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Use of this oral history is governed by U.S. and international copyright laws. Please contact the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives for permission to publish.

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Old Lives, New Lives: Soviet Jewish Women in
Minnesota

Interview with Celia Perelman
July 30, 1991
Dianne Siegel and Shelly Rottenberg
interviewers


Q: We are going to be finding out about your life story. What is
your maiden name?
Perelman: Miller.

Q: Miller--interesting.
Perelman: Yes, I was born in Lithuania, so that would sound in
Lithuanian a little different. It would be Muellelita.

Q: Where in Lithuania?
Perelman: In Lithuania in Vilna, but I lived for a long time in
Kaunas.

Q: Is that what they called it?
Perelman: It was Kovna to the older Jewish community.
Q: I have family there.
Perelman: You have family there still?
Q: My husband does have one person remaining in Vilna. They were
from Kavarsk, however. It's right near Vilna.
Perelman: Okay, yes.

Q: And your telephone number?
Perelman: 690-1889.
Q: And your birth date?
1


Perelman: 3/12/47.

Q: And how much education do you have? What was your educational
background?
Perelman: My education background is, I started in the Lithuanian
conservatory. Well, if you start from the beginning, I went
through a music school, a music college and the Lithuanian
conservatory, and then also I studied in Moscow Institute of Art.

Q: And you studied to be what?Perelman: I studied to become a
teacher in music. It was quite a
wide arrangement of instruments. I studied accordion as my main
instrument, conducting, and piano, which I had experience in
Russia, and mostly I adopted here.
Q: I remember when you played the accordion.
Perelman: Yeah, I've done a lot.
Q: Your husband's name?
Perelman: Dimitry.
Q: And when were you married?
Perelman: Twenty-three years ago.
Q: And what's your marriage date?
Perelman: The 20th of July in the year--you'll have to count.
Q: How many years? Twenty-three?
Perelman: Yes.
Q: 1968.
Perelman: Yeah, it sounds right. [Laughter] It sounds right.
[Laughter]

Q: Ask your husband if that's right. Pam and Leslie were born that
2



same year, and they're going to be 23.
Perelman: Yes, and I always remember Rubin is 22.


Q: And where were you married?
Perelman: We were married in Lithuania.
Q: In Vilna?
Perelman: In Kovna.
Q: In Kovna. Your mother's last name?
Perelman: Muller. I don't know. Probably I should say it like it is
written now.

Q: Muller.
Perelman: M-u-1-1-e-r.
Q: Okay. And her first name?
Perelman: Her first name, Rachel.
Q: And her maiden name?
Perelman: Oh, her maiden name is Kolanski. They're coming from a
Polish family.

Q: Do you know her birth date?
Perelman: Oh, that is hard--her birth date.
Q: How about her birth year?
Perelman: What is she--68?
Q: That would make it 1923. And where was she born?
Perelman: She was born in Lithuania. That's definitely--Mom and
Dad. But I think it's like a little town--Yonova. There was quite
a bit of Jews there.

3



Q: And your father's last name?
Perelman: His last name is Muller.
Q: And his first name is?
Perelman: Michel or Michael.
Q: And his birth date?
Perelman: He's 72.
Q: Seventy-two.
Perelman: Yeah. If Mom was '23, what is he--'21?
Q: 1919.
02: And where was he born?
Perelman: I think Kovna.
Q: Kovna Gabernia. That was a long time ago. Do you have brothers
and sisters?
Perelman: I have one sister.

Q: And her name is?
Perelman: Svetlana. She was just married. Svetlana married.
Let's not mix up her name now. Robinstein. And I don't know how
she spells it now.

Q: What's her husband's first name?
Perelman: Vladimir or Vlad, you can say. Probably Robinstein.
don't know how they-


Q: Where do they live?
Perelman: They live right here in St. Paul.
Q: In St. Paul.

Perelman: Yeah. Do you know Jeffrey Gurtzberg?
Q:Yeah.
Perelman: That's my sister.


Q: I didn't know that was your sister.
Perelman: That's my sister. That's her boy. That's my nephew.
Q: He is a love.
Perelman: Isn't he a good boy?
Q: He's just a love.
Perelman: Yes, he's such a nice boy. My sister did a good job.
Q: I've known her for a long time.
Perelman: Right. His home was JCC.
Q: He was so dear when he got the Youth Award this year. He
looked so terrific.
Perelman: Yes, he likes to be there. He likes to work with kids.

Q: And you have the two boys.
Perelman: And I have two boys.
Q: What are their names?
Perelman: Rubin is 23--23? No, 22.
Q: Because otherwise it doesn't sound good. You are only married
23 years.
Perelman: Yes, it doesn't sound good. That's very bad.

Q: And Larry is about 15.

Perelman: And Larry is 15. Q: I guess what we'd first like to talk
about are your parents and
what you know about them. They were born in Lithuania, both of

them. What did your father and mother do in Lithuania and did they

have very much schooling?

Perelman: Well, my father did not have much schooling, I guess, at

those years. The family wasn't very rich, but they were working

people in the manufacturing business, and ·1 know that they had like

five kids. I would say that Dad had just like a grade school, but

he got quite a good profession. He was a barber. So he started

out very young, like sixteen he was vvorking for somebody, and then

over the years he was quite successful in that specialty, and later

already in the Soviet Lithuania he had a shop with like ten workers

under him and a big clientele.

Mom was more of a housewife for the most part when I was
growing up, and then my sister was born, and when she was seven
she
picked up a specialty almost in the same field. She was making
manicures--she was doing manicures. So growing up it wasn't, you
know, so much culture, but like every Jewish family, the parents
tried to give more education to their children. And I guess that
my generation of kids went into the higher education, and everybody
of the Jewish kids who I knew went into schooling as much as they
could. And my dad encouraged me to go into music. He loved music
himself. And that's how I actually became a piano teacher. My
sister was not so musical, so she went into a different field, into
medicine, and she graduated there from a pharmacy college, and now
she's working as a pharmacist's assistant.

Q: You were born after the Second World War.
Perelman: Yes, that's right.

Q: Do you know any of the stories? Did your family suffer in the
war?
Perelman: Well, I guess like every Jewish family, I know that my
mom told me stories. When the war broke out, she lived in the
little town in Lithuania, Yonova, and Mom had quite a few brothers
and sisters, and the smallest child was like nine months old. They
left behind a little sister which was like eight or nine years old,
and they couldn't even find her because she was in a camp for

6



children. And when the Germans came in, they occupied that part,
so they left her behind, and they took all the other children and
they walked towards Russia. That was the story of Mom, how they
left the house and just took everything that was available. They
did not have a car. They had to walk like most of the people, and
they walked towards Russia. That's how they escaped the Germans.

My father's family ended up in Russia. My dad was in the age
that he was fighting in the Lithuanian Army with the Russian Army,
and he was fighting through the whole war. His older brother also,
and his younger brother--he was 16 when he left home, not asking
the parents--and he went to fight, and he was killed the last days
of the war, the very last days of the war, a 16-year-old boy.

Q: Did your mother ever find her sister again?
Perelman: No, they find out that the whole camp with all the kids
were killed, so there was a lot of tragedy with the war.

After the war, they returned back to Lithuania where they
spent I guess most of their life until we grew up, and growing up
in Lithuania was not the best place to grow up being Jewish. And
remembering my childhood, I did not like the surrounding Lithuanian
people that were very anti-Semitic. They disliked Jews.

Q: How did this manifest itself? How did you experience it?
Perelman: How did I experience it? Just playing with the kids
outside. They would call you names and tell you religious things
which never happened. Like the deal with Jesus being crucified by
the Jews, and stories--when we would bake matzoh, we would use
the
blood of little Lithuanian babies and so on and so on, which, you
know, hurt to hear, and we would come home crying, and we knew
that
we were growing up in such a surrounding.

Q: Did you try to answer them?
Perelman: Well, of course, I tried to defend myself and answer, but
that was impossible, because that's how they were raised, and
that's how generations were raised by the Catholic Church and so
on. I hope that it will change. Maybe it is changing.

Q: Where did you live? What sort of a place did you live in?
7


Perelman: In Lithuania we had like you would say a duplex here. We
had quite a lot of room. I had my own room. We were well off
because Father provided quite a good living, and I guess the Jews
lived in Lithuania quite--1 would say wealthy, because they would
find ways to provide for their families. I had a piano, I was
dressed, and we had-


Q: It sounds better than in some of the other parts of Russia.
Perelman: Yes, I guess so, because then when I met my husband I
find out another side of, you know, the Jewish culture,
assimilated Jewish culture, I should say, because that was quite an
experience. We were not very religious, our family. Mom's family
was quite religious, and Mom would say that her mother would light
candles on Friday, but for some reason--1 don't know why--my
mother
did not adopt that. So it was not as we were religious--! cannot
say it--but we were always Jewish. And religion, in my mind, was
not, you know, a way to show that you are Jewish. It was more the
way you were born, and you were a Jew by birth, and it was
something special, and it was a good feeling, which we kids suffer,
but we would never give up. And I guess, you know, that's how we
grew up. We would go to the synagogue on big holidays, but we did
not know what is exactly [unclear]. We heard the stories, but I
guess there was not a lot of literature to read about it, and it
was not explained. It was just a feeling.Q: Were your friends mostly
Jewish?

Perelman: Yes, yes. It was quite a few friends, and they were
Jewish. I had a friend--she is now living in Israel--she was my
best friend--and her family were Zionists. That's where the real,
you know, Judaism was there. That family suffered quite a bit
because when Stalin was in power, they were moved from Lithuania
into Siberia, and that's where they grew up.

Q: Because of their beliefs?
Perelman: Because of their beliefs, yes. I've seen the family·
portraits of that family, and it was a very intelligent family.
The grandfather was a Zionist, and all the family was very
educated, so that was already a different history, different
people. They came back to Lithuania in '56 when Stalin was dead,
and there were all those changes, so they could go back from

8


Siberia, and they ended up in Lithuania. And they moved just a
couple years before we did, and they are right now in Israel.


I had another friend, also a Jewish girl--she's in Israel
right now. I had a couple Russian friends. Where I went to school
it was kind of a mixture there in Lithuania. Russians settled
there because of Russia keeping Lithuania under their power. They
had there stationed a lot of military men, so those were the
children of the military people. But I went to a Russian school.
I don't know why, but it seemed the Russian people were much better
people. They treated Jews differently there, because they were
also unliked by the Lithuanians, so they felt closer to the Jews,
better about the Jews, and as children you don't find out, you
know. We felt that the Russian kids were much better, and the
Russian school was much better, and we felt there, you know, more
at home than in the surrounding Lithuania.

Q: How did you become aware of Israel? Through your friends?
Perelman: Lithuania was, you know, quite more free than Russia, so
we knew about Israel. We knew about it existing. We heard the
radio. We usually would listen to the Voice of Israel. And we
knew a lot about it, because a lot of Jewish people had relatives
there, and they always would talk that "some day we will be in
Israel." And I guess that that was true, because as soon as it was
a possibility to move out of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Jews were
the first ones to go to Israel. And I would say that very little
Jews are left right now in Lithuania. All the population is in
Israel. Just a few ended up here.


Q: They're predicting--! can't remember when--at some period of
time there will be no Jews in Lithuania, that everyone will have
, I eft.

Perelman: Yes, it is just a few families. We don't know of many
who are there.


Q: Who remain.Perelman: Yes.
Q: When you lived in Lithuania, was there a push to indoctrinate
you into the Soviet culture?
Perelman: Of course. Yeah. The school, and the Lithuanian people,
I guess, were also oppressed by the Russians, but I did not like


9



the Lithuanians in the first place, so I liked more the Russians,

and I was kind of glad that, you know, they are oppressed by the

Russians. It's a bad feeling I know, but strongly I hate that

nation. I shouldn't say it, but I do.

Q: Hate the--
Perelman: Lithuanian nation. They are very bad, though you read in

history that there were families, Lithuanian families, who kept

Jewish children and did not give them out to the Germans, so I

guess in every nation they have good people and they have bad

people. But growing up in Lithuania was not a pleasant place.

Q: How did your family feel about Stalinism?
Perelman: It did not affect them too much, because it was still

Lithuania, and they kind of escaped that. I guess the Russian

Jews--Moscow and Leningrad and so on, deep Russia--felt more of

this in Stalin's time, and they were more afraid of that, and they

were more assimilated, because that's what I find out when I met

my

husband.

Q: Where was he from?
Perelman: He was from Moscow.

Q: I see.
Perelman: And he grew up in Moscow, and he does not look like a
typical Jew, because we were more black hair and a certain
Ashkinaze, you know, type of people. And he looked more as a
Russian guy. So we had to check his passport to make sure that
he's a Jew. Because in my case we were raised that we would never
go into intermarriages with different, you know, people. That was
out of the question, and that's what I strongly believe, too.

Q: Did you have any problem getting into school because you were
Jewish?
Perelman: No. In Lithuania it didn't matter, but maybe because I
was a musician, so this did not affect me, though in Moscow I did
not feel that, you know, I was oppressed because of that. And I

1 0



guess the times weren't so bad, because I moved here in '75. So

everything just started, you know, to be bad in Russia at that

time.

0: Sort of the early immigrants.
02: I want to go back to your childhood. Were any of the holidays
observed in the house? Your mom must have been somewhat
knowledgeable.
Perelman: Oh, yes.

02: So what do you remember from the holidays besides going to
synagogue?
Perelman: Good meals--you know, what you cook on those certain
holidays. You always bought matzoh, and I remember where my
grandma lived, they had a place where they would bake matzoh. It
wasn't allowed to do it, you know, openly at that time when I was
growing up. The time before the war it was, you know, everything
was open; it was more a Jewish life. But after the war you
couldn't, you know, bake matzoh and say, "That's where we are doing
it." So that was somewhere in the basement in my grandmother's
apartment building, and I remember those times when we would ask
for some matzoh, which would come out of the oven, and the outside
Lithuanian kids, they would ask us for matzoh, so we would give
them, and they would like it. So it was kind of, you know-


0: Festive.
Perelman: Yes. That's what we remember about the holidays. As
children we would get gelt (money)on certain holidays.

0: Hanukkah.
Perelman: Yes, on Hanukkah.

0: But you couldn't go to Sunday school or Hebrew school ...
Perelman: No. No, there was not such a thing. I know there was a
synagogue, but the synagogue did not have a Sunday school. So I
guess that my generation lost their Jewish--we talked Jewish. We
were talking at home Yiddish.

1 1


Q: Oh, you did speak Yiddish at home.
Perelman: Yes, we did, because the parents spoke Yiddish. I speak
Yiddish. But I cannot read, and I cannot write. Mom did not teach
me. Mom can write, and Dad can write Yiddish. They don't know
Hebrew, because they were not taught Hebrew. They went to Jewish
schools. The Hebrew schools were for the more richer people. They
could afford to go later into Hebrew schools and have the Hebrew
language. And the other part of Jews, they went just through
Jewish schools.

Q: Well, that's interesting.
Perelman: Yeah. So I speak Yiddish. But my children will lose it,
because my husband couldn't speak Yiddish, and when I moved
fromLithuania to Moscow, and I lived in Moscow for five years I did
not
use that language. I'd just come back home and talk to my parents.

Q: Do you speak Lithuanian?
Perelman: I speak Lithuanian, yes.

Q: And you speak Russian.
Perelman: And I speak Russian. Lithuanian, I went to a Lithuanian
musical college, so everything was there in Lithuanian, so I had to
go through school there, and then in Vilna and the conservatory.
But Russian was the Russian school--the high school and so on; that
was all in Russian. And at home we spoke Yiddish.

Q: A lot of it came from--so much of the feeling for things would
come even through the Yiddish language.
Perelman: Oh, yeah.

Q: The philosophy, the mentality, the humor.
Perelman: Yeah, the humor, the jokes, yes. Some wisdom, I guess.
[Laughter]

Q: I think so. It's filled with that. And the suffering. There
are a lot of jokes about suffering.
1 2


Q2: Vilna was a city of very special rabbis, isn't that right?

Male Voice: Hello, how are you? Good morning.

Q: Hello. I don't think you know Shelly. This is Shelly
Rottingberg. This is Dimitry. You're being recorded. You're on
the tape.
Dimitry Perelman: Oh, I am sorry. Erase me.

Q: Too late. You're preserved for posterity now. Forever and
forever.
[Tape recorder turned off]

Q: Does Larry speak Russian?
Perelman: Very little. And that was a big pleasure.
Q: He was so little. Larry was born here. We're just talking
about you.
Larry: Okay.

Q: We were asking if you spoke Russian.
Larry: I speak. I don't read or write.
Q: Oh, you do? Keep it up! It's a beautiful language.
Perelman: He used to speak only Russian when he was like three,
four, and he had beautiful pronunciation, just so good. And as
soon as he went to school, his Russian-


Larry: I started mixing it.

Perelman: And he was mixing it, and the teacher had trouble
understanding.

Q: Did you belong to clubs and social groups in Lithuania?
Perelman: In Lithuania? It wasn't clubs and social groups, so-13



Q: There weren't any.
Perelman: There weren't any. It wasn't such a big, you know,

social life. It was only work, and that's about it.

Q: How old were you when you went off to Moscow to the art--
Perelman: I was 20, 21, when I married, when I went to live in

Moscow.

Q: You married before you went to live in Moscow? You were married
and then moved?
Perelman: Well, we were married in Lithuania, and in a couple weeks
we moved.

Q: How did you meet Dimitry?
Perelman: Dimitry? On vacation. It was one summer, and I met
D'imitry on a vacation; and we knew each other for like ten days.
Then he went back to Moscow, and I went back to Kaunas, and I
studied there. We wrote letters, we telephoned each other. They
were beautiful letters--big collection of them--and then he came
again for vacation. Then I went to Moscow for vacation--it was
like a year--and we got married. So I knew him a couple months.

Q: Where were you vacationing?
Perelman: It was Polonga by the Baltic Sea. It was a very nice
resort. Lots of Jewish families would go there--and Russians.
They loved that Lithuania resort.

[Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

Q: Is there anything else we should ask her about life in
Lithuania?
02: Yes, I'd like to hear about her wedding, what kind of wedding
it was.
Q: I'd like to hear about what the synagogue looked like.
Perelman: Well, it was a little synagogue, but, as I say, my
parents did not push me into the religious ceremony. And the

14



reason also why I did not go for that, though I had very strong
feelings that I am a Jew and because my husband was absolutely
from
a different environment--he grew up without a father, because my
husband was born in '42, the father was killed in the war, and his
mom raised him and they assimilated quite a lot. So they were not
for the Jewish ceremony and so on, and I did not want, you know, to
have a problem with that.

When my Rubin was born, I felt a lot that I would like to
circumcise him, and my parents wanted to do it, but it was again my
mother-in-law which was against it. I did not want to cause
problems. She was quite a character. But I was the Jew, you know,
and when I came to their family, I changed there a lot, because my
husband, you know, really understood what it is to be Jewish. It's
just that special feeling, which he never had. He never was
growing up in a Jewish family. So when we would go in summers and
visit Mom and Dad, they would speak Yiddish, and Mom would cook
the
Jewish way, you know, the Jewish meals. So he became more aware
of
what it means to be a Jew. And also stories about how we were
treated in Lithuania, and I guess that, you know, he understood
that special feeling that he is Jewish. It kind of started to come
back to him, because he never even thought that he will marry a
Jewish wife. That wasn't strong in his family. They were afraid
even to say that they are Jews. They'd been hiding from their
neighbors, and when I would come and visit his mother and so on,
was like one between those all Russians, all his friends, and I
would stick out. But "Yes, I am Jewish," and I wouldn't hide it.
So that was kind of strange for them.

Q: Describe your wedding to us.
Perelman: Well, Dad rented a huge, big place. I searched for a
little white dress. I didn't want that long dress. I did not
believe in that. It was a very modest white dress. I made myself
the veil, and I have it until now, I made it myself because it was
impossible to buy it. There was a ceremony-


Q: Who married you?
Perelman: --in a public place. Lots of people were outside,
because in Lithuania this is a big event. Everybody would go and

1 5



look how the bride looks and how the groom looks and so on.
signed those papers.
So we
Q: Who does the marriage?
Perelman: It's not a judge; it was just an official, and it's a
place where they document that procedure, and that was it. Andthen

we had a big wedding with lots of guests and lots of food and
so on.

Q: Who does the food?
Perelman: Mom prepared herself, and then Dima's mom was there for
a couple days, so they both prepared the food, and they served it.
And I was putting everything on the table. After the wedding I was
cleaning up. So that was just the wedding, nothing else, and we
were still very good friends, and we did not get off on a honeymoon
like here it is. No, it wasn't like that. I don't know. I did
not take it so seriously, as this is, you know, it will be a
different way of life or something. It was just a normal day for
me. Yes, I was happy, I liked my husband, but it was everything
so childish, I guess.

Q: You had lived with your parents up to that point.
Perelman: I had lived with my parents. Right.

Q: And then you and he went off to Moscow right away?
Perelman: And then after the wedding?

Q:Yes.

Perelman: We lived with the parents like another couple weeks. Mom
couldn't understand that I was, you know, that I am--it was a big
tragedy for them that I decided that I'll go to Moscow. But there
were good reasons, because Dima was studying law in Moscow, and
he
would not be able to move and study law in Lithuania. It was hard
for him. It was easier for me to move there and to adopt music
than for him to start all new. So that's why I end up in Moscow,
and it was, I'll tell you, a very different kind of living. I
ended up from a separate room which I had in Lithuania in my

16



parents' house, I ended up with eight neighbors in one kitchen in
a big community apartment. But luckily-


Q: And lucky at that. [Chuckles]
Perelman: Yes. And they would not understand why do I sleep in
late, because I was a music teacher, and I could sleep later in the
morning and go to the music school later in the day, and they're
just Russian people who cannot understand such a bourgeois life, as
I looked to them. But in like a year, my father sent me money and
we bought an apartment in Moscow. So there we had our own
apartment very soon, and I say that we lived quite good. I cannot
say that we suffered in Russia.


Q: In the community apartment, did you know any of those neighbors?
Perelman: Oh, yes, because I saw them. We had one kitchen to share
and had one bathroom to share, and so I saw them all the time.


Q: Was your mother-in-law there with you?
Perelman: My mother-in-law, no. She gave us that little room.
That was one single little room, tiny room. She went to live with
her daughter, so for this period of time we were separate. She was
not in the same room with us.


Q: That's how you got the apartment.
Perelman: But that's how we got the apartment, yes.
Q: By her giving it to you.
Perelman: Giving to us that little room, and she went to live with
her daughter.

Q: And then your husband was studying to be a lawyer.
Perelman: Right.
Q: And then did he become a lawyer?
Perelman: He became a lawyer. He worked law before we moved
here.

1 7


0: Rubin was born in-02:
A year after they moved.
0: No, Rubin wasn't born here.
02: A year after you were married he was born.
Perelman: Yes, in '69.
0: And then you moved into your own apartment.
Perelman: Right. Rubin was like nine months old and we moved into
the new apartment. So Rubin was growing up in a very good
environment.

0: So you were there six years with him?
Perelman: ·Yes, a little less.
Q: How did you manage? Did you work and put him in day care?
Perelman: Yes, that's a very hard question. Day care in Russia,
it's a very bad place where to place a child, and we tried to avoid
that. So Grandma at that time, she was already retired, and she
watched Rubin when I was going to the music school to teach and to
study. So Rubin practically did not go to any day care. I was
working two days in the music school, and the rest of the days I
had private students, which were very uncommon to have in Russia,
but me and Dima did find private students, and we would go to
theirapartments, and I would give piano lessons.

0: You would go there.
Perelman: Yes, I would go there, but we lived in a new-built
apartment complex, and the apartments there were close to each
other, so I would go from one apartment to another very
comfortably, and give piano lessons to the kids.

0: Jewish families, Russian families?
Perelman: No, Russian families. There were not many Jews which
knew in Russia--! mean in Moscow. You're kind of more isolated

1 8



from Jews. They don't live like in Lithuania in one close community.
In Lithuania we Uved in a close community and we've been walking in
the streets, and regardless the Lithuanians loved it or not, we spoke
our language. In Russia, Moscow is big and nobody even--you don't
try to stick out. I guess I did not know many Jews in Moscow.

Q: Who were your friends?
Perelman: Dima had a friend, and he was a Jewish boy, Vladimir
Lazarus. He married my best friend, Esther. I introduced them,
and Dima studied law, so Valodya [phonetic] studied law also, and
I introduced them. Their life is a different and quite interesting
story. Esther married Vladimir, and her parents decided to move to
Israel, and Vladimir did not make the decision quite fast, because
his father did not, you know, give him the permission to go. At
that time the Russian government made such a nice policy for the
parents. In order to let their children go, they had to write a
letter, make a signature and let their children out with
permission.

Q: Up till what age or always?
Perelman: Always.

Q: Oh, so there remained complications.
Perelman: That's right. So Valodya's father was a true Russian
citizen, and he did not sign the paper, so Valodya could not go.
Esther moved by herself, and she had already a child, a baby. She
moved with her parents to Israel, and from there she tried to free
Valodya, and he was a "refusenik." I mean he suffered quite a bit,
and in five years they let him out.

Q: Had he lost his job?
Perelman: He lost his job and didn't do much there. Esther, she was
here in St. Paul, and she talked to the newspapers, and then she
was on television. She was at JCC also. I don't know if you
remember. The Jewish community helped her a lot in that.

Q: In freeing him.
Perelman: In freeing him.

1 9


Q: I do remember. I didn't remember that it was your friend, but
I remember her.
Perelman: He's now quite a famous writer in Israel. He writes in
Russian.


Q: What's his name?
Perelman: Vladimir Lazarus. Perhaps his relative, Lazarus, is the
woman who wrote the poetry on the Statue of Liberty.

Q: Emma Lazarus.
Perelman: Yeah, and he find out--he traced it back--that that's a
relative of his. So we get his books. He sends it here and we are
in touch, but they're far away.

Q: They are. Have you been to Israel?
Perelman: Yes, we've been to Israel a long time ago, probably five
or six years ago.

Q: Well, pretty soon you'll go again.
Perelman: Right. As soon as we saw each other, we were the best
friends like we never, you know, left each other, because as little
girls we lived right across from each other in the house, and we
would go to school together and so on.

Q: Did your child start school in Moscow? Did Rubin start school
in Moscow?
Perelman: No.

Q: No, he didn't?
Perelman: No, Rubin did not go to Russian school. He came here and
he become a true American boy. He's not a product of the social
society. I guess we were, but not anymore, not anymore. I was
never, I should say that, because I always had in my heart that we
will move to Israel. That was the place to go.

Q: Why, did you think?
20


Perelman: I don't know, just a feeling. You know, my parents came
later from us. We actually were the ones who left Russia, not our
parents. They should have done that, but they didn't. They were
kind of afraid to make that step and to get out when all the Jews
went. It was many emigrations. They went through Poland. When I
was ten I remember quite a few of relatives. My mom's
brothers,they moved at that time. It was in the fifties. They
emigrated to
Poland and then Poland threw them out to Israel, which was a good
thing.

0: So they didn't go then.
Perelman: So they did not go then, and I was ready to go a long
time ago. It was hard to work around my husband's parents, but he
finally decided and we made the move.

0: Did you have trouble' doing that?
Perelman: Yes. If we would move from Moscow, we would have
trouble, because at that time it was very hard to get out of
Moscow. So what we did is we exchanged our apartment. We went
back to Lithuania. We stayed in Lithuania for like nine months-barely
here--and Dima dropped his law job, and he worked as a
worker. I stopped teaching music, and I wasn't working at the time

at all, and we applied as just two simple Lithuanian citizens.
in Lithuania that was no problem. We got our visas in four
months--we waited very little--and we got out of Lithuania.
So
02: What I don't understand is how your husband came 'round. I can

understand your wanting to leave, but he was doing well. He was
assimilated. He was making a living. Where was the incentive for
him to go?

Perelman: I don't know. Probably he loved me. [Laughter]

02: It came from you. You convinced him.
Perelman: Yes.
02: Of that I wasn't sure. This was your dream, and you convinced
him to share that dream with you.
21


Perelman: Right. He was never between Jews.

Q2: But also leaving his motherland.

Perelman: Leaving his mother, not just motherland.

Q: What happened to his mother?
Perelman: Leaving his mother. His mother now is here.

Q: She came eventually.
Perelman: And leaving his sister, which was a very hard case,
because she was married before to a Russian guy who died. You know
it was on the line--jobs and so on, because people were afraid as
soon as they find out that you are moving to Israel, their
relatives could suffer around. And that was a very hard step.
That's why we left Moscow and we went to Lithuania--not to harm
his sister, her job, and I left music school because the principal of
the school where I taught in Moscow was Jewish, and I talked to him
and I told him honestly that I would like to go to Israel, "But I
will not go from your school," because he would suffer that also.
And I said, "I'm just moving to Lithuania--that's for everybody-but
for you," I told him, "I am getting out of here."

Q: It sounds like you really planned this out.
Perelman: We planned it out very smart, because I did not want to
be one of the "refuseniks" sitting in Moscow and struggling. What
would I really prove there by doing this?

Q: But you had another out. You had the Lithuania--
Perelman: That's right, but I mean-


Q: Could they have done that?
Perelman: They could have done it, too. They could have moved to
Lithuania. They could have moved to another Baltic, you know, but
it's hard to move. The process of exchanging apartments is not
easy. I guess, you know, finding a job is not easy. For me it was
the ideal thing to do because-


22


Q: Your parents were there.
Perelman: My parents were there.
Q: And you knew what you were getting into.
Perelman: That's right, and I knew exactly how it will work, and it
did work. So that was easier for us to do.

Q: I just wanted to back up one minute. I'm just curious to know
if you or any of your family were caught up ever with the Communist
Party.
Perelman: No, in Lithuania they did not believe in .that. That was
a joke.

Q: Oh, it was, huh?
Perelman: Yes, a joke that was for all the Lithuanians. They did
not believe a minute in that. Maybe it was a few traitors who went
into the Communist Party, and I think none of the Jews in Lithuania
didn't even care to become, you know, communist and so on, as far
as I know, who I knew. So, you know, the whole joke was that
system. Lithuania, I guess, lived the way, you know, they wanted
always. That's why, I guess, you know, it was more freedom there.

Q: Lithuania really was different.
02: All the Baltic states are different.Perelman: Yeah. My husband
would say when he would come from
Russia to visit in Lithuania, he felt like he is-Q:
In the West.
Perelman: Yes, that he is out of Russia. That's how he felt.
Q: How about dating? Were you free to date and did you date? In
Lithuania.
Perelman: In Lithuania?

Q: Before you married.
23


Perelman: Well, I grew up in a special family. With my strict
father, there was no dating.

Q:Oh!

02: No dating, no courting, no nothing?
Perelman: No, no, no. That's why my music was just wonderful for
me. That was beautiful.

Q: Your outlet.
Perelman: I was all in music.
Q: Well, how did you think you were going to meet a man to marry?
Perelman: Introduce, introduce. It was families who, you know-mothers
would come up to me and say, "I love you so much, I wish
you will be the wife for my son." And I would just, you know,
think in my head, "Oh, yeah, that will be the day!" Because they
did not know my character, you know. I couldn't show much of a
character in my family growing up. Not being very religious, that
was half an Orthodox family, you know. You don't speak up to the
parents. You listen, but you don't say your word. And I guess,
you know, I had my opinions, which I kept to myself.

Q: She was seen but not heard.
Perelman: Yes, yes.
Q: Did your mother educate you on sexual things?
Perelman: Oh, no. No, no.
Q: So how did you know anything?
Perelman: Oh, when I find out that Rubin is coming along, that's
how I find out.

Q: That's how you found out.Perelman: That's right. No, no.
Q: So you learned by experience.
24


Perelman: Well, didn't you? We read classics. We read Balzac. We
read a lot of books. We didn't watch TV. So I guess out of this
literature you do find out in life what's happening.

Q: Sure, sure, especially if you have an imagination.
Perelman: Right.
Q: Did you know women who had abortions?
Perelman: No, not in Lithuania. No.
Q: Did they simply have babies?
Perelman: Well, I was, you know-Q:
You were young then.
Perelman: So young, and twenty in Russia to be still at Mother's, you
know, home, that was
That's
how I was at twenty.
like, say, here is what? Sixteen, fifteen?
Q: You grew up slowly.
Perelman: Right. And I lovea wonderful thing that was,
d it.
and
Now I understand, you know, what
I wish, you know, that--you know,

I talk a lot to my sons, and I wish that that would be the case

here how children are growing up and how they mature.

Q: Slowly.
Perelman: Slowly. You don't have to rush. I have lots of fun in
my life, and I am over forty, and I didn't miss a thing.

Q: But a nice, long childhood.
Perelman: Right, right. And, you know, the dating, everything
was--1 got married and I guess my freedom came. That's what I
should say. When I got married, my freedom came, and there I was
free to express myself, and become myself, to find out who I am.
That's what happened with me. That's why I guess we survive until

25



now. [Tape recorder turned off]

What had happened is, my husband has a cousin, and he,
surprisedly to all of us, decided--the first one--to move from
Moscow, he, his wife,. and a little child. And he was also going to
go to Israel, and what happened is, when he ended up in Vienna, he
heard that it is a choice to go to Israel or to go to America or to
go to another country. It just opened up possibilities to go
somewhere else, and I remember he was telling me that he ended up
in a place where all the Jews were waiting to go to Israel. !forgot
now the name of that place, and they were all sitting and
all together, they'd been singing, and he looked at all that and he
says, "I cannot be right now a part of that close, close community,
to be all together." Like we heard stories, like we read about it,
that they all sing what everybody sings, they all do what everybody
else is. And, you know, to go out of a society kind of, you know,
it was Soviet society, but you always wanted to get out into
freedom and not to do what everybody else was doing. And that
pushed him into getting out of there and go to America and to
become what he wants to be. And he wrote us that it is a way to
come to America, that all what we have to do is come to Vienna and
say where you want to end up. And that's why we weren't sure. Yet
with all my soul I wanted to go to Israel. If it wouldn't be
another way, I would never stay in Russia, I would never stay in
Lithuania, I would go to Israel. And I guess that's why we ended
up here.

Q: And you changed your mind.
Perelman: We changed our minds.

Q: Based on a letter that Vladimir had sent you.
Perelman: Yes. And, you know, being oppressed so much in the
country where we lived, we were afraid to end up in a country where
it would be again, you know, do as everybody else is doing. That's
what we were afraid of.

Q: Do you regret your decision, not going to Israel?
Perelman: No. I think we are in a free country, and I can any day
take my belongings and end up in Israel any time I want. And
that's the main-


26


Q: Although you could go from Israel here, too.
Perelman: Well, I cannot say that, that you can get out of Israel
tomorrow, take your belongings and go to Australia or go to
Switzerland or go where you want to go. So that's why, you know,
it's a feeling, a nice feeling, to be here, though we have, yes, we
have different feelings here also. Some day when we hear some bad
things happening here, anti-Semitic things happening here in the
States--you know, . from fellow Americans sometimes we do get it-there
was a couple incidents--we say, "I don't want to be here. I
want to go to Israel; it is all Jews there."

Q: But they have their problems, too.
Perelman: Well, then we could get--there they have their problems,

yes.

Q: They're all Jews, but they're surrounded by everybody who hates
them.
Perelman: Right. See, we are a nation, a very confusing nation,
and I guess that always we will have this question. Where should
we be?
Q: Here you are living in Lithuania and Russia and wanting to go
someplace else. What did you think you were going to find?
Perelman: In America?

Q: What was your vision?
Perelman: Well, it was a lot of good stories from America, and it
was very fascinating. My vision was--we were scared, but we knew
that we are, you know, going to bring up our children differently,
that they will have a good life.

Q: What did you want for them?
Perelman: A free life, free enterprise, a better life, I guess.
Education, I cannot say, because we were educated in Russia. We
could get free education.

Q: Judaism--were you concerned about that?
27


Perelman: Well, I knew that they will be Jewish, because we were
quite Jewish with Dima and we grew as a family, as a Jewish
family,
and not an assimilated family, even in Moscow. We both strongly
believed in just a Jewish family even if we did not preserve
holidays and so on, and that's how we raised our children, and I
guess they have the same feeling, though now it changed a lot. We
do go to the synagogue, we observe holidays. I cannot say we're
very religious, but again we are Jews, and our boys are, in that
perspective, more knowledgeable than we are, because they went to
Sunday school and Larry still goes to Sunday school. So their
lives will be--and hopefully they will marry Jewish girls, and they
will preserve their Judaism more than we are.

Q: Did you think that the streets would be lined with gold and that
it would be easy to make a living?
Perelman: No, no, no.

Q: You knew that you would have to do everything on your own.
Perelman: We were very scared, because a musician and a lawyer,
not
knowing the language, that was a hard case to come to America and
even to think that we will get a job right away. But I knew that
my husband is very good with his hands arid he's a good man and that
he would work and get any job. ·And I knew myself that if I will
have to work, I will work and provide my child with food.

Q: So you came expecting that you would have to work hard.
Perelman: Yes.Q: You didn't think that anything would be given to you
or
provided.

Perelman: No, no, no. We were very thankful to Jewish Family
Service, that they, you know, helped us for four months, and we met

a lot of nice people. Fortunately, we met very good people.
I guess, you know, they helped us the way we are right now.
a piano teacher and I have lots of dreams and I'm free to do
anything I want. There's a lot of possibilities.
And
I am
Q: Did Israel look like what you thought it would look like?

28



Perelman: No. They do have lots of problems, because, you know,
knowing Yiddish it was very interesting, because when a group of
people stay and talk Russian like me and my friend and my husband
and his friend--we talked Russian--and some guy came up, and he
had
a backpack on his-


[Begin Tape 2, Side 1]

Q: Remind me again why you came to Minnesota.
Perelman: As I said before, my husband had a cousin who already

settled here in Minnesota in St. Paul for a year, so we decided at

least to, you know, have somebody. We decided to go to Minnesota.

Q: So he was here.
Perelman: He was here already, and before that he wrote us letters
that St. Paul, Minnesota, is quite a cultural city, with an
orchestra, a chamber orchestra, symphony orchestra and the
university and colleges. So that was, you know, a nice place to
come to.

Q: Where did you first stay when you came?
Perelman: We flew into New York for one night, and then we got

right away next morning here to St. Paul, so we did not see

actually New York at all, and I was never in New York since then.

Q: Did he have an apartment? Where did you live?
Perelman: We stayed with them for I think a couple of weeks, and
then they rented an apartment, and we ended up like everybody else
at Walkowitz apartments.

Q: On St. Paul Avenue.
Perelman: On St. Paul Avenue. Then until Jewish Family paid for us
three months' or four months' rent, that worked quite well, and
then we find out that apartments are quite expensive--we couldn't
handle it--and so we moved to Sibley Plaza, which everybody else
ends up at, too. And when we lived at Sibley Plaza for a year, I

29



find out that this is not a good place to stay with the children atthat
time.

Q: How come?
Perelman: The neighborhood wasn't so good, different kind of
people, different, I guess, society of people. I couldn't let
Rubin out to the playground because I once caught him with some
boys, and he was at that time six.

Q: What was he doing?
Perelman: Rubin was looking at some magazines which I did not
approve, and I grabbed those magazines, I ripped them, I threw them
out into the trash, and I gave a lecture to the other boys with my
poor English. Since then I was walking around with Rubin in one
hand and Larry was in the stroller, so I would be the one who would
go with him everywhere.

And then we ended up in Rivercliff apartments next door right
across the street. And there was like a different community. That
was very nice people there, it was clean and nice, and that's how
we ended up working for that company, and that helped us, you know,
I guess, moneywise. We got more money and we got more jobs to do,
and that served the purpose.

Q: How did you get furniture?
Perelman: Jewish Family Service, I guess, gave the money to us, and
we went and purchased whatever we could manage on that amount.
So
they paid for our food and medical bills.


Q: What did you do during that time? Were you studying English?
Perelman: I studied English only for four months, and then Larry
was born. Yeah, I studied very little, and then Larry was born,
and I did not have an opportunity anymore to study English. But
like in a year or so, from our volunteers, which were Sharon
Gentman [phonetic], she introduced me to Shelly Singer, which at
that time opened up a music studio, and that's how I ended up with
Shelly Singer in his music studio. And then life changed, because
I got more students. I was involved-


30


Q: And you began to teach piano.
Perelman: Yes, I began to teach piano. Also I taught at Lubavitch

[phonetic] House. I called people over the phone and asked, you

know, if they needed a piano teacher, just strangers. I was very

lucky. People reacted very nicely, and I ended up driving out to

people's houses. I was driving even to Mendota Heights, to your

neighborhood.

Q: That's right.
Perelman: [Laughter] And gave piano lessons there also.

Q: Other than the Jewis)J/Family Service, did other agencies or
synagogues help you?
Perelman: I guess he started, you know, to work after four months.
My husband got a job at a factory, and he took any available job
and he started to work, so that was enough for us to go by. And
since then nobody exactly helped us.

Q: Did he study English in the beginning also?
Perelman: Yes, he studied for a couple months English.

Q: Did you go to International Institute?
Perelman: International Institute, yes. That's where he went.

did not go to the International Institute. At that time it was

some other school.

Q: Gordon's School.
Perelman: Gordon's School. Right.

Q: Had you expected agencies or the community to do more than they
did?
Perelman: No. At that time I just, you know, appreciated whatever
was done. You know, they helped us to get into this life, and I
did not expect anything. I understood that they have to take care
of so many people. We just appreciated whatever was done.

Q: Who explained to you what help was needed? How did you know
31



what to do? How did you know where to go?

Perelman: We had to survive like everybody else.

Q: Did your cousin know? Did he know how to do these things?
Perelman: Well, not really. Our cousin, he's an engineer, and I

guess that he was in a different field, and his wife was also a

chemist, so they got into the engineering and she was working at

the U. of M. And since Dima did not know good the language, I

guess, and being a lawyer, did not expect any, you know, miracles

to happen, because that was hard for a lawyer to all of a sudden

get some different job, so he took any possible job that was

available.

Q: Did he hope to be a lawyer?
Perelman: No, he didn't because of the language, I guess, and he

couldn't, you know, come to any agencies and say, "Look, I would

like to go and study and to become somebody else." I guess it
wasn't that, you know, time. Now things are different, and I wish
that at that time we could have, you know, the choice to go to a
college or to go for a couple years to study. Maybe this would

reflect different on Dima's, you know, specialty and his life. But

I guess, you know, if people wanted to do something, they found

ways.

Q: So you're thinking that these days are a little easier because
people--
Perelman: These days there are people taking advantage of the
system, I guess, and they're doing what they think is good for
them. They're kind of selfish, and they go and they study. They
take English for years. They go to TVI (Technical-Vocational
Institute); they become programmers or
whatever they want to be. They study. When we came, we decided
we
cannot have the luxury of studying because it will take somebody's
money. I did not want to be on welfare. I did not want to be, you
know, a burden on Jewish Family Service, and that's why we decided
we have to work and we have to be responsible for our own life.

Q: I know that you brought parents.
32


Perelman: Yeah, in five years our parents came, and the situation
was that they were already at the age of over sixty, and I guess
that already the policies changed, and they're getting SSI, and we
appreciate that our parents are taken care of by the government and
so on.

Q: I suppose the role of grandmother is different here than it was
there.
Perelman: Oh, yeah.

Q: How is it different?
Perelman: The role of grandmother. The grandmothers there are the
rulers, I guess, of the families. They know that we kids couldn't
get by without them, because they were the babysitters and they
were the cooks and so on, and here life changed. I guess the
mentality of a family is different in Russia. I like it more here.

Q: Has it been hard for your mother?
Perelman: No, my mom is no problem. I guess she understands. She
lets me live my life. She's not in it. But I was quite controlled
by my mother-in-law. She wanted to be the head of my family, and
we were young, and we couldn't fight strongly. But here things
changed, because she tried it when she came. She tried to control
it, and I guess that I changed and my husband changed, since we
lived here for five years and we handled our family and we had
another child and we grew together, and we became stronger as a
family. So I think that the move to America changed many things
for better. It was better for us to grow up, to go away from the
parents. We never could do this in Russia.

Q: If you had stayed in Russia, would you have also given piano
lessons?
Perelman: Oh, yeah. I was teaching in a music school, and I taught
accordion, and out from the music school I had private students
which I taught piano.

Q: So would you say that you've done pretty much here what you
would have done there? Or what would the differences have been?
33



Perelman: The differences would be, of course, material. Here a
piano teacher makes quite good money, and here is more opportunity.
There it wasn't, you know--a teacher would make not enough money
to
be able to live nicely. They're not so well paid as they are here.
And here you have to be good, and you have to, you know, always be
a very good professional to be able to keep your students. There
teaching in a music school, you were well off, you could teach how
you liked, and the motivation wasn't I guess so good, as were many
other things in such a socialist country as Russia.

Q: You have job security, so you're not going to work harder than
you really have to.
Perelman: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely in any field there, though
it's changing these days, I guess.

Q: How about level of job satisfaction? Do you think the level of
satisfaction is higher here because you take more responsibility
for what you do?
Perelman: Well, here is different, but, you know, as a piano
teacher, as a teacher, I'm serving the purpose to different levels
of students with different needs. In Russia, being a piano teacher
is a big responsibility also because you raise professionals
mostly. Here it's more, I would say, not you raise professionals,
but-


Q: A hobby.
Perelman: Yeah, it's more like a hobby, more like a relaxation,
more like just giving children a cultural upbringing.

Q: An introduction to culture.
Perelman: This is an important job also.

Q: You're not grooming them to be professional piano players.
Perelman: Right.

Q: That's interesting.
34


Perelman: In one aspect you get upset.

Q: It's not as serious.
Perelman: It's not as serious and so on, but anyway you have to be
entertaining because if the child says, "I don't like my teacher
She's mean. I don't want to go to her," the parents will not push.
They will say, "Well, you don't want it, then don't do it anymore."
So we found a different side of that. I guess it's good and it's
not good, but we're trying. We're trying to do what's best.

Q: What does your husband do?
Perelman: He works for Rako [phonetic] Company, which is a
manufacturer of robots for painting cars. They're making all
different sprayers. They have factories in Europe and all over
America. It's a nice company, and I guess they pay very well for
the job that he's doing. He's working on a machine. He has to
program it, and it makes different. parts for that machinery,
whatever they're assembling. He works nights, which he likes to
do, because he doesn't like to get up very early in the morning.

Q: You're on different schedules.
Perelman: We're on different schedules. Maybe that is good.

Q: How have you found the schooling in America for the kids? Have
you been satisfied with it?
Perelman: I guess I have to be satisfied with the public school
because I cannot exactly afford private school, though I know that
my son finished public school and many of his friends finished also
public school, and they ended up in the most prestigious schools.
So I guess, you know, if a child wants to study, he will study
practically in any school. He will pick up whatever he needs.
There are always some programs available. You can always do more
than you have to. It is just, you know, motivation and the family,
you know, how it is involved in that school. At the beginning I
really did not know what's going on in school, because I couldn't
go to a teacher and ask what is the problem and so on. So Rubin
was mostly on his own. And I wasn't happy, you know, how he was
doing. But he catched on now when he went to the U. of M. I guess

35



he grew up himself and he find out what he wants to do, and he

managed it.

Q: They do that sometimes.
Perelman: Yeah, they do that, but of course it would be nice and it

would be helpful if I would understand that it is programs. At

that time it was college prep, and I did not understand what that

means, and maybe--1 blame myself that, you know, it could been

easier for Rubin to study at the U. The first year it was tough,

but he made it.

Q: The first year is tough for everybody.
Perelman: He made it. He says, "Mom, my children will go to SPA."

That's what he says--definitely.

Q: Interesting.
Perelman: Yeah, the approach, how they make the children think, how
they take care of the children and so on. It is different. Did
your kids go to public school?

Q: Public school.
Perelman: Public school. And you found it okay? You found it
okay.

Q: Then they went away to college, but they went to public school.
Did I think it was perfect? No, but it was okay.
Perelman: And I saw a lot of people who were much better off than
we were went to Highland School, and they could afford SPA and
some
other schools, but the children went to public school, and they
made it just so nice, so I guess it depends on the ability of the
child.

Q: And the philosophy of the parents. I think there's both.
Perelman: Larry goes to public school, but Larry goes to music
practically like a private school. I'm paying already a couple
years for him, and music is very expensive.

36


Q: When you first came here, were your friends mostly Russians,
other Russians?
Perelman: I guess, yeah, they were mostly Russians. It wasn't many
of them.· We did have volunteers, an American family, and they were
very good to us.

Q: Are you still friends with them?
Perelman: Well, I should say probably not. Maybe it's my fault,

too, not because of something. They unfortunately got divorced,

and-


Q: Complicated.
Perelman: Complicated, yeah. And she moved, and he was here.

guess she had problems, too.

Q: I think they may have remarried.
Perelman: He did; she didn't. I saw her a couple years ago.

Q: But it was useful for you at the time.
Perelman: It was useful for me. She was very nice, but she was
just a different character. She was a very pushy woman, and the
way she handled us was, "Do what I want to do," and she didn't
listen. And I was hurt. But then she did a lot of good things, sol put
my hurt away.

Q: Was she not sensitive to who you were?
Perelman: No, she thought that she's an American, she was here all

her life, she knows everything, and she wanted us to do as she

thinks.

Q: Oh, dear. So she wasn't sensitive to you as somebody who was an
equal but just came from--
Perelman: Well, I think one purpose, why she did volunteer,
probably every volunteer is doing it for that purpose, because they
want to be a part of the community. They want to be involved with
the newcomers. They want to help. They want to be somehow in the

37



public eye, too, that they will say, yes, they are volunteers. But
everybody likes recognition for what they have done, so in part she,
you know, took us as a family because she was a big volunteer at the
temple and she was active and so on. But she was a nice woman.
She did a lot. She found me a doctor when Larry was born, Dr.
Goodman, a beautiful doctor, such a nice person. He did not charge us
a penny, and Dima was working already, and he waived the bill and he
made the midwife hospital not charge us and so on. So Dr. Godzich
[phonetic] introduced us to another doctor, a dental doctor, a
wonderful person, just a very nice guy. I mean, it's a
lot of people which I am thankful to.

Q: But could we improve the volunteer system and the people who
help new arrivals in any way? Any suggestions or recommendations
that you have that might make it more people helping people rather
than somebody knows best and somebody is a greenhorn, so to speak.
Perelman: Yeah. See, with us we would appreciate, you know, if it
would be possible to find jobs and so on, but this is so
complicated, you know. Jobs are the most important things.
Connections.

Q: Making the connections for job opportunities.
Perelman: Making the connections for jobs. That is so hard to
break, but I guess everybody goes through that, you know, through
this trouble, I know that American people have tough times to find
jobs, as now we understand, but first when we came, we thought,
"Oh, my God, people know so many people. Why can't they try to
find a job? We don't need help in bringing groceries or buying
food. Just get us a job. Introduce us as people, not as beggars."
At our time that was very, very hard, to break through a wall.

Q: I think that perhaps that's a difference in the way things are
done here. I think that's a more common way of finding a job in
the Soviet Union, through someone you know.
Q2: But we network, too, here. That's how I found this job, Diane.
So it's not who you know, but it's talking to people. Nobody has an
influence, but networking is a legitimate way, so that would be
more helpful, to build up more networks for the newcomers.

Perelman: I'm just bringing this up because that hurt at the

38


moment, but I know now it is hard. It is hard for everybody.

Q: Yes, everybody has to go through it. There's no magic.
Perelman: It is hard for any, you know, person, whether he be
Jewish or whatever he will be. It is very, very hard.

Q: It's lengthy and a process where you have to sell yourself.
Perelman: Yes, we were not prepared for that. We couldn't sell
ourselves. But I was very lucky, and I will never forget Sharon
Gentman, whatever it is between us. I will always talk nice about
her. And she introduced me to Shelly Singer. I'll never forget
him. We are still friends.

Q: And that was a good contact for you.
Perelman: Oh, that was a wonderful contact, yes. But Shelly Singer
was a wonderful man. Maybe if it would be somebody else, he would
say, "Oh, who needs that immigrant? I have enough. Who needs
her?" But again it was just, you know, the blend that I was very
willing to work, and I worked so hard, and I was trying, you know,
to be very, very nice and patient and so on. So I guess it depends
on people.

Q: How about your friends now? Are your friends other Russian
immigrants or not?
Perelman: It is very hard. First of all, I am not involved anymore
with Russian immigrants. You are more involved than I am.

Q: [Laughter] That is probably true. Where do you meet the people
with whom you are friends?
Perelman: Now it is just, you know, a different approach to life
and different things. I'm involved with the kids, I'm involved
with Larry's education, I'm involved more with music. I have a
couple friends which we met, and I don't have many friends, because
the Russians who are coming, they're so different. Because we come
from the same country doesn't mean that we're all friends. It's
all different parts of Russia. Plus, what means friends? I think
the most friends you make when you are children, when you go to
school, when you go to college, when you are growing up. You have

39



to grow up with the same people. All what we have now are good
acquaintances, friends who you try to make and be faithful to and
honest with and so on, and I think that again everybody else
experiences this. I think in America we found everybody so
moveable. This is a different thing.

Q: What do you mean, moveable?Perelman: In America if you find a
job, you're out of the
neighborhood, and the next day you end up in a different state.
Q: Mobility.
Perelman: Yes, and that's what we find out. We wouldn't do this in
Russia. We couldn't do it for a purpose. It's a different life.
There's no housing. We don't move--period. You live all your life
in one neighborhood and you know those people. So we found here
that it's absolutely different.

Q: That's true.
02: But in St. Paul there's a lot more stability than in most
American towns. Aren't there a lot of people who moved into this
area when you moved in? Your neighbors that you're friendly with,
are they just acquaintances?
Perelman: Right.

Q: Not your friends.
Perelman: In the musical world, just a couple Jewish friends who
came over a long time ago. And I don't need any more immigrants,
for reasons that sometimes they're just not nice. Sometimes they
just look at us as different. They talk about different things.
They talk at the beginning, jobs, VCRs, what cars you have and, you
know, that way they try to establish themselves that one is richer
than another, and nobody is rich. Oh, my God! You know, a
different approach to life. To me my approach is my family, my
kids. I want to be, you know, happy. I want to understand what is
right and what is wrong. It's now different for me than for those
newcomers. They're searching for jobs. It's kind of the sadness
on their face. So we cannot, you know, mix with them too much.
It's hard to be with them. And I guess the same was with us now we
look back. The same was with us.

40


Though talking about friends, we met some people, Americans
who moved--Jews who moved from different cities and ended up in
St.
Paul, and they had trouble finding a society they can belong to.
And many times I wanted to belong to a women's circle, a temple
affair, and do with them something. But then I find that I cannot
be anywhere because I have to work a lot. I have many students.
I cannot meet on an evening when they, you know, will be free.
Then in that circle, the women, they'll be so homey. They raise
their kids, and they will talk about diapers, and they will talk
about, and I think, "Oh, my God, I don't belong here. I cannot
listen to this chat. They're different than me. If I'm trying to
survive, they're talking about little things which are to me not
important." To them it is.

Q: What do you do for fun?
Perelman: I go to concerts. I subscribe to the Minnesota
Orchestra. We go to the International Artists Series. I have
anacquaintance in the chamber orchestra. He is the first violin and
so on. They offered me any time I want tickets. So I can go to
the chamber orchestra. We go to exhibitions which come to town.
That's about it. And then I'm busy. I'm busy with my students.
I'm busy making recitals, and that's how my life is reflecting·.
Larry has competitions and Larry needs to go to piano lessons,
which I want to attend. It is fun, it is nice. We listen to
music. We have numerous-


[Begin Tape 2, Side 2]

Perelman: I belong to the synagogue, and I love to come there on
the holidays. I went to a lecture about Judaism, but exactly I did
not expect what I was hearing. I thought that, you know, I will be
introduced from the very beginning of the religion and then go step
by step. But it was nice. It was nice to, you know, hear people
talk about religion, about so and so. I did not agree on
everything, but it was fun. I was proud of myself that once I went
and actually heard [unclear] giving lectures. So that was nice.

Q: Do you celebrate Jewish holidays?
Perelman: Yes, we do, but we don't do it the right way. We have a
dinner, but we don't go through everything.

41


Q: What holidays do you celebrate?
Perelman: Pesach, Hanukkah, Purim, Yom Kippur.
Q: You mark all those holidays?
Perelman: Right. The kids are going, and they're very strict about
it. They go to those services. And when I come to the synagogue,
I say, "Why don't I come here more often?" Because it's so

peaceful.
Q: How do you feel that Americans view you?
you any differently than they view anybody?
Do you think they view
Perelman: Yes, they do because of the accent. Some people are nice

about it, some people are very rude. Just kind of daily services
it can happen, or if you drive a car and you did something wrong,
somebody can tell you're a foreigner. So it is, you know,
different. Circles of people will different react. But most I
would say all these years, so many parents of my students--1 went
through hundreds and hundreds--and everybody was very, very nice.


Q: Do you feel you fit in American life?
Perelman: Yes, I fit, but my children will fit better. You have to
grow up here to be the same like everybody else. There's
something, you know, about it.

Q: What do you think it is?
Perelman: The way we were raised. We weren't raised right. The
way they brought us up. Even my family, the way they brought me
up, it's the old country brought up. And also the society which
made us a little bit, you know, passive people, not so aggressive.
But also this is all individual, you know, what person you are, I
guess. It's so individual.

Q: What do you find most frustrating about living here?
Perelman: Thinking that there will not be enough money in a month.
[Chuckles] Mostly I will tell you, really, it is to manage
everything. It is very hard. It's nice when you have a very

42


stable job and when it comes, that stability, from one member of
the family. I guess all those years we tried, you know, to make
it, to be able to afford things, to be able to give more to the
children. And this kind of diminishes a lot, but I guess I
shouldn't speak this as just me; it's a million of people which are
doing the same thing. But I think a good specialty--this is very
important in America. You have to think, will you be able to find
a job or not. Right now, you know, I'm thinking about my son's love
of music, and I'm exulting in this, and we have great times, but
sometimes I think, "Will he make it? Will he be able to make a
living? Will he be able to support a family with what he loves?"
With all his soul he loves it. It will probably be for him much,
much more difficult than for my son who chose to be an editor in
marketing, in business. Probably he will be able to have a better
life than cultural.

Q: But it's how you define a better life.
Perelman: Right.

Q: If you define it by material acquisitions, it's different than
if you define it in satisfaction.
Perelman: Right, but I am very satisfied with what I am doing.
Thank God, I have a nice family, and we handle all the problems
with the kids and so on. My kids are getting big, and I'm not
ready for everything that they ask me and when it is so many
problems that when they were little, I thought that it's a tough
life to change diapers and get up at night, and my mom would say a
saying, "Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems."

Q: Yeah, a lot of truisms.
Perelman: And all of a sudden I come to those big problems, and I
cannot picture myself. Why did it happen? I'm not so old and why
those two big kids? And I have so many things to decide and so on.
Well, I don't know whether I'm answering to that question or not.

Q: Sure. What's the most rewarding thing about living in America?
Perelman: To be free, really to be free. Here you can be isolated
from, you know, many things and be with your family, and you're not
afraid at least of the government, what happened in Russia. We
were afraid that we are Jews and that something will happen to us.
43



Here it's nice. It's nice to know openly the politics, what's
going on, and to know that the Jews are quite powerful in America
and that we are protected and that we're a big community, and
they're proud of that.

Q: What do you miss most about the Soviet culture?
Perelman: I don't. I don't miss it anymore. It went by. It took
me maybe a couple years to get used to here because we were quite,
you know, lonely also. But I guess now we don't even want to go
and to visit there. We've got our parents here and our relatives
here and we're not missing it. And neither my husband, who really
was more assimilated than I, he doesn't want to go back.

Q: Do you celebrate any Soviet holidays?
Perelman: No. If you consider New Year's as a Soviet holiday, but
I guess here we celebrate New Year's also. But no, nothing is
left. I don't remember the dates. Sometimes we just joke, "Oh, it
was the 8th of March? What was that?" But the old people, I'll
tell you. Somebody came with a bouquet with flowers to my mom
and
said, "Happy Women's Day," or whatever. Can you imagine that?
said, "What is that?" We have our holidays. Grandpa Day,
Grandmother's Day, Mother's Day, or whatever. We celebrate those
holidays.

Q: Do you see the role of women different here than it was in
Russia?
Perelman: Well, it's different here. I know here when a woman sits
home and has babies and she's satisfied and she's very happy, the
husband does everything. But I've seen a circle of women which are
professional women, and their role in the family is again different
and they're independent and they're excited about their life.
Mostly in Russia the woman was working, and she had to bring her
income to the family. So there was, you know, they had exciting
jobs, they had not exciting jobs, but they had to work. But still
it depends on the circle where you were and what the family is
like.

Q: If I understand life, as I've heard about life in the Soviet
Union, it seems as though there's a lot of burden placed on women
44



there, not only to work but also to do all the child care and all

the home care.

Perelman: Right. But it's again, you know, as we were a Jewish
family, and my relation with my husband is very good, as friends,
as equal people, though he would always help me to do something in
the kitchen if I needed it. He would go to the store and he would
buy, and he would watch the babies, and he got up at night withthe
babies. So it depends on, you know, how intelligent is the
family and so on. As I grew up as a child, it was a different
approach to the family. My father was the one who would give my
mom money to go to the market and to buy things and so on, and she
was not the person who would say, "Yes, it has to be done this
way." My father would say, "It has to be done that way." And he
would not cook in the kitchen, and my mom had to cook in the
kitchen.

Q: More traditional.
Perelman: It was more traditional. And, yes, if you will take just
a worker's family, which, you know, I saw neighbors and so on, they
treated the women very badly. But I guess, you know, as I find out
here, there are a lot of things going on here, too, with women
being treated not so well. I thought, "Oh, in America now
everybody is so intelligent here," and all that, and it is so
different here. And then when you hear about those battered women
and so on, it is-


Q: A terrible thing.
Perelman: A terrible thing that's going on.

Q: What else would you like to pursue?
Perelman: Yes, part of my life, you know, is more turned here in
America that sometimes I forget-


Q: That you had another life.
Perelman: That I had another life there. It just seems that
everything is here, and as time goes by I'll probably forget what
it was like there.

45


Q: I don't think you ever forget because those are deep roots.
Perelman: Well, it was like just six years, my marriage in Moscow,
and my childhood. You know, when you're a child you look at the
world absolutely different. And it was just some feelings left,
what it was there. My grown-up life is more here.

Q: Yes, and your family.
Perelman: My family expanded here, and we grew together. They
were
so happy to come here and not to be together with my mother-in-law
and family at all. We had to make the decision, what we will do,
how we will survive.

Q: Have your parents and mother-in-law been happy to be here?
02: Or do they have a harder time?
Perelman: They have had a very hard time to adjust, and we we revery
depressed because of that, because they would let everything
out on us. And now they're starting to age, and I guess I'm not
ready for that either, seeing, you know, my father being fully
active and such a sharp mind, and he's slipped down and he talks
like a child, and he tells me that I'm the smart one and I have to
make decisions, and I don't want to do that. And I'm trying. You
know, now it comes that American [unclear] which say, "Is this
happening to your parents, too? Or are they different?" And then
I find out that all the parents, they're kind of the same. You
have different cases. Some slip down and they become dependent,
and some are not. It's not so easy. I guess for all parents it's
not easy because of the barrier of the language and not being able
to drive and so on.

Q: And your parents weren't able to really learn English very well.
Perelman: No, no. But I guess with me managing those apartment
buildings, my father got to understand more people than many of the
others, because he will understand and he will try to talk and
he'll try to be active and so on. But they're aging.

Q: How old are they now?
46


Perelman: Dad is 72 and my mom is close to 70. To me that
shouldn't be old.

Q: It's not old by our standards.
Perelman: That is young by my standards. They're supposed to be
young, too, and I am not approving that when I'm telling them that
they're young, you have to think, you have to walk, you have to
exercise, you have to work.

Q: It's a different attitude here that they may have.
Perelman: Absolutely. But they are thinking that they are really
old, that they're going to die every day, and so on, and this is
quite depressing, My children say, "Mom, you'll not be that way."
I intend to work until I can't walk. So the attitude about life I
like here more. I found that women look here much better in age
than women in Russia. Over 50 you are an old woman. You are-period--
old. You're done; that's it. Your life is gone. And here
I think that women look after themselves and so on. And I like it.
I look at American women and I say, "That's how I want to be." I
look at some older women at 70, how they sparkle, nice, fit, their
intonation. An old lady, you would see her dressed with a hat.
She was beautiful. And ·1 said, "That's how I want to be."

Q: So you have role models. Your parents didn't. I'm sure their
parents were old at 70, if they lived that long.
Perelman: Yeah. So life here is much better in every respect. And
I'm going for it.

Q: [Laughter] That's a good place to end, to go for it. Go for
it!
[End of Interview]

47