS: When was he born?
FB: 1912. He died too.
LS: In what year?
FB: 1985.
LS: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
FB: Yes. One sister.
LS: What's her name?
FB: Oh, it's hard. Eleonora -Lenore.
LS: And where does she live?
FB: She lives in Togliatti, next to Kuibushev. Maybe you know?
LS: Yes, I know where that is. How do you spell it?
FB: Tolyaty. [The spelling above would be more likely since it's an


Italian name -EI] When I call her, I always spell this name.


LS: Is she older or younger than you?


FB: Older.


LS: And when was she born?


4


FB: When or where?
LS: When?
FB: 1946.
LS: Is there anyone else in the family?
FB: Yes, a brother.
LS: And his name?
FB: Yefim, here it's Chaim.
LS: When was he born?
FB: 1943.
LS: So you are the baby. Where does he live?
FB: Now in Khabarovsk.
LS: And you have two children. The oldest was
FB: 1970.
LS: And her name?
FB: Inna.
LS: And this one is born in?
AB: 1978.
LS: And give me your name, spell your name?
AB: A-L-1-N-A.

born?


LS: Now I wanted to ask you a little bit about your parents. They
were born on either side of the revolution. Did your father fight in
the war or wasn't he old enough?

FB: No, he had a very big eyes and he didn't fight in the war at all.
LS: What do you mean he had big eyes?
FB: Not big but bad.
LS: Oh, his vision was bad and he didn't fight. And where did your


parents meet each other?
FB: I think in Birobidjan. They moved from Belorussia.
LS: Tell me about that.
FB: When my father graduated from Minsk University, he moved to


the Jewish area ...
LS: There was an Autonomous Jewish Region ...
FB: Yes, organized at the time, to teach students ...
LS: To teach them what?
FB: Mathematics and physics. My mother moved with her family


from Belorussia because Stalin moved a lot of Jewish people from the
Ukraine and Belorussia to this Jewish area. After that my mother
moved to Moscow to study in the institute, and after she graduated,
she returned to Birobidjan to teach students too, and they met each
other in Birobidjan and married there.

LS: How long did they live there?
FB: Maybe ten years. They moved to Khabarovsk during World War


II.
LS: What did they tell you about their life in Birobidjan?
6


FB: I know just a little about that. You know this word
"enthusiasm?" They had it a lot.

LS: They thought this was going to solve the problems of the Jews?
Is that what you mean? Or they were enthusiastic for socialism at
the time?

FB: To build socialism. They had very hard conditions of life, but
they weren't unhappy.

LS: There were many Jews in this country who gave money to
support settlement in Birobidjan.

FB: I think so, but it was a very bad land.

LS: Swamp lands?

FB: Swamp, wet land, and a lot of mosquitoes, and it was a very bad
piece of land. Stalin knew it.

LS: I know that. It was very bad for farming. And he tried to make
Jews farm it in that region;

FB: And they lived all within the water. It was very wet and very
hot, but they never told us they were unhappy.

LS: Why did then they moved away?
FB: It's not away, Khabarovsk.
LS: It's only a bit north or west?
FB: No, because my father was a very good teacher and he was

invited to the institute to Khabarovsk because Khabarovsk is much
bigger, and that is why he moved. Birobidjan was only a small city
and it had only one college: That is why they moved to Khabarovsk,
and a lot of Jewish people moved from Birobidjan to Khabarovsk, and
now [there are] more Jewish people in Khabarovsk than in Jewish
Region.

7


LS: So you grew up in Khabarovsk?


FB: I was born in Khabarovsk. Only my older brother was born in
Birobidjan.
LS: When you were growing up there, tell me about your life there.


For example, what was your apartment like?


FB: If I knew you'd ask me this question, I would show you a picture
of my apartment.
LS: Do you have a picture?
FB: Yes.
LS: OK, we'll look at it later, but you have to describe it for the tape.


FB: When I was a child, we lived in a small apartment. It's not
exactly an apartment.
LS: Did you mean that it's a communal apartment??

FB: Yes, and it was very cold all day because Khabarovsk is a very
cold area in Russia, much colder than Ukraine and Belorussia. Here
people don't live, only we lived here. [showing photographs] It was
very hard to get a good apartment in that time and now too.

LS: A chronic housing shortage, right?

FB: Yes, too few houses and almost all people live in big buildings
and a lot of small apartments. We lived without water inside,
without toilet inside, without bath inside--nothing. We should [had
to] go for the water so far and toilet so far outside. Only when I was
fifteen years old, we got an apartment that looked like this.

LS: Like the apartment in Sibley Manor?

FB: Yes. We had two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a
bathroom.

8


LS: When you were growing up, was your mother teaching? Where
was your mother working when you were growing up?

FB: My mother worked in an institute and my father worked in a
pedagogical institute.

LS: Who were your parents' friends? Were they other Jews or were
they just everybody?

FB: Everybody. My parents had relatives in Khabarovsk too--all
mother's family--two sisters lived there, but friends were almost all
Russian because all our neighbors were Russian people and not too
many Jewish people in Khabarovsk.

LS: Did you get along with them or were there any problems with
anti-Semitism then?

FB: When we were children, we felt anti-Semitism not so often. All
our friends were Russian. Only sometimes we could hear, "You are
Jewish." In Khabarovsk I can't talk to you that there was very big
anti-Semitism. Maybe some people felt it more than we, but we
worked, me and my husband, with Russian people and never heard
about it. We could grow in our job ...

LS: You had opportunities?

FB: Yes. It didn't matter we were Jewish, but now, the last year,
when a lot of people moved to Israel and here, it's anti-Semitism.

LS: When you were in grade school, you said most of your friends
were Russian. And when you were in high school, was that true
also?

FB: Yes. I was the only Jew in my class.

LS: Were you pretty happy in your school?

FB: Yes.

9



LS: You didn't come across any teachers who were really hard on
you? How did you spend your summers? Did you go to camps?

FB: In Russia, almost all children go to camps to rest in summer
because it was very expensive for us to go anywhere so far from our
city, and that is why the first time when I went so far from my city,
it was the time when I went to Novosibirsk to study. Before, only
camp, maybe before seventh grade, after that, at home, outside.

LS: Were your parents during that period committed socialists still?
Did they still believe in the system or were they beginning to have
some doubts after the doctors' plot and all that business?

FB: I think my parents were very smart people. I think they
understood what's really the situation, but they tried not to speak
with us about it because all people were afraid. I think you know
K.G.B., and some people were able to go there and tell about our mind
and our thoughts, and that is why our parents tried not to speak with
us about problems, about the government, about anything else. Then
we graduated from school and we began to understand by ourselves
the real situation.

LS: That's something that I wish I could get on tape. How do you
begin to understand for yourself what the situation is? How is it that
you begin to understand and what is it you begin to understand?

FB: We read a lot of newspapers and we were able to see our life did
not improve and our government spoke a lot and did nothing.

LS: A lot of words but no deeds? Is that what you mean? There
was no action.

FB: Yes. Talk is cheap.

LS: Were you aware of the state of Israel? When you were growing
up, did you know that there was a state named Israel?

FB: Of course.

LS: Because you read about it in the newspapers?

10


FB: We could not get information about real life outside of the Soviet
Union at all. Only my father tried to listen to the Voice of America
and could know something about real life. We got information only
from our newspapers, and we knew America and Israel were the
capitalist countries, and our country is the best. America is the
worst.

LS: Did you ever pick up the Voice of Israel?

FB: No, Voice of America. We couldn't hear the Voice of Israel.

LS: What about the BBC?

FB: Yes. It was hard because the K.G.B. tried to make noise.

LS: Right. They jammed. It's called jamming in America. Were you
aware that there had been a war in Israel called the Six Day War and
that it turned into a victory for Israel?

FB: Not too much. We saw books of a Soviet writer. He wrote about
people who moved to Israel and he wrote that people are very
unhappy. It was not true, but the first time we believed.

LS: When you decided to go to college, was it your desire to go to
Novosibirsk? How did you end up iii that town?

FB: Novosibirsk University was the newest university in the country
and it was democracy in that university and it was only one
university where the students were able to study computer science.
It was the first years in Russia. Before 1965 computer science was
forbidden in Russia. It's funny for )ibl1, but it's really true. That is
why Russia now [makes a sound] after America in this area because
our government wrote in newspapers that computer science is very
dangerous for people, and when I went to study, it was the first year
when the people could .learn computet science.

LS: I see. What year did you go there?

FB: 1966, I think. It's hard to remember all years.

1 1


LS: When you were there, who were your friends there? Were there
more Jewish friends there or was it all mixed?

FB: It's an interesting situation because my husband, for example,
moved there from Ukraine--Zhitomir, next to Kiev--where he was
born, and there were a lot of Jewish young men and girls in
Novosibirsk University because it was very hard for them to study in
the Ukraine or Belorussia, and they moved to the university in
Novosibirsk. And there I had a lot of Jewish friends because there
were a lot of Jewish [people], especially young men.

LS: It sounds like a wonderful situation for you.

FB: Wonderful situation because a lot of Jewish boys have a very
good sense of humor. She is laughing. [referring to her daughter]

LS: You are dong just fine. It's incredible to me that you can do this
well after such a short time in America. I've tried several foreign
languages and I failed in all of them. I don't like speaking when I
can't speak fluently.

FB: Seven languages?

LS: Several--not seven.

FB: Which languages?

LS: German, Yiddish, and Hebrew. Was that the sense of humor that
attracted you to your husband?

FB: [laughs] No, I don't believe so.

LS: When you started going out--or hanging around, as we would
say in English--with Jewish guys, did it just seem more natural or did
you still see lots of Russian people too? Were you making some sort
of conscious choice at this time to spend more time with Jews?

FB: Yes. I liked Jewish people, I liked [them] there, in Russia,
because a lot of students in our university were smart, because it


was very hard to begin to study, we had very hard exams, and a lot
of boys were smart, and it was very interesting to talk to them about
philosophy, about life, about love. I spent a lot of time with them.
We had a lot of Jewish boys from Odessa. It's the most humorous
city.

LS: It seems like a very special city. When did you meet your
husband?

FB: I think I met my husband when I studied in the second year m
the university at the wedding party of his friend.

LS: At a wedding?
FB: Wedding party.
LS:
him
It sounds like it was
at the wedding party
something that was meant to
of a friend.
be if you met
FB: We studied not in Novosibirsk exactly. There is a special

academic city next to Novosibirsk, only the university and science
institute.

LS: Yes, we've heard of it in the West too.

FB: That is why a lot of students knew each other, because no
connection.

LS: I understand. And once you met him, was it love at first sight?
Did you decide to get married within a fuonth or two or?

FB: No. I think in a year.

LS: I've interviewed a fair number of Russians and it seems that
once they meet somebody, it takes a month or two and they are
married.

FB: It's typical now, but before, no. We married after one year, and
before it wasn't typical after two or three months after you met each
other.

13


LS: OK, so you spent some time getting to know each other?
FB: Of course. [end Tape 1 Side 1]

[Tape 1 Side 2]

LS: ... you dated one another for two years and then, when you
decided to get married, you know, in America, you go back to where
you were born generally, to get married, but you got married in
Novosibirsk?

FB: Before we married, we went to my parents, to my city, and after
than we went to visit his parents to Zhitomir. After that, we

returned to Novosibirsk and his parents and
and we had a wedding party in Novosibirsk.
my parents came there
LS: What was
married you?
the wedding like? Do you go to city hall? Who
FB: In Russia, we had no religious ceremony.
LS: It's called a civil ceremony.

FB: Civil ceremony and in a special place, special palace for this


ceremony, and a special person who married us.
LS: Is it common to wear a white gown, a fancy wedding dress, as it
is here?


FB: Yes, of course.
LS: Did you have a dinner afterwards?
FB: Yes, we had a dinner and we invited a lot of our friends,


students. It was all students except parents.
LS: It sounds like the best wedding of all to have all of your friends
there and not to have too many older people.


14


FB: We had a wonderful wedding.
LS: Did you have a band that played music?
FB: Yes. We did not have a lot of money, but it was enough for a


good wedding party.


LS: Was it common at all to have Jewish music? Do you know what
klezmer music is?
FB: Now I know Jewish music, I like it, but before ... maybe only this

dance, in Russian it's 7-40. Do you know this dance?
LS: No.
LS: After you were married, were you still in school or were you


finished by then?
FB: We married when I studied in the fourth year, and my older


daughter was born after this year and I took one year. After that I


returned to the university, and after one year I graduated.


LS: And where was your husband in his course of study when you


married?


FB: When my older daughter was born, I was in Khabarovsk with
my mother, and he stayed in Novosibirsk.
LS: Did he finish first?
FB: Yes, he finished and began to work.


LS: Where?
FB: In the science institute in Novosibirsk. He is a physicist. He
worked in the nuclear institute [research institute of nuclear
physics].


LS: Was this the sort of job where he would need security clearance?


15


FB: Yes.


LS: And then, when you finished with your course of study, what
sort of job did you get?
FB: I worked all my life as a computer programmer.
LS: In Novosibirsk?
FB: In Novosibirsk, and after five years we returned to Khabarovsk.
LS: Why did you decide to leave?
FB: It was very hard to get an apartment in Novosibirsk.
LS: Where were you living?
FB: We had a very small room and it was very hard to live together.
LS: Who were you living with? You mean the three of you were


living in one room?


FB: Yes. We returned to Khabarovsk and we lived there with my
parents. It's typical for Russia.
LS: You were living in a place that was slighter larger than your


apartment in St. Paul, right?
FB: Yes.
LS: And your brother and sister had moved out? Or were they still


living at home?
FB: My sister, after graduating the institute in Khabarovsk, moved to
Chita in Siberia, and after that time she never returned to


Khabarovsk. She married there and after that she moved to Togliatti.
My brother after graduating the institute moved to Vladivostok and
he worked there three years, and after that he returned to
Khabarovsk agam.

16



LS: But not to your parents' apartment?

FB: No.

LS: Once you moved back, you had to move in with your parents.
How did that work out? Did that put a strain on the marriage? Is it
difficult or is it just something you get used to?

FB: It's difficult, of course, and always, but my parents were very
smart and they never disturbed us. We were very friendly and we
did not have a lot of problems to live together. I know it's very rare
because it's always hard to live together, especially for two women.
When we were arguing with my husband, my parents always said to
me, "He is right."

LS: My mother does that too. She always says my husband is right.
Was your mother still working or was she able to help you with the
baby?

FB: When my older daughter was born, my mother stopped working
and she helped me because after one year I left my daughter with
my mother and returned to study alone.

LS: That must have been so difficult. Was that the only way you
could manage? Did you feel you had to do that? Was there no child
care?

FB: It was only one way to finish the university.

LS: Was there no child care in Novosibirsk?

FB: No. I didn't have money to pay a baby sitter, and we didn't have
a place to live because Russian students live in special buildings, in
one room, maybe four or three--in our university, in other
universities it might be five and six persons together in one room. It
was impossible to raise children there. But we never felt unhappy.

LS: Living with your mother and father you mean?

17


FB: With my mother, and when we were young, we didn't feel we


were unhappy.
LS: That was the normal course of events. Everybody was living
that way, right? What sort of job did you husband have in
Khabarovsk?


FB: In Khabarovsk he became computer programmer too.


LS: Was that what he wanted to do or couldn't he find a job as a
physicist?
FB: In Khabarovsk it's hard to find a job as a physicist because there


is not science institute there, and that is why he changed. But he did
it in Novosibirsk too. A lot of mathematicians and physicists are
programmers at the same time too.


LS: And you also got a job as a computer programmer?
FB: Yes.
LS: How many hours a day did you work?
FB: Five.
LS: I am talking about hours?
FB: Hours? Eight. It's the same as here, just a little more--we had


41 hours a week. Eight hours and fifteen minutes. It's
approximately the same.
LS: And then your mother took care of the baby?
FB: Yes.


LS: So that was very nice for you, wasn't it?
FB: Of course, because we had possibility to bring our children to
kindergarten, but always they were sick.


1 8


LS: That's always true anywhere.


FB: When she was three or four years, or maybe later, she went to
kindergarten.
LS: When you moved back to Khabarovsk, did you have to make a


whole new group of friends or did you become friends again with the


people you had gone to high school with?
FB: I had one girl, she was my friend when I was seven years, and
she is my friend now too, but most of my friends were new friends
from my new job, from my new neighbors, not from high school.


LS: And were these others Russians?
FB: Not all of them. We had Jewish friends too, not too many.
LS: What is the Jewish population of Khabarovsk? You know how


many there are altogether?
FB: No, I don't know now because almost all moved.


LS: When you moved back?
FB: I don't know. Maybe I don't remember.
LS: Was it several hundred or several thousand? Ten thousand?

FB: It's hard, I am afraid to lie. Not hundreds, it was thousands, but
how many, I don't know.

LS: You were happy there. Why did you decide to move here?

FB: Three years ago, my brother.:.in~law, my husband's brother who
lived in Zhitomir, decided to move here. When he moved with his
family and mother, they invited us to move too. And there was a
time when all people thought about it"'-almost all Jewish people
decided to move--because the last year anti-Semitism raised a lot.
Life became worse and worse and a lot of anti-Semitic people said
that it's the fault of Jewish [people]. October revolution is a fault of

19


Jewish [people] because Lenin--! think you know that--around Lenin
there were a lot of Jews and you know organization Pamyat, antiSemitic
organization. And it was dangerous to live in Russia and in
the Far East too.

LS: Even in the Far East? Because the Far East was generally not as
anti-Semitic as the Ukraine?

FB: Yes. Some years ago, maybe three years ago, when some Jewish
people came from Birobidjan to my relatives and I asked them about
its problem, they all said, "No. We'll never move." But in one year
after that, all Jews from Birobidjan changed their mind and almost all
my relatives from Khabarovsk moved to Israel.

LS: Why did they go to Israel rather than the United States?

FB: Because his brother is here. We didn't have relatives in Israel.
Now, the same time when we moved here, my relatives, my cousins,
moved there.

LS: And why did your cousins move to Israel?

FB: When we moved, it's a new law in Russia that only people who
have relatives here can move here. And other people can't. That is
why they decided to move to Israel. They prefer America, of course,
because it's easier here. Too many Jewish people there. But we had
mother and brother here.

LS: Are they here, in St. Paul?

FB: In St. Paul.

LS: Where do they live?

FB: His brother lives in the same area, in East Maynard, but his
mother lives in a high rise on Seventh [Street].

LS: When did you come to America?

FB: They came here, in August it will be three years.

20


LS: When did they send you an invitation?
FB: They sent us the invitation two years ago.
LS: And when did you come?
FB: We came here one year ago. It takes a lot of time.
LS: When you came here, did anyone in the family speak English?
FB: It's a hard question. What does it mean speak English? Speak

some words or speak well? Nobody speaks well now too.

LS: Your daughter does.

FB: Yes. Their children too. He has two daughters and both of them
speak perfectly, but not one of adults.

LS: Yes. It takes adults longer. Did you begin to study English in
Russia?

FB: Of course. All of us studied English maybe five years in high
school and three or four years in the university, and almost nothing
[unclear]

LS: No, I think it's helping you tremendously.

FB: Of course. It's easier, of course, than for people who studied
German or another language, French or Spanish, it's much harder
here, but we work as computer programmers and we knew
terminology because we worked with American software and and
American hardware and we have no problem with it here, but we
have problem with pronunciation.

LS: I think that you are exaggerating. I haven't had any problem
following what you are saying. Do Americans make you feel uneasy
or do you find that they are willing to listen until you get out your
entire sentence in English? Do you know what I mean? Do you feel
that they are making you... It seems to me that you are putting a

21


great deal of pressure on yourselves, but possibly Americans are so
pleased and so admiring of how well you speak English that they are
willing to wait a few seconds longer for you to finish your sentences?
I think you are doing very well. When you came here, did you go
through Austria and Italy or did you go straight? Where did you
take the plane from?

FB: Because we were the first people who went here from Moscow to
New York.

LS: You took the plane from?

FB: We took the plane from Khabarovsk to Moscow, and after that
from Moscow to New York.

LS: You know, there is something I am missing. Your parents both
died before you left?
FB: Yes, I would never move without them.

LS: I understand. They would have to decide if they wanted to stay
or leave. Did your brother or sister marry Jews?

FB: Yes.

LS: Did both? Your brother married someone Jewish?

FB: Brother Jewish, sister Russian.

LS: Did that matter to your parents? Were they unhappy that she
had married someone Russian rather than someone Jewish?

FB: My parents never told us to marry only Jewish, never, but I
don't think so. Maybe they preferred that she marry Jewish too, but
they never told. What is the reason, if she wanted. I think they
preferred, of course.

LS: When you came here, was this place furnished by the Jewish
Family Service?


FB: Yes.

LS: Did they provide you with help or did they expect that your
brother-in-law and sister-in-law would help you along? Did you
expect that there would be more help from the Jewish Family Service
when you got here?

FB: No.

LS: What had your brother-in-law told you?

FB: He told us exactly what we can expect here.

LS: Like what? Can you remember what his letters were like? Did
he send you letters or did you have a lot of phone conversations?

FB: He sent letters and he called us.

LS: Did you save the letters?

FB: I saved it there, but I threw it away because it's hard to bring
here a lot. He wrote to us, I think the same what we got here,
approximately the same. We didn't get shocked when we came. And
we read a lot about America.

LS: By the way, why did he come here, to St. Paul?

FB: He came here because he ~as an aunt here, maybe you know
her--Kaganovsky, Luda Kaganovsky, and she had a tailor shop in
Grand A venue. They came here twelve or thirteen years ago, and
she sent them an invitation. She is the first person of our family.
Now new relatives came here, but she is the firs,t.

LS: So what sort of help did you get from the Jewish community
here?

FB: Jewish community or Jewish Family?

LS: Jewish Family Service from the Jewish Community Center? What
did the Jewish Family Service do for you?

23


FB: When we came here, they gave us some money. Exactly they
gave our relatives some money to meet us, and after that the person
from the Jewish Family Service the first time went with us to
welfare, to hospital and other important places, and there was one
woman in Jewish Family Service who helped us to find a job.

LS: The job part is difficult. What sort of job did your husband find?

FB: Computer.
LS: He did find a computer job? Is it at all interesting to him or is
it?

FB: Yes.
LS: It's not at too low level for his talents?
FB: He is a very great specialist and he likes this work and he 1s


happy.
LS: That's wonderful. You are very lucky.
FB: But now both of us have only temporary positions. It's very


hard.


LS: It's hard for Americans, but it seems to be even harder for
Russians to face unemployment.
FB: Yes, because American people are afraid of us.
LS: You think so?
FB: I think so. They always prefer American. Now it's a very hard


situation in America and a lot of people for one place, and I think
they always prefer the people who have American experience. It
doesn't matter we are good specialists.

LS: That's true. Experience seems to matter more than academic
qualifications here.

24


FB: I think they can believe that we worked absolutely with the
same, and software and hardware. It's the same. We don't need
time to learn. We can immediately start and work, but they don't
know about it.

LS: So what have you been doing? What sort of work have you been
doing? It's the same computer work?

FB: Yes.

LS:
now,
can
So at least you will have something
that you do have American experience.
write that you have.
to
So for
write on
the
your
next
resume
job you
FB: Of course. It is very important.

LS: It is very important. Were you happy with the help that the
agencies gave you or do you think that they could have found you a
better job, a job sooner? How long were you here before you got a
job?

FB: I think eleven months~ We got a job only a month ago.

LS: I see. Would you have been happier if you could have gotten a
job sooner? Did you want to get a job sooner?

FB: Of course. My husband began to find [look for?] a job after two
months.

LS: Was that by himself or with the help of the Jewish Family
Service?

FB: Himself, and he began to send resumes, and he went to
interview, but he has better English than me, not speaking skills but
understanding skills because he translated in Russia a lot of English
books. He is interested in science fiction, and only a few books are
translated in Russian and that is why he began to translate by
himself. He understands perfectly, without problems at all, but he
speaks in mixing accent Russian, Jewish, and English.

25


LS: Does he know Yiddish?

FB: He understands Yiddish.

LS: He does?

FB: Yes, because his grandmother didn't speak Russian.

LS: When he started looking for a job, was Jewish Family Service
helping him or was this just his own efforts?

FB: A woman from Jewish Family Service sent our resumes all the
time to other companies because she had a network in computers
and sometimes we can't see the advertisements in newspapers. She
sent and sometimes they call us. She always tried to help. She is a
very perfect person. Maybe you know her--Gail Saeks.

LS: . Yes. Getting a job is so critical to feeling at home that there is a
lot of tension always and a lot of people feel Jewish Family Service
could be doing more for me.

FB: No, we are not expecting something from Jewish Family Service.
We know we should do all by ourselves.

LS: But it's very difficult when you come to a foreign country to do it
all by yourself. [End Tape 1 Side 2]

[Tape 2 Side 1]
LS: ... father-in-law and you said that he was an engineer.
FB: Yes, he is an engineer, electrical engineer, and he was lucky


because he found a job after eight months after he came here and
now he works for the same company. It's good.
LS: Has he been big help to you? Has he been able to help you?


26


FB: Not a lot because we don't need his help. The first time when we
came and we didn't have a car, he helped us all the time to move
anywhere because it's impossible to move anywhere without a car,
but his English was not better than ours when we came becau-se he
came here without English at all. We didn't have big problems with
English. After some time we were able to go anywhere without a
translator. Little by little, but we could explain all that we wanted.

LS: Do you go to the Jewish Community Center much?

FB: No. My husband more because he goes there to swim, to run,
and to do exercises. Not me, I don't know why. I always think I'll go
later.

LS: What about any of the classes that are held there? You know,
there are all sorts of lectures, for instance?

FB: · Very rarely I go, but sometimes I go.

LS: And there are concerts there?

FB: Sometimes.

LS: What about the girls? Have they used it very much?
FB: The younger girl more than the older. She goes.
LS: Tell me how old is the older one?

FB: Twenty-one.

LS: Is she in school or what? What is she doing?

FB: She is studying in the university now but not full time yet. She
should take a test again because she has now only extension classes
and she works just a little at Arby's. She is going to study in the
university to be a doctor because she finished three years m a
medical institute in Russia, and she is going to continue here.

LS: What grade is the younger daughter in?

27


FB: Eight.
LS: At Highland?
FB: Highland School.
LS: And how is that going?
FB: Good.
LS: Do you think it's too easy?
FB: Yes. Too easy. Much easier than in Russia and we aren't very


glad about it.


LS: I haven't found a single Russian parent who was happy with the
schooling here. Are you ready to go complain to the school?
FB: She doesn't need time to do homework. It's very easy for her to


study here, and· I am not glad because I prefer that she know a lot.


A different system of education, absolutely different.
LS: Have you thought about going to talk to the teachers to see if she
can be put into more advanced classes?


FB: Maybe. When we came here, she had some problem with
English, and it was harder than now, but after some months, now I
think she speaks very well for her and understands without
problems at all, and when they watch shows, I always know when to
laugh. When they laugh ...

LS: It's very interesting. You are telling me that you are not so
familiar with the popular culture that you know what's funny in
America, on American TV.

FB: It's a different sense of humor.
LS: Where are you working now as a computer programmer?


28



FB: In Capital Supply Company.

LS: Is that a plumbing company?

FB: Yes.

LS: I see. Is that Burt Rudolph's?

FB: Yes. You know him?

LS: Yes. Are there any other programmers there?

FB: Perfect person too. Jewish, typical Jewish.
LS: He is very nice.
FB: Yes. It's very pretty to look at him.
LS: Are there any other programmers there?
FB: They had before the new year, exactly before because the

computer programmer left and they couldn't do a lot of jobs without
him, and they invited both of us, we work together, for two months
to do a lot of jobs. There are no other programmers now, only us.

LS: And now, are the two of you working there or just you?

FB: Both of us, together, because they had a lot of jobs and they need
both of us. We are very lucky because I don't have a driver's license.

LS: You don't?

FB: No. I have very bad eyes too. I took after my father, and I am
afraid, but I think I should. My older daughter has a driver's
license, and my husband, but not me.

LS: I was just sort of curious. Sometimes I try to ask women about
what sorts of differences they see on the job they had in the Soviet
Union and the job they have here.

29


FB: We have the same job. We knew this material, distribution
system, accounting system. We did the same in Russia, and we have
no problem.

LS: Were you familiar with spreadsheets also?

FB: Yes.

LS: What about the atmosphere, the working atmosphere? Is that
the same?

FB: All people ask me about that because they think it's different. I
don't think so. Approximately the same. Maybe in this company, I
feel comfortable there.

LS: But you felt comfortable in the Soviet Union too?

FB: Yes, of course, but sometimes it's hard to change company, not
country. No, I don't have problem in communication with people.
We need to talk to them a lot, and they are always friendly.

LS: So people were friendly on your job in Khabarovsk also?

FB: Sometimes. It's impossible to talk about all people. All are
different.

LS: Right. But in general, you were happy there m your work, and
you are happy here.

FB: Yes. They are friendly too, btit sometimes it's hard to connect
with other people, but now it's easy to work with them. I think only
one difference--they speak English; If they spoke Russian, it [would
be] the same.

LS: What about a circle of friends? You had a circle of friends there?
What are you doing here? You and your husband?

FB: It's hard to say friends. We don't have friends there, but we
speak to a lot of people we wotk with.

30


LS: Are you making friends in the Russian community here, for
instance? If you wanted to go to the movies on Saturday night, you
wanted to go with somebody, who would you call?

FB: Most time we spend with our relatives because we have here his
brother's family and his cousin's family, and we have one family who
came here three years ago. They studied with us in the university,
in Novosibirsk University.

LS: They are not family, right? Are they also family?

FB: Yes, family. [Linda, she didn't understand the question. Those
people are a family--a couple with children, I assume--but they are
not related to Mrs. Blum's family. The way you worded the question
is very idiomatically American. I don't think she would ever guess
what you were asking.] There are a lot of our students in America
now because there were a lot of Jewish science people who moved
here.

LS: Are they here, in the Twin Cities?

FB: No, most of them in New York and Chicago, but one family who
are our friends now, they are in Minneapolis. They live in
Minneapolis, in Minnetonka. They bought a house already and both
of them programmers too.

LS: Have you made any other friends outside of your relatives in St.
Paul?

FB: Not big friends, but we knew a lot of people and we connect with
them. Almost all area is Russian.

LS: I know, it's interesting. Were you hooked up with any American
Jews?

FB: We have two volunteer teachers. One of them [name?] You
know her? I like her very much.

LS: And how often do you see her?

3 1


FB: One time a week. And we have another family, but only she is
Jewish. He is Christian, and we meet each other maybe once a
month, and that is all, I think.

LS: Are you satisfied at this point with your life here?

FB: Sometimes when we came here we were surprised all American
smiling.

LS: All Russians say that, "Why are they smiling so much?"

FB: But after smiling they could be mad or angry but they are
always smiling. Sometimes when we went to interview, they were
always smiling and very friendly, and we always thought they liked
us, but it's very hard to understand the reason why they don't hire
us. One Russian man who lived here twelve or thirteen years-Braginsky--
one time we met him at the Jewish Family Service, a
special meeting for programmers, and he told us, "Never find the

reason. It's impossible to understand."
LS: Why you aren't hired?
FB: Yes. It's really hard to understand.
LS: So you would be happier if you had secure work at this point?
FB: But it's really
especially in service.
true, American people are always smiling,
LS: That's true, they do smile, but it's
synagogues at all? ·
a mask. Have you gone out to

FB: Not too often, because my husband doesn't 'like it, but I like.
Sometimes we go to Temple of Aaron, and I like how the cantor
sings.

LS: When you say your husband doesn't like it, he 1s just not
interested in religion, is that what you are saying?

32



FB: He is not religious person, but he is interested in history of
religion. He knows a lot, he reads a lot, but he's not a religious
person inside.

LS: What about your daughter, for instance? There is a Jewish youth

group at the Temple of Aaron, called United Synagogue Youth ...
FB: My younger daughter goes to the synagogue to babysit on
Friday, to babysit children.

LS: But she doesn't go to USY? USY is the name of United Synagogue
Youth. Maybe she is too young for this. It's a youth group that meets
at the Temple of Aaron. Maybe it starts at age fourteen.

FB: Maybe, I think I read about it.

LS: Sometimes you say you go to services? What month did you
come here?
FB: December of last year.
LS: For instance, did you go to services at Rosh Hashanah or Yom


Kippur?
FB: Yes, I went to--Rosh Hashanah I don't remember, Yom Kippur we


went with my mother-in-law. Always I went anywhere with my
mother-in-law. She is my friend here.
LS: OK. But your husband didn't go?
FB: No.
LS: What about health care here? Do you have health insurance?
FB: In company, no.
LS: How do you get it? How do you get your health insurance?
FB: We had Medicaid from welfare, but in the company we have


nothing because we have temporary positions.


33


LS: So you don't have any health insurance at this point? Have you
asked Jewish Family Service if it's possible to get something, some
sort of temporary health insurance?

FB: Not yet, but we are going to ask.

LS: I think there is something there you are eligible for. Were you
interested at all in having a Bat Mitzvah for your daughter or signing
her up for Hebrew classes?

· FB: Maybe she is interested in Hebrew classes, sometimes she is

interested, sometimes not. They changes her mind. All of us were

not religious in Russia at all. It's hard to change here.

LS: Do you feel as though there is too much pressure by the Jewish
community for people like you to start becoming religious?

FB: No.

LS: Do you miss some of the holidays you used to have in Russia? Do
you still celebrate New Year's here? A Russian New Year's, with a
tree?

FB: No, without a tree.

LS: Don't you miss that tree?

FB: Because other people told us it's impossible for Jewish [people],
and we liked it in Russia a lot, it's beautiful, especially for children.
it was the biggest holiday in Russia. But here we celebrated New
Year. What about American Jewish [people]? Do they celebrate?

LS: New Year's? Not really.

FB: I called my friend here to wish a happy New Year and she was
surprised. I was surprised too.

LS: You go out that night and celebrate, but it's not as important as
the Jewish New Year for Jews. That's when you really go out of your

34


way and you send cards and you make sure you call all of your

relatives
important
Yiddish.
and wish them
than December
His mother also sa happy New
31. You said
peaks Yiddish?
Year.
his
That
grandmseems
other
more
spoke
FB: Yes.

LS: Have you picked up any Yiddish from spending time with his


mother?
FB: I know his grandmother couldn't speak Russian. My mother-inlaw
speaks Russian very well. I know some words.


LS: Where do you know these from?
FB: My parents knew Yiddish very well, both of them.
LS: And did they speak it when they did not want you to understand


what they were saying?


FB: They never spoke Yiddish, only in the case when they did not
want the children to understand.
LS: See, in my family, when they did not want the children to

understand, they spoke Russian. Are you having trouble with your
daughter putting pressure on you because you don't speak English
well enough to suit her?

FB: [laughs]

LS: That's the case. Is she complaining about the way you dress or
the way you dress her?
FB: I can't advise her how to dress now. She became an American


girl very quickly, but I am wearing the same style as in Russia.


LS: You know, she is of an age when even if you were American, you
would be having problems.
FB: I think parents always have problems with children.


35


LS: When girls get to that age, they start picking on their mothers.
What language do you speak at home? Do you speak Russian?

FB: Russian. Before we came here, I tried to speak English with my
family to learn quicker. Nobody wanted.

LS: Yes. It's very artificial, isn't it?

FB: I dream to speak English well because I could speak Russian
very well and very correctly.

LS: It's coming along, but it's never as fast as you think. What is it
that you are enjoying most about life here and what is it you are
enjoying least? I think probably what you might be enjoying least is
the fact that you can't speak English well and the job problem. Is
there something you are really enjoying about life here and
appreciating?

FB: I can't say I am enjoying because I like my country, now too, I
worry about my country. Enjoying it's not exactly, but I have a good
life here. I don't have the same problems as we had every day in
Russia. Every day we could think only about food, about where to
buy, what to eat, what to wear. Every day, it's always nerves. Here,
we don't have problems at all, of course. I think I am happy I came
here, but I can't say I am enjoying every day. Life is life.

LS: What are you missing most about your life there?

FB: My friends, my relatives--my sister, my brother, I worry about
them--and my friends. At my age it's very hard to make good
friends, not only people to speak, really friends, to whom I can speak
about my problems, and who have the same feeling about life. All
my friends are there. I send letters to them and they send letters to
me.

LS: It's something that's irreplaceable. When you grow up in
another culture, it must feel as though Americans are very
superficial because they don't have to worry about the same sorts of
things.

36


FB: I think culture is very similar, because what are people here?
Two generations maybe, they are from Europe, almost all of them,
Germany and Russia and maybe Scandinavia. Culture is similar, but
different kind of life, economic system different. That is why almost
all people are angry there now. But culture is not so different--it's
not Africa.

LS: To tell you the truth, it makes us feel very sad that a great
country like that ...

FB: [Mrs. Blum's husband comes in. She laughs.] He worked
yesterday till 12 o'clock at night and he is sleeping, he is tired.

LS: Have you gone to parent teacher association meeting at the
school, at Highland Junior High School?

FB: No, we couldn't come, but we went to the counselor to talk about
our daughter two times or three times.

LS: So you are working on that. It's very hard to get these things
changed.

FB: I am always interested in my children, how they study, what
they do.

LS: What will your daughter do this summer?

FB: She went to the camp from Jewish Community ...

LS: Camp Butwin.

FB: Camp Butwin, to work as... not a counselor ...

LS: Was it sort of like a counselor in training?

FB: Yes.

LS: What did she think of that? Did she enjoy it or was it boring?

37


FB: Not boring. She was glad to go there and she got some money.
LS: What will she do this coming summer, do you know?
FB: Not yet. She dreams about Hawaii. [both laugh]
LS: Since you were here, have you celebrated any Jewish holidays
here besides going to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah? Have you

had a Passover here, for instance?
FB: We went to one American family to celebrate Passover. We
went there, and at home, no. It's hard to remember all Jewish
holidays. I have a special book about Jewish history and I try. We


celebrated, I think, Hanukkah, because we lit candles, the first time,
and it's wonderful.
LS: Where did you get the book?
FB: One book we brought from Russia because we had a lot of books


about history of religion and one book Jewish Family Service gave us.


LS: The book that's in Russian?


FB: Part in Russian and part in English.


LS: Has that been useful to you?


FB: I try to ready only English and he reads easily.


LS: Has the information been helpful to you?


FB: Of course.


LS: Have you used the public library here?


FB: Yes, a lot.


LS: Is it fairly decent? Is it better or worse than what you had m


Russia?


38


FB: I always gave [took?] books in English to read. It's only one way
to study new words, but it's hard to me to read serious books and I
always read only about Nancy Drew, young girl detective.

LS: I understand. You have to start somewhere.

FB: Yes. But my husband reads a lot and approximately one time a
week we go to the library and change the books.

LS: What else have you used? What other city resources have you
used? Have you gone to the Science Museum, for instance? [end
Tape 2 Side 1]

[Tape 2 Side 2]

FB: ... not a lot because we didn't have enough money for that when
we didn't work. It's hard. I like to go to museums very much.
LS: Some of the museums are free. The Minneapolis Institute of Art

is free.
FB: Yes? I didn't know about that. Is it interesting?
LS: They want you to pay, but they don't require it. You can just


walk right in.
FB: If people have money they can go.
LS: And if people don't have money, they can also go, and it's a very


nice museum, and sometimes they have free concerts.


FB: One time I went to the St. Paul Zoo, next to Como A venue.


LS: That's pleasant too.


FB: In summer, very often we go to the Mississippi Park. I like it.


Very beautiful places.


39



LS: You haven't had a chance to do any traveling. Do you dream of
Hawaii also?

FB: I dream about a trip to Israel and Paris. About Paris I dreamed
all my life. Now I dream about Israel too, not about Hawaii.

LS: Why Israel? Because you have relatives there now?

FB: I have relatives there and I think it's a very beautiful and
interesting and historic place.

LS: Did your husband follow sports at all? Is he interested in soccer,
in European football?

FB: European football he is interested a lot. He played basketball.
LS: Does he play basketball at the Jewish Community Center?
FB: No. He only swims and runs and sometimes he plays European

football with Russian people.

LS: Where does he play that?

FB: In Jewish [Community Center].

LS: At this center?

FB: Yes. Every Monday, but the last time he didn't go.

LS: I think that is about it. I thank you very much.

40