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Interview with Luba Royzenfeld

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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 Luba Royzenfeld
Interviewed by Felicia Weingarten and Shelly Rottenberg
Interviewed on June 25 , 1991
at the Saint Paul home of Mrs. Royzenfeld

FW: Good morning, Luba. My name is Felicia Weingarten, and this is
Shelly Rottenberg, and we are going to interview you for a project
for the Minnesota Historical Society, which is called "Old Lives, New
Lives: Soviet Jewish Women in Minnesota." Today is Tuesday, June
25, 1991. Could you tell me your full name please and when and
where you were born?

LR: My name is Luba Royzenfeld and I was born in Russia, in Moscow,
in 1959.

FW: Can you tell me something about your education. What school
did you go to? You started at what age?

LR: I started to go to school at almost eight years old.

FW: So late?

LR: Yes, because I wasn't too healthy; so, my parents decided to put
me later.

FW: Into first grade?

LR: Yes.

FW: And how many years did you complete?

LR: I completed ten years, and then I went to the liberal school to
get my pedagogical diploma.


FW: Were you still single or married by then?
LR: I was married already.
FW: What year did you marry?
LR: I got married in 1977, right after finishing high school.
FW: Is your husband Jewish?
LR: Yes.
FW: And his family, the parents, are Jewish?
LR: Sure.
FW: Are both your parents Jewish?
LR: Yes.
FW: And they are here, in St. Paul, Minnesota?
LR: Yes, sure.
FW: Did you come to this country together?
LR: Almost. We were separated in Italy. They left Italy four months


earlier than we.
FW: In what year?
LR: In 1989.
FW: When you got married, were you able to continue your


education?
LR: Yes, because my parents helped me.
FW: Did you have a child by then?


2



LR: We got Dennis when I completed the first course.
FW: In what year was that?
LR: He was born in 1979, and I went to school in 1978.
FW: How many years did you study at that pedagogical institute?
LR: Five years.
FW: And you graduated as a teacher?
LR: Yes. I graduated as a specialist in early childhood development.
FW: Did you go to work right after graduation?
LR: I worked long before my graduation.
FW: While you were studying?
LR: Yes, because it was a special kind of institute--! could study in


the evening and work in the morning.
FW: Is that usual for the Soviet Union or rather unusual?
LR: It's quite usual. Very many people do that, but sometimes it


depends on some circumstances. As for me, I couldn't get to the
regular school, so I chose this one.
FW: You mean the regular school being the day school?
LR: Yes, being a full-time student.


FW: Why?


LR: Because I was too shy, I was afraid to go, and in Russian


institutes there is great competition. You have to be very, very


bright to get there or you have to have somebody who can make


protection ...


3



FW: Make protection is nepotism, someone who can influence the
board to accept you?


LR: Yes.
FW: Your being Jewish would be detrimental for your acceptance.
Being Jewish would not be good for you, right? Or did it matter on
the application?


LR: It didn't affect my application at all, and plus I passed my exams
very good. So I didn't feel anything from this side. But I know if I
would choose another institute, more prestigious, it would affect
my application and everything. It wasn't a very prestigious
institute.

FW: Were there a lot of other Jewish students there?
LR: No.
FW: Do you remember what year your parents were married?
LR: I think they were married in 1957.
FW: Was it a civil ceremony or a rabbi performed it?
LR: No, civil.
FW: Where were your parents during the war years? They were


young people during the World War II? Did they stay in Moscow
during the war?
LR: No, they got to Moscow later.
FW: Were they born in Moscow?
LR: They came to Moscow later.
FW: When? Where were they born?


4



LR: My father was born in Kuibushev--it's an old Russian city. And


my mother was born in a little place named Vinnitsa.
FW: Yes, that's in the Ukraine. And where and when did they meet
and married? How did they meet being from two separate cities?


LR: I think their parents came to Moscow, so they could meet there.
FW: In 1941, when the war began, where did the family live?

LR: I am not sure. I think that my mom lived in


time, but she was just eleven years old.
FW: They married after the war? Both of them,
spend the war years, certainly not in the Ukraine?


LR: My mom remembers that they tried to escape


people, so they went to a very safe part of Russia.


FW: They were evacuated, right?

LR: I think they were evacuated in Kazakhstan.

FW: And papa was there also?

LR: No.

FW: Where was he during the war?

LR: I think he was in Kuibushev.

FW: All throughout the war?

LR: I think so.

FW: Was Kuibushev occupied by the Nazis?

LR: No, I don't think so.

Vinnitsa at that
where did they
the war as other

FW: And they met after the war in Moscow and got married?

5


LR: Yes.
FW: Tell me, what do you remember from your childhood that is


specifically Jewish? Were you aware that you were
sure you were because you had it in your passport?
Jewish? I am
LR: Not
passport.
from my passport. I was aware earlier than I got my
FW: How did you feel it?
LR: Sometimes it was very uncomfortable for me to be Jewish.
FW: In what way?
LR: I remember when my grandparents from my mom's side ...
FW: Jewish people?

LR: Jewish people--they still talked Yiddish, and I was very
ashamed because other kids in my camp asked me what language they
spoke...

FW: What camp was that, Luba? Pioneers'?

LR: Well, it was a summer camp, but it was a camp in Moscow, not
in the country. Usually, every school in Moscow has summer camps,
where kids can go and spend some time. They brought me to this
camp and then they took me in the afternoon, and I was very ashamed
with their speaking Yiddish. And I remember that when I was asked
what is the language, I answered, "This is Ukrainian."

FW: And your mother and father, did they speak Yiddish with them?

LR: My mother still understands Yiddish and sometimes she tries to
speak it, but my father never knew Yiddish.

FW: Did you observe any Jewish customs or holidays in your parents'
home?

6


LR: It was not so clear for me, but I remember that once a year my
grandparents went to the synagogue and bought matza for Passover,
but I was not sure then for what purpose. I always knew that this is
a Jewish custom.

FW: But you didn't know the meaning of the matza for the holiday?

LR: No, never.

FW: Was this the only holiday? Anything specifically Jewish that
you remember?

LR: When I got older, my Jewish friends and me, we started
celebrating Simchat Torah, we considered this holiday very joyful,
and that was an opportunity to meet friends by the synagogue.

FW: The main synagogue?

LR: The main synagogue in Moscow.

FW: Were you afraid to be seen because in those years it was not so
safe?

LR: Yes, I was. We were afraid but still we went there, and usually
we saw a lot of militia men with loudspeakers and they said, "Don't
make groups, go home, the holiday is over." They say that some of
them made pictures. I don't know, I don't have position like ...

FW: When you were married, did you go with your husband
occasionally to celebrate Simchat Torah?
LR: Yes.

FW: You were an only child, right?
LR: Yes.
FW: Tell us, where did you live in Moscow? Big apartment building,


small? How many rooms you had?


7


LR: When I was a child, I remember that my parents and I lived in a
very old part of Moscow. It was a very famous part of Moscow. It
was a very old building, and this building used to belong to some
very rich person ...

FW: Before the revolution?

LR: Before the revolution, and finally my parents got a flat in this
building.

FW: A whole flat or just one room?

LR: First they got a room, with neighbors, communal, but then some
of our neighbors got new flats, and we stayed in this apartment.

FW: How many rooms were there?

LR: I think, there were three rooms, but we did not occupy the third
one, we occupied only two of them.

FW: One was a living room, salon, one was a bedroom, and where was
the kitchen?

LR: Yes, there was a kitchen, separate.
FW: So you had two rooms and a kitchen. What about the bathroom?
LR: It was together with the kitchen.
FW: Shower or tub?

LR: Tub.

FW: Hot water, cold water?

LR: I think so, hot and cold.

FW: Did you have your own room?

8



LR: No. In Russia, you know, people don't have their own rooms that
often.
FW: You slept in the same room with your parents?
LR: Yes.
FW: Did your family have guests for birthdays?
LR: Sure, very often.
FW: Were they Jewish or non-Jewish?
LR: Mostly Jewish, but there were some, very nice people.
FW: And the relationship was good?


LR: Good.
FW: And for vacations, did you go anywhere alone or with your
parents or with your school to that camp? When you were little, you
went to the camp, right?


LR: No, on the contrary, when I was very little, I went with my
parents.
FW: Where to?


LR: We could go to the Black Sea.
FW: Was it through your father's or mother's work, this vacation, or
could you just go on your own and rent a place in a pension or a
cottage?


LR: I think we did it in a different way. Sometimes it was from the
job, like a certificate that you can go, and sometimes we just
packed our suitcases and went, and started to rent a room.

FW: Were you able to buy food freely when you went away from
Moscow, wherever you went, was it possible?

9


LR: I think in the 1960's, yes.


SR: Felicia, what did Luba's parents do? How did they make their
living?
LR: My parents are both engineers.
FW: What kind?
LR: My father is an electrical engineer and my mother is an


economist. So they both worked full time, so they could afford that.


FW: When you started to see your husband, you were very young. Was
the family pleased about it?
LR: From the other side [on the .one hand], they were pleased, from


another side [on the other hand], it was hard for them. They always


were very afraid about me. They tried to save [protect] me.
FW: Before you got married, did you have friends, other boyfriends,
groups of friends?


LR: I met my future husband in a group. It was just a Jewish group
of people ...
FW: How did you know of this group?
LR: I don't remember. I think some of my friends invited me.
FW: And you met in someone's room?
LR: In someone's apartment.


FW: And what did you do there? Listened to records, discussed?
LR: I think we ate, and we talked, and we danced--it was an
occasion, I think it was a Soviet holiday.


FW: Did you smoke?


10


LR: No, I don't smoke at all. I never smoked.
FW: Did the other people smoke?
LR: Some of them smoked.


FW: And these young people were Jewish people?
LR: Yes, they
company.
were only Jewish. We didn't allow Russians in our
FW: Did
holidays?
you occasionally discuss about being Jewish, about
LR: I think mostly we did that.

FW: Did anybody at that time speak about Israel?

LR: I remember this talk about Israel from my very childhood.
think Jewish people in Russia used to speak about Israel and about
Jewish life in America. I remember that from the very, very
childhood.

FW: When you were still in school, in grade school, high school, in
college, did you have a good relationship with your teachers? Were
they nice to you, did you like them? How did you feel in school?

LR: You know it's so funny, but when I completed eight years in
school, I decided to change schools because I was going to enter the
musical school, but I didn't enter that--1 didn't pass the exam--and I
was very upset, and suddenly I received a letter from a different
school, and they invited [me] to come and study in this school.

FW: So you needed two more grades to finish the ten?

LR: Yes. I was going to enter a different school, like a college, but I
didn't pass the exam, and it was really hard, and I don't why I didn't
because I think I was prepared.

11



FW: Were you scared?

LR: I thought at the time that I did all right, but I got a very bad
mark, so I didn't enter. And I started to go to the school that invited
me, and I met very nice teachers and they were Jewish. I think our
director [principal] was Jewish, and our math teacher was Jewish,
and our literature teacher was Jewish. So we had a very good
relationship.

FW: And you finished the last two years in that school?

, LR: Yes, that school, and I got a music diploma, so I could start to
work as a music teacher in the preschool and kindergarten.

FW: And this is what you did day time and evening you went to that
college?

LR: Yes.

FW: And how were the teachers in the college? Was your
relationship all right in the college with the teachers?

LR: Pretty good. You know, I didn't connect too much with them. It
wasn't day school, it was just evening school.

FW: When you met your husband, where did you go? Did you go for a
walk, did he come to your house?

LR: We loved to walk, and if we started to walk by my house, we
could walk till the center of Moscow. It was a pretty long walk, but
we enjoyed that.

FW: Did you use to invite him to your apartment?

LR: Yes.

FW: How long did you know him and--there is an American
expression--how long did you "go steady" with him, meaning only
with him? How long did you date before you were married?

12



LR: For two years.
FW: Oh, that's a long time. How old was he when he was married?
LR: He was twenty-two.
FW: And so he was not finished with his studies yet?
LR: No, I think I finished before him.

FW: And what did he become eventually?
LR: He became an electrical engineer too.
FW: And he started to work?
LR: Yes, he started to work too.
FW: When you were married, was it again a civil ceremony? Your


parents were there? And his parents?
LR: Yes.
FW: Grandparents?
LR: Yes.
FW: Whose grandparents? Yours, his?
LR: He doesn't have grandparents. My grandparents from my mother's


side.
FW: They came from the Ukraine?
LR: No, they lived in Moscow.
FW: And after the ceremony, you went to your house or you had a


party?


13



LR: We went to a very beautiful restaurant. The name of this
restaurant was Peking, like the capital of China.


FW: You had to make reservations?
LR: Yes, we made it. I think when you prepare for the wedding, it
does not depend on the country. You always try to be prepared, and
you spend a lot of money. It was very expensive.


FW: How many people were there?
LR: About sixty-five. .
FW: Did you have a white dress?
LR: It wasn't in fashion then. I had a pink dress and flowers in my


hair.
FW: Was everything easy to get--the dress, the reservations--or
was everything complicated?


LR: It was pretty hard, and sometimes we had to go and to raise our
voices.

FW: Were you satisfied with the restaurant, the service, the food?

LR: Yes. It is a really good restaurant. Actually, it wasn't a
restaurant, because this is a very high building, like a sky-scraper.
It was a little cafe on the top of this restaurant. We rented the
cafe.

FW: Did you get presents or Russian-style, only flowers? What did
you get?

LR: Well, we got flowers, there was an ocean of flowers, and plus
we got presents, and I think now people get more practical, so they
started to give money, so mostly it was envelopes with money.

FW: So you could use it for whatever?

14



LR: Sure, we went to the Black Sea, right away.


FW: Oh you went on vacation. When you returned, where did you
live?
LR: In my parents' apartment.
FW: Now I will ask some personal questions, which you can answer


if you wish. Did you know about birth control when you got married?


LR: Yes.


FW: Was it possible for you to have a diaphragm or pills?


LR: Condoms.


FW: Were they easy to get?


LR: No. I mean imported, not Russian.


FW: Where were they from, where were they made?


LR: I don't remember. They were foreign made and ...


FW: Expensive?


LR: It was so funny. I found out that a pack of these condoms was


under my pillow. My mom put it there.
FW: Tell me, how did you find out about sex? Did your mother tell


you about how the body functions and then about sexual intercourse?
Who informed you?
LR: I wasn't very informed about that, to tell you the truth.
FW: But you had to have some knowledge?
LR: I think when I started to have my periods, my mom told me about


that, but not before. I was very scared when I saw it. You know, In


Russia, it's not common to tell about that.

15


FW: So who told you how babies are made? Your friends?


LR: This kind of knowledge you get, I think, from your friends, not
from mother.
FW: When you got married, you were pretty naive about sex?
LR: Yes.
FW: When did you get pregnant? How long were you married when


your first pregnancy occurred? Did you have abortions?


LR: No, I never had an abortion.


FW: That's unusual, isn't it?


LR: I got pregnant, I think, in November of '78 ...


FW: And you were married when?


LR: I was married in July '77.


FW: So you waited?


LR: Yes, we waited.


FW: And Dennis was your first-born?


LR: Yes.


FW: After whom did you name him? Or did you just choose a name
that you liked?
LR: We chose two ways like this. First, my grandmother's name

started with a D--her name was Dora--so I decided to name Dennis
after her, and plus the name Dennis was in fashion, and we were very
young, so we tried t do everything fashionable.

FW: How old were you when he was born?

16


LR: I was twenty.
FW: And your husband?
LR: He was twenty-four.
FW: When the baby was born, did you know of the Jewish custom of


circumcision for a boy?
LR: I heard about it.
FW: You didn't do that?
LR: No.
FW: Did you do it in this country?
LR: No, not yet, but I think we should do it.
FW: And for the little boy?
LR: Yes.
FW: When did you have your two little children?
LR: Valentin was born in 1986 and lnna was born in 1987.
FW: So you had a long period of ...
LR: Between two boys and very short between the boy and the girl.
FW: Did you want another child or was it an accident when you had


Valentin? Valentin is the older of the two little ones or is the girl?


LR: He is the middle boy. You know what, I didn't get pregnant for
the seven years, and finally when I got pregnant...
FW: You mean you were not careful? You wanted to have a child but

it didn't not happen or did you prevent?

17


LR: We tried to prevent, but when it happened, we decided to have
two children, this is not so [bad].

FW: And when your little girl was born a year later?

LR: Oh, it was a great accident. I was nursing him, and maybe my
knowledge about pregnancy wasn't too clear.

FW: You thought while you are nursing ...

LR: I couldn't get pregnant.

FW: It's an old woman's tale.

LR: Now I know that this is wrong. So, I got pregnant when
Valentine was about five or six months if I am right, and I didn't
know about that, and I went to the doctor and I asked her, "What
happened to me? Maybe I have some dysfunction? Why don't I have
my period?" And when she examined me, she told me, "Oh, you are
pregnant." And I was really frustrated.

FW: But once the baby was born ...

LR: You know, it was too late to make abortion, and to make abortion
it's something horrible for me. So, I decided to deliver, and now I am
very happy that I have my lnna.

FW: I don't blame you--they are lovely children. Your life with your
husband was happy in the Soviet Union?

LR: I think so. [End Tape 1 Side 1]

[Tape 1 Side 2]

FW: Luba, did you meet your husband--his name is Gregory, right?
Did you meet Gregory through that social Jewish group?

18



LR: Yes.

FW: Somebody introduced you to him or he just came, he was also
invited?

LR: He was also invited, and I think we split in several groups in
this apartment as it happens usually--different interests--well, I
noticed him right away.
FW: Why?
LR: I don't know--1 liked him.

FW: Was he interested in the same things you were? What did your
group discuss? Did you break up into groups because you liked the
people or because the subject interested you more than the general
discussion? Why did you split into small groups?

LR: It happened because I knew before some of them and maybe we
made our own little group, but then we made the whole big group--it
wasn't constant.

FW: It kept changing. And what did you talk about?
LR: We might talk about different things, about our student life,


about our Soviet life, about being a Jew, and anecdotes, and
everything. I think I would say it was young Jewish society.
FW: Did anybody ever try to prepare a topic, a special subject to

discuss, like a group leader, or read a book?
LR: No, not at that time. It happened later.
FW: When?
LR: I think it happened in 1980's.
FW: You were by then married and a mother?
LR: Yes.


19


FW: Did you go with your husband to these groups?

LR: Yes, because some of the people from this group became our
friends, close friends, and they were really involved in Jewish life.

FW: Did they come to you with some prepared subjects or did you
participate all discussing? What things in this more mature group
did you discuss?

LR: I think they started to celebrate Jewish holidays and started to
learn Hebrew.

FW: Did they explain what those Jewish holidays were about?

LR: Yes, they tried to explain, but you know, I think they didn't have
a lot of knowledge and sometimes it was really hard for us to
understand.

FW: Why you are celebrating and what you are celebrating?

LR: Because they tried to use Hebrew and it was pretty dull for us
because we didn't understand, but we valued them as very good
friends. I think they were more serious than we.

FW: And what happened to these more serious friends?

LR: They all went to Israel right away. I think they were Zionists,
and now--our friend was Alia Shtern, and her brother is a doctor in
Israel and he works on the radio, I think he is a great Zionist.

FW: Tell me, all this time you were both working. And who took
care of Dennis?
LR: Dennis started to go to child care when he was one year old.
FW: Were you satisfied with the child care?
LR: Yes.


20



FW: Who brought him to the day care center, you or your husband?

LR: It was a really hard time for us because we were going to get a
new flat so we had to start a new child care in our new suburb. We
took to take metro, and it took us about one hour, and he was so
small, and he hated subway, and I remember this like a nightmare.

FW: You had to get up at what time?
LR: I think at 6:30.
FW: And when did day care begin?
LR: At 7:00.
FW: And then you picked him up?
LR: I could pick him up at six in the evening. This is a full-time


[daycare].


FW: Who did it--you and your husband, you--who was bringing him
and picking him up?
LR: I think me because I started to work close to the child care and


it was convenient for me to pick him up.


FW: So you did get your new flat? What was your flat like when he
was born? One room?
LR: When we got a new flat, it was a two-room flat
FW: And before that?
LR: Before that it was my parents' apartment.
FW: So you lived with your parents after your marriage, and Dennis


was born there. And when he was a little older, like about a year,
you moved into your own flat?
LR: Yes.


21


FW: Closer to the center of the city?
LR: No, in the suburbs.
FW: You had to take a bus or metro?
LR: Metro.
FW: From where you lived to the day care?
LR: No, I had to take metro from my parents' place because we still


lived there, but we were going to move.


FW: And once you moved, how did you go there?


LR: We just walked, it was pretty close.


FW: And then, from there you went to work?


LR: Yes.


FW: Were you working in a school?


LR: Yes, in a preschool.


FW: And what time did the preschool start?


LR: My work started at about 8:30.


FW: So you had time to drop your child off and walk to ...


LR: And take a bus.


FW: And when did your work finish, what time in the afternoon?


LR: I worked 24 hours per week, so it was about one o'clock.


FW: Did you go home or did you go to the stores to see if you can buy


something?

22


LR: Since I finished my work earlier than I had to take Dennis from
the child care, I started to observe shops to find something to eat.
FW: With Dennis?
LR: No, without him.
FW: Why couldn't you leave him till six?


LR: I could--1 left him.
FW: And you stood in line to buy things or was it pretty easy to go
and buy?


LR: It depended on the things that I needed to buy. If I needed to buy
bread or milk, it wasn't any problem at that time, but I needed to buy
meat or something from clothes, I had to stand in line.

FW: How many hours a. week would you say you spent standing in
line?
LR: I could spend about 14 hours, if you count seven days a week.
FW: Did your husband ever stand in line for things?
LR: Sometimes.
FW: When you got home, you had to prepare dinner?
LR: Yes.
FW: You had an electric or gas stove?
LR: We had an electrical [stove].
FW: How many burners?
LR: I think three and plus an oven.


23



FW: You had a little refrigerator?
LR: We had a pretty nice refrigerator.
FW: And when you were cooking, would your husband help you wash


the dishes or wipe the dishes or do anything at home to help? .


LR: Since we were studying all the time and when we completed our


schools, we didn't stop--1 started to take English courses and he


started to take his electronics courses, so it depended on who was
at home. Sometimes he did, sometimes I did it.
FW: Was this ever a problem? Did he get angry that he has to do

something?
LR: Sure.
FW: He did? But he did it anyway?
LR: As all the men, I think. He is the kind of husband who likes to


live in a cozy atmosphere, but it doesn't happen always.
FW: You mean he likes to have things prepared and nice?
LR: Yes, but it doesn't mean that it always happens.
FW: Did he ever help with the children--to dress them or to take


them for a walk?


LR: He is a wonderful husband. He plays and he takes care of kids-he
is terrific.
FW: Were you satisfied with your job in Russia?
LR: My job was not paid well. ..


FW: It was only 24 hours a week you said...
LR: But I couldn't take another 24 hours. It was not allowed. I could
take only half of this.


24



FW: Why?
LR: Because they had special regulations for this kind of job. So if I


would take two pre-schools and work 24 hours in this one and in
that one, I would be paid for only one and a half, not two.
FW: So you decided to take one?
LR: And it was pretty hard for me with kids to work so many hours.
FW: Your husband was full-time on one job?
LR: Yes.
FW: What did he make per month?
LR: I think he started, when he graduated, he started from 140


rubles a month.
FW: And by the time you left?
LR: It was about 280 or 240, I don't remember.
FW: And you, how much did you make?
LR: I didn't work then. When Valentin was born, and then lnna, I


stopped to work.
FW: So you had one salary?
LR: Yes.
FW: As far as I know, 280 rubles a month is a medium, it's not a lot


and it's not very little, right?


LR: Actually, it's very little, but my parents always helped us with


money.


FW: Without that, it would have been ...


25


LR: It would be very hard for us.
FW: You did not own a car, did you?
LR: No, we didn't own a car or a house in the country--anything.
FW: Was the apartment your own or did you pay rent?
LR: We paid rent.
FW: It was not a condominium?
LR: No, it was not a condominium but you know we could keep this


apartment till the end of our lives.
FW: Did your mother come to help you with the children?
LR: Very often.
FW: She worked, didn't she?
LR: She retired when lnna was born.
FW: And so she could come and help you?
LR: Yes.
FW: And did your father help too or it was not necessary?
LR: It was not necessary, but he helped me in America a lot when my


mother broke her leg, so he took care of the children.
FW: Did you spend holidays together with your parents?
LR: Sure.
FW: Did you tell your children they are Jewish, especially th_e older


boy, the little ones were too young?


26



LR: The little ones were too young, but Dennis always knew he was
Jewish.

FW: How?

LR: From his friends, I think, because he wasn't like them, and
maybe some of the parents told their kids he was Jewish. We lived
in a very big community. It was a big 16-story house, and there
were not only Jewish people--1 think we were only two or three
Jewish families in this building--all the others were Russian or
different [nationalities].

FW: What was your relationship with the other tenants in the
building? Were you friendly or just polite, or were some of them
more friendly that you could stop and talk to them or visit?

LR: When we got this flat, it was just a brand new building and
there were many families with little kids who got flats in this
building. So we got acquainted through our kids, and some of them
were--not our friends--but we were on good terms.

, FW: There were no problems with neighbors?

LR: Sometimes we felt that some of them are not friendly.

FW: How did you feel it?
LR: I don't know, I just felt it.
FW: In their eyes, what they said? How did you sense that?
LR: Usually, they said hello, but sometimes you just feel that they

don't like you. Sometimes they say something, not about ·your
Jewishness, but you felt that, that they don't like you as a Jew.

FW: And what about your son? He felt that too occasionally or was
he happy playing with the children? I am sure he went outside a lot
to play.

27



LR: A lot, yes, but I remember that he had some boys that didn't like
him and I am sure because of his Jewishness.

FW: But there were other kids that did like him?

LR:
us.
Yes. I can't say that everybody liked us or
Some of them, it depends on the character.
everybody didn't like
FW: Did he invite some boys to his house?
LR: Sometimes.

FW: And he was invited to share with them?

LR: Yes. And I was on very good terms with my neighbor, she was

Russian, but she was almost my friend for two years.

FW: How long did you live in this apartment?

LR: For about ten or eleven years.

FW: Did you belong to the party?

LR: No.

FW: And what about your husband?

LR: No.

FW: And your mother and father?

LR: No.

FW: Were you ever asked to join?

LR: No.

FW: And Gregory?

28



LR: No, no. Sometimes people joined the party when they were going
to get a prestigious job. Without being a member, you can't get the
job. I think not all the Russian people tried to get party just like
that because they were communist.

FW: But as a child, you had to be a member of the pioneers and
Komsomol, right? This was a must? You could not say no, could
you?

LR: I tried to avoid Komsomol but I couldn't, I had to do it. But you
know, Komsomol and pioneer [organization] it didn't mean anything,
it was just a name, but they didn't do anything.

FW: No ideological classes, no indoctrination in Marxism and
Leninism?

LR:
didn't
Well, I think it sounds
see any do it.
so funny, no. They talked a lot, but we
FW:
mean
Did you do sports, did you
besides wearing the red
have fun?
kerchief?
What did this membership

LR: It was pioneers. In Komsomol you need to wear just this
[unclear].

FW: What did it mean? Did you go on excursions, did you talk? If
there is an organization, usually the organization has some purpose
and some activity. Were there some sports activities or fun
activities?

LR: They had a special game. It was a kind of a military game. It
was partly a sports game and partly a military game. And so kids
could be prepared for th~ future serving in the army.

FW: Did you make some friends in those groups?

LR: I think everybody was in pioneers and Komsomol, so we didn't
make any choices. Nobody will ask, "Are you a pioneer? Are you a
Komsomol [member]?" It was clear that everybody [was].

29



FW: This was while you were still in school. So the kids were the
kids you went to school with in the pioneers and Komsomol, right?
When you finished school, did you continue some of the school
friendships or did you make new friends?

LR: I continued to be friends with two Jewish girls.
FW: From school?
LR: From my school.
FW: Plus also the friends in the little groups that you met socially,


right? Who were your closest friends once you were married?
LR: Those two girls from my school.
FW: From your high school?
LR: From my high school.
FW: Were they married also by then?
LR: No.
FW: Did you sometimes do some things without your husband? Did


you ever go for a walk with them or just invite them alone for tea to


talk just woman to woman?
LR: It happened when Dennis was not born yet, but then I was so
busy with my family, I think I didn't have any time to go out without
my family, and those girls were more free and they dated a lot.


FW: They would call you sometimes and talk on the telephone?


LR: No, I think we started to be separated more and more because
they were single and I was married.
FW: What about other married couples? Did you have among people


who were young and married with children very close friends? One?


30



Two? So when you had a holiday, besides family, who were the
people that you would invited or that you could talk to?
LR: I think mostly Jewish people.
FW: How many couples?
LR: We earned [?] from real friends only one family.


FW: That you could say close friends?
LR: Now they live in Israel. They just moved there and I really miss
them here, in America.


FW: Were they about your age?
LR: Yes.
FW: And they had children?
LR: They had one boy.
FW: And they left the Soviet Union when you left?
LR In April. No, later, this April.
FW: Who in your family started to talk about leaving the Soviet


Union? Was it your parents or was it you, your husband? What made
you decide? Because your parents came before you, a little bit?
LR: But it just happened.


FW: How?
LR: I will start from the very beginning. When I was a little girl,
about eight, maybe seven, I remember they always talked about
Israel, about emigration, about everything, because some of the
people at that time already emigrated.


FW: It was approximately what year? 1970's?


31


LR: Yes, maybe just beginning of 1970's. They received letters from
them, and I think this theme was always on their tongues, about
leaving.

FW: Would you tell me some of the reasons that you discussed why
you wanted to leave, why you even thought you would leave the
country where you were born and your parents and grandparents?

LR: They talked a lot about that, but they never did that. It was like
their favorite theme of talking in our family, but nobody would ever
leave. Then, when I grew up and I married and we started to meet
with other Jewish people, so I started to understand something, and
I think it was me and my husband who decided to leave the country.

FW: But why? Tell us some of the reasons? When a person decides,
sometimes they are not completely sure, but you have to have
something in your mind when you decide?

LR: It was a very complicated decision because I remember I was
ashamed to be Jewish from my early childhood and with every year
it started to be harder and harder to live in Russia. You know, you
can't get anything and you are afraid of everything. Sometimes in
papers they write about pogroms. It just happened, I don't know how.
I think it was a big background. It was like a basis for this growing
wish to leave the country.

FW: Were you thinking of your children and their future?

LR: Yes.

FW: Are you happy that you left?

LR: Oh, yes, sure. I am happy, and, well, I miss my friends.
FW: What about the culture, the language?
LR: We miss the culture too; we miss culture and language. We miss

some parts of Russian life, but I think that the more I live here, the
more I like it here.

32


FW: Your parents decided to leave when you decided to leave?

LR: I forgot to tell you about something. Gregory wanted to go right
to Israel, only to Israel. He wouldn't go to America, never, because
he was afraid of crime in America and I think he is a Zionist
somewhere inside him, but when we started to think about to move
to Israel, . my mom told me she would never go to Israel because
there is a war and it's so dangerous. So she started to give me hard
time. For her sake, we decided to move to Canada. But during our
emigration it happened that we came to America.

FW: Who invited you, who sent you the invitation?

LR: You could go to the Israeli embassy and ask for this invitation,
plus our friends who studied Hebrew were very close to the Israeli
ambassador, but we were waiting for our invitation for seven
months, it was a really long time.

FW: And when you came to Vienna, you knew that you were going to
go to Rome and then to the United States, right? Did you have
somebody here, some friends, anybody?

LR: No.

SR: Why did you come to St. Paul?

LR: This family, Volovik, they granted us permission or something
like that.

FW: That's what I was asking. They requested that you come here?
They were your guarantors?

LR: Yes.

FW: They were friends of the family from Moscow?

LR: From Moscow. Dmitri and Lina Volovik, the children of Anna.
remember Lina from our childhood, she was my friend.

33



FW: Did you know that her family came here?
LR: Yes, I knew.
FW: So you came to New York, and from New York you flew by plane


to St. Paul?
LR: Yes.
FW: Who came to greet you at the airport?
LR: It was Dmitri Volovik and Vitaly Grishpun [spelling?], Alia's


husband, and Anya and Vova Volovik I think too.


FW: The parents of Dmitri? You were taken to your apartment in
Sibley Manor?
LR: Yes.
FW: Did you find the apartment prepared for you?
LR: Yes, it was absolutely prepared. It was really clean. Everything


my parents did just perfectly. But it was so dark, we came very late


at night, so I realized that I am in America only in the morning.
FW: You had a bed, you had linens on the bed, you had food in the
refrigerator?

LR: Sure.
FW: And the next morning, when you woke up?
LR: When I woke up, I became very nervous. It was a very hard flight


because kids were crying through the flight without any
interruptions. I was badly tired.
FW: When did you go to the Jewish Family Service?
LR: I think the next morning or the morning after.


34



FW: How did you find the people there?
LR: Friendly.
FW: Were they helpful to you?
LR: Yes.
FW: Do you go to the synagogue sometimes?
LR: Yes.
FW: Which one?
LR: Temple of Aaron. And since I work in the Mount Zion, of course, I


went there too.
FW: Do you enjoy it?
LR: Yes.
FW: Your parents come also?
LR: Yes.
FW: What about your children? Where are your children?
LR: Dennis goes to the day school, to the Talmud Torah day school,


and my [little] kids went to the JCC nursery school, and next year


they are going to come to Talmud Torah day school, both of them,


since I work there.


FW: Since you work there, are you permitted to send the children at
a discount? [End Tape 1 Side 2]

[Tape 2 Side 1]

35



FW: We are going to the second part of our little talk. I don't
remember what we finished on. Can you tell us something about your
grandparents? What were they like? Did they observe anything that
was Jewish? What did you see in their home? Were they alive when
you were a little girl?

LR: Yes, my grandparents from my mother's side were alive, and I
remember them very well. I liked to stay at their home.

FW: In what city was this?

LR: In Moscow. My parents used to bring me on weekends, and I
stayed with my grandparents for Saturday and Sunday. I remember
their style of life, everything. Mostly they spoke Yiddish between
themselves, and when I was a little girl, about five or six, I
understood completely, but now I don't remember anything. They
never told me about Jewish holidays on purpose, but I remember that
they celebrated Passover ...

FW: What did you eat?

LR: They ate matza, and my grandfather went to the synagogue in
Moscow and bought matza. I remember it was a package about three
kilograms, and I liked it very much. My grandmother cooked very
well, and she used to cook Jewish food. I remember gefilte fish--it
was my favorite--everything was cooked very Jewish. Maybe I don't
remember names, but I know for sure that it was Jewish.

FW: Were you aware what is Sabbath?

LR: No, we never celebrated it, never lit the candles, nothing.

FW: Did they tell you why they celebrated Passover, what is the
meaning of the holiday?

LR: No, never. They just bought matza and they prepared some food,
and I supposed there was some holiday, and I knew that it was
Jewish, but they never told me the meaning. And there is one more
thing. They lived very hard, they were mostly poor people, and I

36



think that sometimes they couldn't even afford special candles.

don't know. I remember that they had very little money.

FW: Did you ever ask for stories from grandma or grandpa? Legends
or stories? Did they ever tell you?

LR: I don't remember now, but she used to tell me stories, and I
remember she was so kind.

FW: She told them in Yiddish?

LR: Yes, she spoke Russian very bad.

FW: Do you remember anything at all?

LR: No. I don't think she told me something very Jewish. Maybe she
told me something from her life.

SR: Do you remember any of those?

LR: No. Oh, my grandfather once told me about one pogrom that he
was part of in the Ukraine, and he told me that it was horrible and he
just didn't understand how he could stay alive after that. I
remember that.

FW: Were you afraid?

LR: Yes, I was afraid, and it was a hard time for me too because I
started to understand what it is to be Jewish.

FW: What about the other grandparents?

LR: I remember them not very clearly because they died earlier, but
I remember that my grandmother from father's side was a singer,
she was a very talented singer, and my grandfather was a shoemaker.
I saw them, but I don't remember them very well. And my
father tells me very often, even now, how brave and strong his
father was, because he was captured during World War II by the
Nazis and then he could [was able to] escape and he was hiding in
mud [swamps] to save his life.

37


FW: Did they live in Moscow, your paternal grandparents?
LR: Yes.
FW: When did your maternal grandparents die? How old were you?


Do you remember?


LR: Yes, I remember. My grandmother died when I was fourteen
years old, and my grandfather died maybe in 1986.
FW: Did you go to the funeral?
LR: To tell you the truth, no, because I had to stay with the kids.
SR: Did they have anything to do with the Jewish funeral? Did they


say shiva, anything observed?
LR: There was one thing. My grandmother was buried, and my


grandmother and my grandfather on the father's side, they were
buried on a Jewish cemetery.
FW: There is a separate one in Moscow, Jewish cemetery?
LR: Yes, but it is situated side by side with the Russian cemetery,


but everybody knew that it was Jewish and we had a special Jewish
monument.
SR: Did it have any symbols?
LR: Yes, yes. The Star of David.
FW: And the letters were in Russian, the name?
LR: They had two similar signs, in Hebrew and in Russian.


SR: D)d you ever visit the cemetery?
LR: Very often. I usually went to the cemetery with my mother, and
we cleaned the place and we planted flowers, and when we just

38



buried my grandmother, there was a little tiny piece of tree, and
now it grows and grows and now it's a huge tree. We name [call] it
beryoza [birch tree].

FW: When we talked before, you mentioned that you had friends who
were Jewish and you sort of gravitated towards one another. Do you
remember when you became interested in being more Jewish? When
did this awareness become more real to you?

LR: For me, to be Jewish was always, Jewish ness for me was
always mostly nationality.

FW: But I mean the other feeling?
LR: I felt that I was Jewish but it didn't connect with any religion.
FW:
in?
When did it become more connected, either religion
When did you begin to wake up more than it's more
or interest
than in a

passport?


LR: I would say that I was awake all the time. Nobody affected me,
it was always with me.
SR: You just didn't express it?
LR: Well, it was in the same level.
FW: When did you begin to express it in some way? Meetings or


trying to celebrate a holiday, whatever it was that you did that was
different?
LR: When we started to meet with our friends in this group ...
FW: When did it start?


LR: When I was seventeen years old.
SR: But also you were attracted to other Jewish peopl,e. What was
that attraction? Can you explain it?


39



LR: My parents had a lot of Jewish friends, so I was growing up with
this. I can't tell when I was interested more or less in Jewish
people--it was always with me.

SR: It was part of your social circle?

LR: Yes. Mostly all these people, maybe some of them were more
educated in Jewish ways, maybe some of them were less educated,
but we never talked about some religion, but we did talk about our
Jewishness. It was a little bit different than [what] you Americans
feel. If you are Jewish but without religion. I can't explain that, but
we were attracted to each other.

FW: Tell me, what were some of the things that you talked about in
this group?

LR: It wasn't strictly a group for celebrating Jewish holidays. It
was just a group of young friends, we were all students, and we had
always something to discuss and laugh at, and we discussed our
Jewish problems too, about anti-Semitism, about leaving the
country, about everything. If you only could be at those times and
have your own experience, you would feel that we had a lot of stuff
to do and to speak about.

SR: How did people experience anti-Semitism? Do you remember
what they said?

LR: I remember when I was studying in my institute, once I had to
take a bus and when I got in and I was standing at the back of the
bus, somebody from the front--1 don't even know wh he was, it was a
stranger--waved me with his hand and yelled, "Hey, Jew, come
here!" I wasn't sure that he even knew me, but maybe he recognized
my face.

SR: How would he know you were Jewish?

LR: I don't know, I don't have any idea. It was just like that. And a
lot of stories like that. When I was going to my music school, I was
a little girl, about eight, maybe nine, I remember we had a break
during our lessons and it was spring time, it was pretty warm, and

40



we all went outside and we played and we had games, and suddenly a
drunk man came up to us and he commanded, "Tell me, who is Jew
here! I want to capture these Jews!" Something like this. I
remember I was so frightened, and I was hiding behind the tall girls
so he couldn't notice me. I was so frightened. If I can remember, I
can tell about a dozen of these stories.

FW: You said in the group you talked about leaving. Did you talk
about Israel?

LR: Yes. I think mostly our theme was Israel.

FW: In the group of friends?

LR: Yes.

FW: What did you talk about in connection with Israel?

LR: We talked about how people lived in Israel, who just left Russia,
because some of the people wrote letters and ·shared their
experiences. We talked about that and we talked about how to leave
Russia and to come to Israel, and we talked about our thoughts of
Israel and we discussed climate in Israel and people in Israel, and
some of them brought books with pictures, and we could see what
were the people of Israel.

SR: Where did they get those books? Do you have any idea?

LR: Some of them started to learn Hebrew and they had some
connection, I think, with the embassy of Israel. Actually, we didn't
have an embassy...

FW: The Dutch embassy ...

LR: Yes, it was situated in the Dutch embassy, but I knew that it
was pretty easy to connect with that embassy door there because
they always welcomed such people who were interested in Israel.

FW: When you began to start dating boys, did you deliberately look
for Jewish boys or not?

41


LR: I remember that I liked one boy in my music school--1 finished
it when I was about fourteen--and I just dreamed about that, that he
could be Jewish, but he wasn't.

FW: So you cared?

LR: Yes, I cared about that.

FW: And when you started to date your future husband, were your
parents happy, did they ever tell you, we would like you to date and
marry a Jewish man or they never said that?

LR: I think it was pretty strict in our family that I should date and
marry only Jewish people.

SR: Was that outwardly stated?

LR: Yes. They couldn't imagine that I could marry not Jewish or
Russian or something different, because we had some cases, we had
relatives who married opposite nationality and they had a lot of
troubles. By the way, my aunt, my father's sister, she got married
with a Russian man and she is so unhappy.

FW: When you had your children, did you choose just any names that
you wanted or were they named after dead relatives?

LR: Dennis was named after my grandmother who spoke Yiddish
because she was Dora.

FW: And she was no longer alive. And what about the little ones?

LR: Valentin was named just like, because we really liked the name,
and we were very puzzled what name we should give, and finally we
did. With my little girl it was a little bit magic story. When I was
pregnant, about 36-38 weeks already, I had a dream that I had a big
book and I opened it and I saw all my children's names in this book.
It was a really neat dream, and the words were made out of gold--1
remember these golden letters--they were written: a boy, Dennis, a
boy, Valentin, a girl (but I didn't know that it was going to be a girl),

42



lnna. I never liked the name lnna, but then I told the story to my
friends, to my mom, and they all told me, "You should give her the
name lnna."

FW: When you named your child, your oldest, after the grandmother,
did you know of the Jewish custom?

LR: Yes, I knew that.

FW: Who told you?

LR: My mother.

FW: When did you start observing something Jewish? When you
came here or before and how do you observe being Jewish in this
country if at all? Did you start some celebrations before you left?

LR: We started with our group. When we started to have our young
group, and then maybe a couple years passed and we all became
married people with our own busy days, so we didn't meet very often
then, but once we decided to have a vacation and go to Odessa. We
went to Odessa, and we had only Dennis at that time. It happened, I
think, in 1983 or 1984, and we met our friends there--it happened-and
they changed a lot, and we noticed that they talked about Israel
and about Hebrew and about Jewishness a lot. They amazed us
because they were not like that at our old times. We started to have
fun together and to spend time together, because it was still
vacation, and we noticed that even during vacation they learned
Hebrew--they were very serious people--and once they invited us to
celebrate one Jewish holiday. It was a very sad holiday, I think, and
we should fast.

SR: Was it Yom Kippur?

LR: It was about August or July. It was a little holiday but very sad.
It wasn't Yom Kippur, it was too early. And you know what, we
fasted for the whole day, and they were so strong. kept
complaining that I want to eat and drink and everything, but they
were really strong people.

43



FW: Did they tell you why you were fasting?

LR: Yes, they explained that it was a fast and it was connected with
the history, maybe it was connected with the ruin of the Temple.
FW: And once you came here, do you do anything? Do you go to the

synagogue?
LR: I go to the synagogue but not very often. I know that I should go


more often. Sometimes it's not easy to leave everything and go to
the synagogue. But I enjoy working in a Jewish school.
FW: And what about holidays? Do you do anything at home for ...

[Tape stops]
FW: We were talking about how you observe Jewishness here and you


said that you go to the synagogue when you can. What else, besides
working for the Talmud Torah? Do you have matza for Passover?
LR: Yes, we try to have matza for Passover.
FW: Did you come to the Jewish Community Center for the seder


with the children?
LR: Yes, we came and I enjoyed that.
FW: Did you do anything at home or maybe you invited your


volunteers?


LR: I think that some of my American friends invited us and they
showed us what we should do.
FW: And did they tell you about the holiday?
LR: Yes, now we know.
FW: And Dennis, who is the oldest, he understood?


44



LR: Yes, he understands, and even little ones understand now. They
say bracha before meals. They don't understand the meaning, but
they say it.

FW: In Hebrew?

LR: Yes.

SR: Where did they learn?

LR: At the JCC.

FW: Do you hope that they will go to the Hebrew day school, Talmud


Torah?
LR: They are going to start Talmud Torah?
FW: When?
LR: In the fall.
FW: Both of them?
LR: Both of them.
FW: What about Dennis?
LR: Dennis is going to continue his studies in Talmud Torah in sixth


grade. It's hard for him to learn Hebrew, but he is trying.
FW: How old is he now?
LR: He is going to be twelve in August.
FW: Does he hope to have a Bar Mitzva?
LR: We didn't talk about that yet, but I suppose he will ask me


because some of his friends are preparing now, and I suppose he will


ask me.

45



SR: How do you feel about it?
LR: Yes, I would love to do that.
FW: They'll help you, you know that? He will get a fine teacher who


will help him, and we will help you to plan something. If you need


our help, Shelly and I will help you plan.
LR: Probably closer to the fall, I will ask him. If he won't ask me,
I'll ask him.


FW: Because he needs to begin--it takes about a year of preparation.
If he doesn't want to ...
LR: Well, let's see. I would love him to do that.


FW: Was the boy circumcised?
LR: No, you asked me already last time. Not yet. You know, it's
really hard.


FW: Yes, of course.
LR: Not to do anything in Russia and do it at once here.
FW: It is also especially hard for the older boy.
SR: All right, we could go on forever, but we'll stop here, and if you


don't mind, we may have some more questions.


FW: I just want to make sure, did we ask you last time how did you
find the welcome by the Jewish community?
LR: Yes, and I said that people were very, very friendly, and they

helped a lot, and you helped me a lot, and you helped me a lot.
SR: Which social services were good and which were confusing to
you? The ones that made no sense, how they worked, was it very
confusing, what Jewish organization did what? Or were they just
friendly faces?

46


LR: It was confusing at the beginning, but now I understood the


purpose of each organization.
SR: Did the book that the volunteers put together, Making
Connections, did you ever get one? Was it helpful? The one that's
written in English and in Russian?


LR: We've got one of these books in Italy.


SR: Oh you had that. So you had background when you came?


FW: This gives more with the local community as well.


LR: Yes, it was a book about entering a new life.


SR: Yes. But the one that was produced here, did you ever get it?
LR: No.


SR: I think it came out after you had come here. I don't know if it


would be useful now. It's for people for the six months to a year.
LR: No, we didn't get it.
SR: I can still give you a copy. It has all the different Jewish


organizations.


FW: I wanted to ask you a question. Would you ever be interested in
being married under a hupa by a rabbi? Would that be important to
you?

LR: It's hard to answer at once.
SR: It doesn't hurt you?
LR: No, but we thought about that, but I can't answer now.
SR: It's not a high priority probably? Is that true? She's got so


many things to juggle. Anything that the social services could have


47



done differently that would have been useful for you looking back so
that we know for people who are coming? Anything that you could
think of to tell us that we can improve our systems?

LR: No, I think everything was so good, done well except some little
things, maybe misunderstanding.

SR: Was there a lot of misunderstanding or some?

LR: I would say some. I wouldn't prefer to discuss it. [End Tape 2
Side 1]

48