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Interview with Nadia Smirnov

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OLD LIVES, NEW LIVES: SOVIET JEWISH WOMEN IN
MINNESOTA


Interview with Nadia Smirnov


Interviewed by Linda Sch I off
Interviewed on December 10 , 1991
at the Saint Paul home of Mrs. Smirnov

LS: Today is December 10, and I am about to interview Nadia
Smirnov for the project Old Lives, New Lives: Soviet Jewish Women
in Minnesota. My name is Linda Schloff. We usually start out with
some very simple minor questions about your parents, etc. That's
where I think we'll start out. Why don't you tell me your first name
and your last name and your maiden name.

NS: My name is Nadine, first name.

LS: So you have anglicized it now, it's an American name?

NS: Actually, it was Nadezhda. If you translate, it's "hope," in
English, but then I got here nobody can pronounce it, it's impossible,
so we changed this name, but actually it sounds the same. The short
name is Nadia. Smirnov is my husband's last name. My last name
was Ackerman.

LS: And you live at 869 St. Paul Avenue. And when were you born?

NS: August 13, 1954.

LS: Where?

NS: In Odessa.

LS: Did you grow up in Odessa?

NS: Yes.

1


LS: That's a very special city.
NS: Very special city.
LS Tell me a little bit about your parents. What was your mother's


name?
NS: Sofia Ackerman and Shimon Ackerman.
LS: Were they both born in Odessa?
NS: My mother was born in Odessa, and my father nearby--it's a


small city maybe near Odessa, Berezovka.


LS: You told me before the tape started that your grandfather had
tried farming?
NS: Yes. He was living in this country [small town] Berezovka, and

after a while he finished to work in the country and moved to the
city.

LS: Do you know when he moved?
NS: I think, after the time of collectivization in the Soviet Union; so
it's in the thirties.


LS: Did he try farming after the revolution?
NS: Yes, after the revolution.
LS: And then, when did your father move to Odessa?
NS: He was a boy, about twelve years old. He lived in a sister's


house, and actually all his life he spent in Odessa, except the time
when he was studying--he was studying in Leningrad.
LS: What did your father study in Leningrad?
NS: He was a mechanical engineer or something like that.


2


LS: Do you know when he was born?
NS: Yes, January 12, 1920.
LS: Is he still alive?
NS: Yes.
LS: And your mom, when was she born?
NS: 1924.
LS: And she is still alive?
NS: Yes.
LS: Great. Are they both here?
NS: Yes, they are both here. We came together.
LS: How big a family did your mother have? How many brothers and


sisters?
NS: She was the only child.
LS: And your father?
NS: He has a big family. I am not sure because two of his sisters


already passed away and a brother. He [they] had three or four
children in the family--1 am not quite sure.
LS: Did your mother have education beyond high school?


NS: Something like high school.


LS: You were born in 1954, so you didn't have to go through the war

years at all. My goodness, you are young. Was your mother evacuated

east during the war?

3



NS: Yes. She moved to Tashkent.
LS: Do you have brothers and sisters?
NS: Yes. I have a brother, Yevsey Ackerman, and he is also here.
LS: Is he younger or older?
NS: He is older. He was born in 1947. He has a wife and a son, Igor


Ackerman, and they live in West St. Paul.
LS: How long have they been here?
NS: It's about two years.
LS: It seems a distance.
NS: Yes, actually he tried to come to America twelve years ago, but


he didn't get permission and he had a lot of trouble after this. So we
came first, and he came after, about six months later probably.


LS: Did your father serve in World War II?
NS: Yes. He spent about seven years, because he was in the army
before 1941. He started to be in the Navy [?] like a regular soldier in
1939, and then he spent five years in the war, until 1945 I think.


LS: I interviewed a lot of people whose parents really believed in
the premise of communism and I interviewed some people whose
parents were really hurt, who suffered. And not only the parents,
but the children too suffered all their lives because they were
identified as members of the bourgeoisie. Where do your parents fit
into the spectrum?


NS: If I talk about my mother, she never trusted the system, never,
but my father in the beginning of his life, when he was young, of


course, he trusted. He is a very clear person, and he trusts
everything. When he got the newspaper and read it, he trusted
everything. But after a while be became to understand more and
more.

4



LS: When you say, after a while, what did he begin to understand?

NS: I think after Stalin died, after that time. Because my mother
told me, when Stalin died, everybody cried, and she cried also. If
they got together at that time, the first [unclear] that people usually
tried to say something, they said about Stalin, then about family. It
was a terrible time for the whole country, but in our family it was
not repressive.

LS: You mean nobody was sent to the Gulag?

NS: Nobody in our family, it was a lucky chance probably. After
Stalin died, my father came to understand life a little better.

LS: When you were growing up, were you living in an apartment?

NS: Of course.

LS: Was it one of those communal apartments?
NS:
aparYes,
tment:
when I was young--until fourteen--we lived in
my parents, my grandma, my brother and I.
a one-room
LS: Which grandma was this?
NS: It's my mom's. Her husband died in World War II. Actually we

didn't get any information about him. It was common in those times.
So she lived alone and she never tried to get married the second
time. So she lived in our family and she died in our house.

LS: What language did she speak to you?

NS: Usually, my parents use Russian, but if they tried to say
something that we shouldn't understand, they used Yiddish. They
know Yiddish--1 don't know Yiddish.

LS: And what about your grandmother? What did she speak?

5



NS: She spoke Russian quite well. She usually spoke Russian, but
she knew Yiddish, of course.

LS: Who were your parents' best friends? Was it confined to the
family, was it confined to Jewish people, was it general?

NS: No. It was Jewish people. First of all, we have a lot of
relatives in Odessa, we had, because now nobody is in the city--a lot
of people in Israel and a lot here. But the rest of the friends were
Jewish. They did not have any Russian friends. It doesn't mean we
didn't want to communicate, but it was difficult, it's so difficult to
find a good relationship between Russians, Ukrainian, and Jews.

LS: Was it difficult?

NS: Yes, it was difficult, except my husband.

LS: Why was it difficult?

NS: Actually, Jewish community in Russia, in Odessa, like here.

LS: Was your neighborhood Jewish, mainly Jewish, for instance?

NS: No, our neighbors were Jewish and Ukrainian and we didn't have
any trouble with them, but we never communicated so closely. You
see, because Jewish in the Soviet Union every time was kind of a
position, and if we discussed, we usually discus~ed everything
negatively, so nobody could understand us quite well.

LS: Except other Jews you mean? You mean, when you did your
complaining, nobody could understand what you were complaining
about?

NS: And the people were afraid sometimes to tell.

LS: So you didn't want to complain to Ukrainians that things were
not [unclear] because they wouldn't understand?

NS: Yes.

6



LS: What was not fair, for instance? What would you complain to
your Jewish friends about?

NS: You see, we have our Jewish problems. I think you know all our
problems.

LS: You have to say it for the tape?

NS: Oh, I see. The problem actually is anti-Semitism. It's a major
problem, and it's a problem, I am afraid, forever. So, the Ukrainians
never understood us, because we lived in the Ukraine, so they have no
[idea] what we're talking about. Actually, I never tried to find
friends, except Jewish, because the intellectual level was quite
different, and I grew up with these people and I didn't meet anybody
else.

LS: When you were going to school, were most of your friends
Jewish?

NS: About half of the class was Jewish, so I had a choice to find
Jewish friends. It doesn't mean again that I hate Russians, just no
interest.

LS: You think it's just a matter of a comfort level? You were more
comfortable?

NS: More comfortable, yes.

LS: How about your teachers? Were they fair or do you think there
were some problems?

NS: In school, I myself didn't have any problem. My classroom
teacher was Jewish and a lot of teachers were Jewish in our school.
But different kids had different problems. Maybe this teacher liked
me but she doesn't like my friends. I didn't have any problems in
school--! had a lot of problems later.

LS: How about in Komsomol? Was that something you enjoyed?

7



NS: No, this is like a custom. Everybody who wants to continue their
education should be in Komsomol. Everybody understands that the
whole idea of Komsomol is just a nothing--everybody, not only
Jewish, everybody understands. But we need this paper, like a
permission to leave. My husband, for example, never took this paper,
but he is special, but I wasn't so special and I was Jewish. He had an
opportunity to be more bright than me, than Jewish, for example. Do
you understand?

LS: No.

·. NS: What I am trying to say is, he is Russian, so he was not afraid ...

LS: ... he was not afraid of not going down the path that was open to
you, that was laid out for you. This is the way you had to do it. He
felt, because he is Russian, he didn't have to worry about not obeying
the rules. Is that what you mean?

NS: Yes. It wasn't easy for him also, but he is not the kind of person
[unclear]

LS: Did you celebrate any Jewish holidays?

NS: In my family, when my grandmother was alive and after she
passed away, maybe Passover, only Passover, I think, and I think
that's it.

LS: How did you celebrate Passover when she was alive?

NS: We usually made a nice dinner, fish, and special kind of Jewish
food. Sometimes she went to the synagogue. We had a synagogue in
Odessa.

LS: I was told that it was very far away. It was up in water, it was
a difficult place to get to, and it flooded.

NS: Yes, it was in a place, actually, where no Jews ever lived.
don't know who built this synagogue, but it was the only one in the
whole city, and on great Jewish holidays, there were a lot of people,

8



but most of them were old people, of course, because the young ones
were afraid..

LS: Do you think it was also true that they simply were not
interested?

NS: You know, I was not growing up like a Jewish [child], so I wasn't
interested. But we feel like we lost something every time ...

LS: Did you feel that you lost something when you were in Russia?
Did you feel the sense of loss [unclear] your culture? Is that what
you mean?

NS: Yes. You know why? Because if anybody says, "Don't do it," you
want to do it, right? I think a lot of people--maybe they never
thought about it before--but the system told us every time, "You
shouldn't do it," and we wanted to do it because the system said "You
shouldn't. .."

LS: You know I guess what surprises me is that, even though there is
this attitude, I haven't interviewed anybody who actually learned a
single prayer from the grandmother, so it sounds as though even
though the system said, "Don't do it," people actually didn't do it.

NS: Yes, a lot of, but not me, I'll tell you the truth.

LS: Did you have matza at Passover?

NS: Yes, we had an opportunity to buy it and we did it.

LS: Did your grandmother try to go to services on the High Holidays,
do you know?

NS: Yes, I think so.

LS: Did anyone else in the family go with her?

NS: My mom sometimes.

LS: What did your mom do? Did she work?

9


NS: She worked as a technician, but the last few years before we
went to America she was retired, like my father was.

LS: Did your father have any problems because he was Jewish, and
was he able to do what he wanted to do as far as the job was
concerned?

NS: I think so, but he was a perfect specialist. He had good
qualifications, and he had a good job actually, but it depends on the
people who worked with him. Sometimes he had, sometimes not,
because he spent about thirty years in the same place, and
everything was changing--it was a worse time, and it wasn't.

LS: I imagine so. Did your parents have any interest in Israel?

NS: In [their] heart. They didn't have any relatives, but they usually
read everything, and I remember how my mother cried when it was
the first war, in sixty ...

LS: There was a war in 1967. It was called the Six Day War.

NS: Yes, I mean this war, 1967 war. They were very concerned, and
if you could get a book about this country, we enjoyed Exodus, for
example, when we got it. It wasn't a normal book, it was like ...

LS: ... like a Samyzdat?

NS: Yes, Samyzdat.
LS: Did they ever listen to the Voice of Israel?
NS: Yes, usually Voice of Israel and all Voices.
LS: Voice of America?

NS: Yes.

LS: Tell me about your schooling. Did you go the university? Did you
go to a gymnasium, first of all?

1 0


NS: I finished high school, nine classes [years]. I didn't finish the
whole semester because I was studying in a music school also, and
after the music school I was trying to get my music education.

LS: Did you want to teach music?

NS: Yes. I did teach music. In Odessa we had a very good musical
college, and I was a good student, but my teacher said to me after I
finished my school, "Don't try, don't waste your time." You can find
another city in the country because you will never get in Odessa
Music ... it's like college.

LS: Why don't you tell us the name is in Russian because my
transcriber knows Russian.

NS: This is [college of music]. So I went to Ufa, which is in
Bashkiria.

LS: That sounds very far away.

NS: It's a new city, I think, it's in the Urals, and I passed all exams.
My parents had friends [there]; they had no connection with music,
but they just lived there, and first year I lived with this family. So
I was studying in Ufa in the college of music and then in the Arts
Institute.

LS: And what instrument did you play?

NS: Piano and history of music, and I found my husband in this city,
of course.

LS: Really?

NS: Yes, because there were no Jews in this city--maybe a few-then
I finished the college of music and I got a project, kind of your
project, and I was asking the chief of the Institute of Arts--it was a
Bashkirian composer, I forgot his name--1 was asking him about his
music and other questions, he knows me pretty well because of
them, and my last name was Ackerman at that time, and then he

1 1



asked me, "Are you going to take the exam at the Institute of Arts?"
because it was my last level in the college of music, and I said, "Of
course, I'll try." And he said, [unclear] "Why don't you change your
name before you try?" he said to me. Ackerman is a Jewish name, it
didn't sound so good, like Smirnov. I was only one Jewish for the
whole level.

LS: You were the only Jew on that level?

NS: Yes. There was another Jewish girl from the third grade, and I
was the only one in the fourth.
LS: So you think you would not have passed?
NS: It was helpful, not because I am not good professionally ..He


explained to me the situation: he could accept only one percent of
this nationality. Only one.
LS: So there was a quota?
NS: Yes, one percent.
LS: There used to be quotas in America, you know, for Jews.
NS: So you know what it means.
LS: Yes, it means you have to go somewhere else.
NS: But in this country it's quite easy to move.
LS: If you can afford to. It's money that...


NS: ... in this country--only one problem--1 know that.
LS: Tell me about, when you were growing up, did you date boys in
Odessa? Did you go around in crowds? What was it like to be a
teenager?


NS: I just got a call from my boyfriend from Odessa. It's not like a
boyfriend like it means here because the [unclear] quite different in

12



Russia, but it was my first love--it was a boy in seventh grade at
my school; he also was studying in the same music school, but he
wasn't a musician, he became an engineer, and now he lives in
Cleveland.

LS: How did he find you?

NS: · I have no idea--he didn't say anything. It was in August--my

birthday was in August, so I got a call unexpectedly, it was quite

surprising.

LS: I must say it's quite surpns1ng. When you were growing up, did
you go around in large crowds or did you break off two by two?

NS: You mean when you have big company?

LS: No, it used to be in America, like in seventh or eighth grade
groups of boys and groups of girls would do things together and then
by tenth and eleventh it's couples.

NS: No, it was never, before my husband it wasn't couples. It's
usually a big company, and if you have a date, it's just a date, it's
nothing else. It depends on the people, of course. I left my house
when I was sixteen, and I moved to another city, and everything's
changing, and my old friends disappeared and I got new friends. ,
These friends were much older, it was other people, it was very
interesting people.

LS: It sounds really interesting for you to leave home at such an
early age, and here you had, most of your friends had been Jewish up
until now, and all of a sudden, that was gone.

NS: You see, the friends of my parents were Jewish, and they had a
daughter, so she was my first close friend, but she was older by four
years. That's why probably I got a lot of friends older than me, and
she knew a lot of people in this city, which were not Jewish because
there were not so many Jewish [people] in this city. That's why I got
relationships with Russian and Bashkirian, but it was very educated,
it was really intelligent people, it was very interesting people.

1 3



LS: So these were intelligent people who were sensitive to your


concerns?
NS: Yes, and they understood everything. There were a few Jewish,
but it was a mixed company, not like in Odessa.


LS: How old were you when you met your husband to be?
NS: I met him at nineteen, and I married at twenty.
LS: And where were you married?
NS: In Odessa.
LS: Were your parents upset that you decided to marry someone not


Jewish?
NS: Yes, very, it was terrible.
LS: What did they tell you?
NS: They told me, "You will have a lot of additional problems," which


is probably true, because it's not quite easy to make a new family
with... [End Tape 1 Side 1]
[Tape 1 Side 2]


LS: ...a joke that this one woman said to her daughter, "Well, it's OK
if you marry somebody who is not Jewish as long as he is an orphan."

NS: An orphan?

LS: Yes, because then you won't have to deal with the rest of the
family. The husband-to-be might be of a higher intellectual level ...

NS: Actually, I should say he is an unusual person and his family is
very ir)telligent. Also unusual people, it's like people who are in
19th century, not from 20th century. His mother, she is still alive,
she is a teacher of Rwssian language and literature. He has a brother

14



and a sister. They are both in the Soviet Union. They are not going
to come here. I never felt like Jewish in a Russian family, I never
felt that way, but we have more problem here now. Now I feel more
Jewish than before, and especially we have a lot of problems with
my daughter because she is Jewish now. She became Jewish so
quickly. When we came two years ago, she went to Talmud Torah ...

LS: To the day school you mean?

NS: To the day school, yes, in the fifth grade, and in two years she
became Jewish.
LS: I am going to come back to that later because it seems like a

great paradox. You got married at the age nineteen in Odessa over
your parents' concerns, but I assume that they reconciled themselves
to that.

NS: They said, "OK, if you're in love, we can't do anything."
LS: So what year did you get married?
NS: I was twenty ... in '74 probably.
LS: And this was a civil ceremony, etc.?
NS: Yes. It was a nice ceremony.
LS: Was your brother married by now?
NS: Yes.
LS: Did he marry someone Jewish?
NS: Jewish, yes.
LS: Did he have trouble with his schooling because he was Jewish?
NS: He had a lot of trouble when he finished school and he tried to


pass exams in the institute--like most of the Jewish [people], like
most--1 don't think it's an unusual situation. This is really true. He

15



was a very good student and he got like a "D." He got a "D" from one
of the special subjects, like physics, and then he tried to pass this
exam again for the evening classes, and he got an "A" for the same
exam. So it doesn't mean he wasn't smart--it's just...

LS: ... fiddling with the grade. Was your husband a musician also?

NS: No. He is an electronics engineer.

LS: Why was he in the Urals? Why did he go to Ufa?

NS: He lived in Ufa. His parents lived there. And I went to study,
and so we met each other, and we got married, and we lived in Ufa
until 1977, I think. My father got cancer, and my mother was very
worried about him, so I decided to move to Odessa.

LS: Could you move that easily?

NS: Yes. You see, when I went from Odessa, I still had in my
passport a stamp that I actually lived in Odessa. That's why I could
move. Maybe it's not proper by the law, but it was the only
opportunity to come back after a while. Otherwise, if my parents
lived there, maybe I could before I married, but after ...

LS: Tell me what you were doing after you got your degree.

NS: I started. to work in a country musical school when I was in the
fourth grade [year] of the musical college, because I needed
experience to take exams in the Institute of Art, and I continued to
work at this part-time work--it was part-time work only one time a
week on Saturday, since I was studying in the day time. Then we
moved to Odessa, I still continued to study--1 finished my two years

like extension classes, and it was another
Odessa like a musician, especially for the
used all our connections, we paid money, and
problem to
Jewish [peoI got a job.
find
ple].
a job
So
in
we
LS: Who did you pay money to?
NS: To my supervisor.

16



LS: What sort of job did you get?

NS: Teacher of music in a music school.

LS: Was it easy for your husband to find a job?

NS: Not really, but he got some, not really easy, but he had some
special problems.

LS: What was that?

NS: He is a person who never liked this system. He had some
problems in his young age.

LS: He was very independent?

NS: Yes, yes, and he had trouble with K.G.B. And then we went to
Odessa, and he got a place to work in the security system, but what
was happening in Odessa, with this work, he moved very often from
city to city, and one time he met an American diplomat in the train.
They talked about literature, about history, they exchanged books-he
gave him a book, and when he came [back], he told me about it. I
said, "Yury, you didn't [unclear] anything? You have a special job, you
shouldn't do it this way." He said, "Ah, it's OK." One Sunday they
went to the beach ...

LS: Who went to the beach?

NS: My husband and this guy.

LS: The diplomat?

NS: Yes, he had been in Odessa. After this they invited him to K.G.B.
I didn't know about it. And he lost his job. Then he found another
one. So he had a lot of trouble. Actually, when we went here, in
America, I think we got a permission probably first of all because of
this because it's not the kind of [unclear] But this is true.

LS: You mean you got permission because he wasn't exactly
trustworthy in Russia? Is that what you are saying? I don't quite

17



understand what you meant. Are you saying that you might have
gotten permission to leave because ...

NS: Not to leave--to come here--to come to the United States. Do
you know they should get this permission in Italy. When we left the
Soviet Union, we went to Austria, and then Italy, then HIAS met us...

LS: Then HIAS meets you and they ask, "Do you want to go to Israel?
Do you want to go to America?" Right?

NS: Yes. And everybody should explain the situation at that time:
why we left the Soviet Union, what we expected, what was the
reason for leaving. Maybe now it.'s something different, I don't know,
but in that time it was this kind of situation. Everybody tried to
have special problems. For our family, it was major problems, for
my family.

LS: You are talking about the problem with the K.G.B.?

NS: Yes.

LS: They were going to hang over you for the rest of your life?

NS: Yes. Nobody can expect this situation. You see, we had the
system, of course, but anyway I myself would leave this country
anyway, but I am not quite sure about my husband today. Maybe
today it is not good to leave the Soviet Union. If this situation in
the Soviet Union would be two years ago, I am not sure he would
leave the country.

LS: That sort of answers my next question because some of my next
questions have to do with why you left; but I wanted to know more
about your work. Were you happy working, were you satisfied with
your work?

NS: I feel sad--you see, Odessa was a special city. If you compare
to Kiev, for example, I didn't feel so much pressure like antiSemitism.
Of course, it was, now it's forever, but I myself didn't
feel it--maybe because there were a lot of Jewish people around me,
and in our school half of the teachers were Jewish. That's why the

18



school was perfect, and our students got good scores in
competitions--it was a very good environment. Of course, . we felt a
lot of trouble, especially when the supervisor changed. Every year-actually
the chiefs of the music school were sometimes not
educated people--but we felt enough power, there were enough of us
and sometimes we could dictate, and we did. I was very proud of my
school that way, because if somebody tried to say, "You're Jewish,"
we could fight and we fought. It was a good school, but now
everybody is in America. I just got a call from one of my best
friends in Chicago, another one is in New Jersey, a lot in New Jersey,
New York, California.

LS: A new diaspora, but it's too bad for Odessa because it was such
a wonderful city. Did you have any aspirations to be anything more
than a music teacher? I mean did you have any aspirations to be an
administrator, to rise up and have a more powerful position?

NS: No, not really.

LS: Did you have any friends who did, who really took their jobs
extremely seriously? Let me tell you what I am getting at. In this
country there has been a lot of talk about a glass ceiling. Have you
heard that expression? A glass ceiling? That women can rise just
so high and then they never get to a level where there is real power.
And I am just wondering what you observed in the Soviet Union as
far as women--Jewish women--rising to the rank.

NS: I don't think that Jewish women can take a high position, even in
our school. There were no Jewish chiefs of departments in school-only
one--and you know why--she was only half-Jewish and she was
in the papers Russian. And of course, there were no Jewish chiefs of
music schools. There may be one for the whole city because they
also needed to put check marks in the documents. They tried ...

LS: ...to meet the quota?

NS: The quota, yes, but no women. I don't think it would be possible
if I really wanted to find another position.

1 9



LS: So you were happy with what you were doing and you had your
career?
NS: Yes.
LS: Did you figure you'd do that till you retired?
NS: You know everybody sometimes wants to change something, but I


would never have this possibility in Odessa, and probably, yes, I
would stay.
LS: You would stay until you retired? Do you have one child?

NS: Yes.
LS: When was she born?
NS: She was born on November 19, 1978.
LS: And what's her name?
NS: Maria--Masha.
LS: That's a good Russian name. And what does she call herself


here?
NS: Masha.
LS: Marsha?
NS: Yes, they spell it Marsha. In the school.she has actually two


names. I don't know why it happened, but when we came here, they


wrote it down like Maria, but she had this name, and she said, "It


looks like I am Spanish. I am not Spanish." But we call her Masha.


LS: Is that M-A-R-S-H-A or M-A-S-H-A?


NS: In American it's spelled with "R", in Russian without "R".


20



LS: And she was born in 1978. Did you think about having other
children?

NS: You see, i_n Russia it was impossible because I understood
couldn't afford it, and now I am afraid I couldn't afford it in America
either. But no, not really, it was enough.

LS: Where did you live? Did you find an apartment in Odessa?

NS: We lived with my parents, with my grandmother. They had a
two-bedroom apartment and we lived six people. So it was

. impossible to get another child in this situation. It was a good
apartment, compared especially to Odessa buildings, Odessa
apartments. It was a good neighborhood, a good apartment, very
nice, big room, then another big room, and we made up a kitchen, we
divided the kitchen and made a third room. The kitchen was small,
with no window--just a window in the ceiling. But compared to
another apartment, its was beautiful.

LS: When you say compared to another apartment?

NS: For example, to my brother's apartment, like a garage.

LS: Was your mother retired when Masha was born?

NS: Yes, after nine months, I had to go to work, and she was retired
and she stayed with Masha.

LS: Then you didn't need to worry about child care, is that right?

NS: No, but at the age of four, I think, she went to the daycare, and
she enjoyed this daycare. It was a good place--it wasn't government
child care.

LS: It wasn't?

NS: It wasn't. It was child care from a big factory, which is much
better usually. Of course, they had additional money.

LS: Why were you able to get in there?

21


NS: Because.
LS: Because of your father?
NS: No, because we found a connection.
LS: What was your connection to the factory?
NS: I don't remember how we found it, but we did find it.


, LS: So you can't live without these various connections? Is there
some name in Russian that's used for all of these?
NS: Yes, blat.
LS: Blat?

NS: Yes, it is the same like "connection."
LS: That seems to be the most important thing about making things
work.


NS: Yes. This is slang, of course, but everybody knows it.
LS: Everybody uses it.
NS: Maybe somebody doesn't want to think about it [unclear]
LS: Did your parents have trouble accepting your husband when they


were living together? Was there added friction? I mean there's
always friction. Was there added friction because he was not
Jewish?

NS: I don't think it would be less trouble if he could be Jewish. Just
like a new person in an old house. We didn't have any problems
because he is not Jewish.

LS: Who shopped for the food, who cooked the food?

22



NS: It's a difficult question. Everybody cooked. You see, my mother
was staying at home, so of course, she spent a lot of time, and
didn't work every day. In the music school it's about three-four days
per week--it depends on the hours. Actually, it's about four days a
week, but not morning till evening. It's probably starting from eight
to two or two to eight. I had a lot of time to help my mom. You see,
in Odessa, again it was a special city, we use market. I think eighty
percent of the food we go to the market.

LS: And th~re was a bigger variety too, wasn't it?

NS: Yes, which was more expensive, of course. So all our salaries
were spent on food, almost, I think about eighty-five-ninety percent.

LS: How do teachers like you get paid? I am talking about in Russia.
Do they get paid a decent amount?

NS: It depends on the hours. I earned about 160 roubles per month.
am not talking about today's money, but it was kind of stability two
and a half years ago. Compared to the clothes, for example, a pair of
boots in the black market again, costs about the same money. So you
can compare.

LS: So it wasn't a large amount of money?

NS: No, of course.

LS: How did you make do? Some people had other little jobs.

NS: No, I didn't. I had a few students at home, but it wasn't a big
addition. First of all, we lived together, the whole family, which
was helpful, and usually we got help from our parents, as a lot of
young families, and not very young families.

LS: You couldn't make it? With the baby?

NS: No. It's normal life.

LS: I am beginning to think it's normal life in America, at least
what's coming.

23


NS: I don't know. I don't know any normal life here.

LS: So you shopped in the market, and you found clothes for yourself
and the baby where? Would you say in the black market? Is there a
bigger black market in Odessa?

NS: It's a beautiful market.

LS: Odessa is a wonderful city in that respect. They used to have a
lot of Jewish gangsters. Do the Jews still control the black market
there?

NS: don't think so, only Jewish, but a lot of Jewish around this
market also. There are a lot of young people who are not Jewish,
who have connections with people who came from another country.
We have a big port in Odessa, so that's why Odessa is quite different.
It's a more open city.

LS: It's always been more open to the outside world. When the baby
was born, you were in Odessa, right? Was your care good before the
baby was born and your hospital stay?

NS: First of all, the condition of hospitals was so terrible, you can't
imagine. It was a very hard time, it was very hard, I think, for all
women who deliver in the Soviet Union. I am not sure if any of these
women can remember this time and say, "Oh, it was nice, beautiful."
It was terrible because you feel like not a human, and people around
are not polite. And again, we should pay money for everything, for
everything. And we did. When you are in a hospital, you pay money
to the doctor who delivers the baby, you pay money to the whole
personnel, otherwise you'll never see the face of a sister [nurse]-never.
So we pay.

LS: What about your care before the baby was born? Did you go
every month?

NS: Yes.

LS: And was that fairly decent?

24


NS: It was normal. I didn't have any special problems, so it was
normal.

LS: How about care for the baby?

NS: If your price OK. Maybe Odessa is a special city, but I am not
sure about it. Maybe the situation is a little bit better in Leningrad,
maybe, but in Odessa it was true.

LS: Who were your friends once you got back? You had your friends
from work, right?

NS: Yes, from work.

LS: And what about your husband? Who did he make friends with?
Who did you go out with? .

NS: With my friends, with Jewish friends. He had only one friend
who wasn't Jewish, and again it was a guy who was working with
him. So the friends from work usually.

LS: Did your husband sort of complain about it or did he just note it
in passing?

NS: I don't think so. He is quiet, he is a person who likes to stay
home. He wasn't so concerned, and we had enough friends, of my
friends.

LS: When your husband was questioned by the K.G.B. about his
friendship with this American diplomat, did you say he lost his job?

NS: Yes.

LS: And did the K.G.B. just warn him?

NS: First of all, they changed the book [exchanged books?].
Somebody made a picture of him, and they said, "You give him special
information." And they asked him to work with K.G.B. He said, "No,"
and sometimes, about once per month, until maybe six years, they

25



asked him to come and talked with him, and he was very mad. And
we didn't know about it because he was afraid to tell me. But I
understood something wrong.
LS: He never told you?

NS: He never told me at that time. I didn't know about it. When he
changed his job, he told me about it.

LS: What sort of job did he find then?

NS: It was like a working job because he couldn't find a job like an
engineer.

LS: Pretty severe punishment?

NS: Yes. But otherwise, like an engineer, you see, he got less money
than like a worker. It's normal in Russia, by the way.

LS: I guess, American people would say a laborer, but when you say a
worker, it may not be the same thing. What was he doing?

NS: Actually, he did the same thing. When he worked like an
engineer, he worked with this special systems in the military
objects. He worked on military systems.

LS: He worked on some sort of military systems. Did he work on
military bases, like army bases? Did he have to go to places where
just the army was allowed in?

NS: He made communication systems. When he lost his job, he also
made communication systems, but it was just like civil people, and
another level, like a, laborer.

LS: So he made the same amount of money?

NS: More.

26



LS: That's quite a
Jewish friends, although
were not celebrating
paradox. At
you were
any holidays?
this
not
period
overtly
of
Jewyour
ish?
life
I
you
mean
had
you
NS: No.

LS: You weren't going to the synagogue?

NS: No.

[End Tape 1 Side 2]

[Tape 2 Side 1]

LS: What was the last thing I asked you?

NS: Why we didn't celebrate. First of all, it wasn't a tradition, and

if I wanted to, I couldn't anyway because I was a teacher.

LS: Did any of your friends celebrate any Jewish holidays?

NS: Not really, I don't think so.

LS: When did you first think about leaving?

NS: I think it's about three and a half years before.

LS: Tell me, first of all, when did you leave?

NS: May 1989.

LS: And you started thinking about it in about 1986?

NS: [unclear] I mean starting from this day. We decided to leave

very quickly.

LS: Did you say you left Russia in May of 1989?

27



NS: Yes.
LS: And when did you think about it?
NS: About one year before.
LS: Did something trigger this or was it an accumulation of things


going wrong?
NS: Yes, I think so because we started to understand there's no


future in this country. No future not only for us--no future for my
daughter. It was the major thing, the major reason for me.
LS: What was going wrong in her life, for instance?
NS: She had real problem in the first grade in school because she


went to a normal school and the teacher was terrible. She hated
Jewish like ...
LS: But Masha, didn't her nationality say "Russian"?
NS: Yes, but she had seen me, it's enough.


LS: Really? I thought it was just the nationality.
NS: No, she knew about it, but after the first grade we changed the
school. There was one school in Odessa, the best school, there were
a lot of Jewish kids who studied--it was English school. So we
changed the school.

LS: Did you have to pay to get her into that?
NS: Of course.
LS: So she went there from second grade to. when?
NS: Second to fourth.
LS: And things were easier for her there?


28



NS: Yes. It was a Jewish teacher again and a lot of kids who were
Jewish, and she had normal environment. You see, I was concerned
about her environment, and I was trying to find a friend for her, a
Jewish friend.

LS: Somebody told me--more than one person--it was so much
easier if the nationality in your passport was not Jewish, but you
were still trying to hook her up with Jews?

NS: Yes. She had the nationality like Russian, but I was afraid about
her environment. It does not mean she should find Russian friends-it
just means it's going to be easier to pass exams, to find a good
job, to find a good life, but I wanted to see her husband Jewish.

LS: Oh, I see, you did. You didn't think that she would have the great
fortune to marry someone as wonderful as your husband?

NS: You see, in this country it may be quite different, but in Russia,
I don't think she could find the same person like my husband.

LS: So you wanted to keep her in some sort of Jewish milieu?

NS: I was very concerned about her environment, and then I came in
this class in the first grade, and it was terrible.

LS: So you say that you decided to leave because of Masha, but
before we began you were telling me about your brother and you said
something about...

NS: He tried to leave twelve years ago. He also had a son who at
that time was the same age like Masha now.

LS: His children were the same age?

NS: Yes, yes. Now his son is twenty.

LS: Did he want to leave because of his children?

NS: He wanted to leave because of a lot of things. First of all, he
hated the system, like all of us, and of course, he had a lot of trouble

29



as a Jew, and he wanted to live in a more open country, in a free
country. And he thought he could realize himself much better in this
country than in the Soviet Union, but he didn't get permission at that
time, and he lost the job again, so he had terrible time. He had to
work as a painter a few years, and another concern--it was a normal
concern--he had a son, and at the age of eighteen all boys are going
to be in the army, and the Soviet Army is not quite the same like in
America. It's terrible, especially for Jews.

LS: Yes, I've heard of Jews actually getting killed.

NS: Yes, it's terrible, it's really terrible, and my brother by himself
had been in the army and he understands what it means. He feels the
same way. He spent one year after he finished the university, but if
you don't have this education, you spend two or sometimes three
years.

LS: So he was very afraid that his son would suffer?

NS: Yes.

LS: Did they get out before his son had to serve in the army?

NS: His son went to the medical college after school, a nursing
college. So he had permission to finish his education, and then, when
he finished, he went.

LS: We'll come back to you now. You thought that you should leave
because there was going to be no future for your daughter, but you
had her in a good school, you had her in an environment with a fair
amount of Jews, but you were still not satisfied?

NS: No, because I understood that tomorrow there would be no Jews
in this country.

LS: You mean people were beginning to leave?

NS: Yes, and this is true now. There is no this class now.

30



LS: So you were afraid that this Jewish environment would
disappear. Did you have friends who had left before you left? Did
any of your good friends leave?

NS: Not close, but it just started, it's like a sickness.

LS: Like a wild fire ...

NS: But it was right, now we understand it was right, more than two
years ago. Two years ago it was a right feeling, now we can see
what's happened to this country. And you know, every time if
anybody knocks on your door and you are afraid, maybe your
neighbors are coming now because you have a very good apartment, I
don't want to live in this environment. I was scared.

LS: You just thought it was like a breakdown of order?

NS: Yes, and who is guilty? Jews all the time were guilty.

LS: So there was more anti-Semitism on the street?

NS: Yes, of course, in the newspaper, in the street, and two and a
half years ago it just started, but it's very dangerous, and I think it's
still dangerous right now, and I understand people who try to get out
from this county now.

LS: You know, there is something I guess I've never understood:
Odessa is a port city and it had a lot of Greeks, a lot of Armenians, a
lot of Jews. How could they tell who was Jewish and who wasn't?

NS: If I see you, I am sure you're Jewish. I don't need to see your
passport.

LS: You mean you wouldn't think that I was an Armenian?

NS: No.

LS: Because when I was in Greece, people thought I was Greek.

31



NS: Maybe, but you see, there are not so many Armenians, and
everybody can recognize Jews.

LS: They can recognize Jews? So you could actually be pushed
around on the street?

NS: Of course, yes. My mom told me, when she was pregnant with
my brother--it was a terrible time, he was born in 1947, dark times
in Russia--she would stand in a tram and a man was standing near
her and he said, "Oh, you are Jewish"--he didn't say "Jewish," he said
"Zhid" like everybody said, "get off the tram." And she had to get off.
,It was winter, and she said, "I'll remember this for the rest of my
life." She was pregnant. So I think there's going to be a lot of
violence, a lot of crime, and not only for Jews, but for everybody
now--especially for Jews.

LS: So you felt it was imperative for you to leave for your own
safety?

NS: Yes, yes

LS: Was it difficult to persuade your husband? Did he understand
this, being a non-Jew?

NS: Yes, he understood. First of all, he understood everything,
secondly, he hated the system maybe more than me, and the third
one, he lost a job, he lost everything. We were afraid because when
he worked in the military systems, he had a special permission--you
know what that means?

LS: It means you cannot get out that easily.

NS: Yes, and when we sent an application, we were very afraid about
it, because if we didn't get the permission, I probably would have
lost my job.

LS: Would he have lost his job too?

NS: But we got permission ...

32



LS: You got permission fairly quickly, right?
NS: Not really. It's about six months.
LS: When you applied, did your parents also apply?
NS: Yes.


LS: And how did his mother feel about this? Did she have to ...
NS: My mother was the first one in our family who wanted to go.
LS: What about his mother?
NS: His mother, it was terrible, but she never said "no." She said,


"It's your way." And now we get letters, and she understands now
much better. We got a letter from his sister just a few weeks ago
and she said, "You were right." They never said "no."

LS: So your mother was first who ...
NS: My mother was the first who decided and who actually did all


stuff. She is a very energetic person. We went quickly to get an
application, to stand in line ...
LS: How did your father feel about this?
NS: My father felt terrible. My father was lying on the couch all the


time.


LS: He was just depressed about the whole thing?
NS: He was very depressed. He never could imagine...
thought it was the end of his life, but now he feels perfect.
think he
LS: In
right?
a sense, it was the end of his life. He had retired by now,
NS: Yes, he had retired before. When we decided to move...

33



LS: Did he work after his retirement?
NS: Yes, he worked in the same plant.
LS: But he had his position? He was afraid of losing everything that


he worked for all of his life and his status?
NS: Yes, but you know, on the one hand he understood there was no


future, and on the other hand, he spent all his life there. He


understood there is no language. It's very hard.


LS: Did you know any English?


NS: No, I just studied at school, like everybody. We studied ten


years and knew nothing.


LS: Like Americans?


NS: When we decided to leave, I was studying for three-four


months--twice a week--my husband did not know a word. He studied


German in the Soviet Union, and he knows German quite well, but it's


not English.

LS: But it helps. Don't you think it helps?

NS: I don't know. Now his is much better, but we had a lot of

trouble.
LS: OK, so you went to Austria, the five of you, is that correct?


NS: The five of us, yes, a big family.


LS: Why did you decide to come to Minnesota?


NS: We had relatives here.


LS: Who are they?


NS: Zhenya [?] Sinitsky. She is my cousin.


34



LS: Did she grow in Odessa too?
NS: No, she grew up in Leningrad, but her mother grew up in Odessa,


and when she married, she moved to Leningrad, and they lived in
Leningrad.
LS: Because I interviewed her also, and I guess I didn't remember.


thought that the only other people from Odessa that I interviewed
were Sima Shumilovsky and her sister.
NS: You did interview Jane Sinitsky?
LS: Yes, that was last summer. Is that the reason you came here?
. NS: Just here, to Minnesota.
LS: You left in May of 1989. When did you come to Minnesota?

NS: In July.
LS: And suppose Jane met you at the airport? And were you
settled in this apartment?


NS: No, we lived on Cleveland, near Cecil's, there were two small
buildings.


LS: Is that a smaller apartment?
NS: Yes, it was a one-bedroom apartment, but m'y parents had one
and we had one. She found two apartments nearby and it was
perfect.


LS: Was it furnished?


NS: She got money from the Jewish Community and she bought a lot
of furniture.
LS: She bought what you needed.
NS: Yes, she did everything perfect. We appreciated it.


35


LS: Yes, it was very useful, because she was working at the Jewish
Family Service, wasn't she? So she was able to introduce you to the
ins and outs of working with agencies here? Is that right?

NS: Yes, we got all information from her and orientation for the
first time. It was great help.

LS: Where did you go for your English language instruction, for
instance?

NS: First of all, International Institute.

LS: How did that work out?

NS: It's a good place. I like it. It's very helpful. And in St. Paul
Technical College.

LS: How was that?

NS: Pretty well also.

LS: How did you find a job?

NS: When I came here, everybody told me it's impossible to find this
kind of job, you should find something else.

LS: You mean a job as a teacher of music?

NS: Yes. It was difficult, big competition. You see, I am not a
pianist--! am a music teacher, it's quite a different thing. So I
started to think "What can I do?" I can do just nothing, because it's
my only profession, I am not a scientist, I am not... So I decided to
be clerical, and I finished St. Paul Technical College, and the first
work was temporary in the same company that my husband started
to work--Floyd Security. I worked four months and then as far as it
was a temporary position and actually it was very difficult for me~

LS: Why was it difficult?

36



NS: First of all, because of my level of language, and the second one,
I think I am not born for the clerical work. Then I went to the
Norwest Bank and starting from this year I found a job as a
musician. So I am working now as a part-time music teacher.

LS: What happened to the Norwest Bank?
NS: Just part-time.
LS: And what do you do for the Norwest Bank?
NS: Clerical. I am working in the Norwest Operations Center.
LS: And you have found work as a music teacher?
NS: Starting this September and I hope if it continues I will finish


my employment at Norwest.
LS: How many students do you have?
NS: Fourteen.
LS: Fourteen students? You are busy. What about your husband? You


said that he came here with no English?
NS: No, not a word.
LS: Did he think that he would get a job as an engineer? Was he


hoping to get a job as an engineer?
NS: You see, first of all, it was a great mistake--he didn't want to
study English. He decided he comes and he picks it up quickly. It
was a big mistake, and I told him, "You are not right, it's
impossible." But life goes on, and he went to the International


Institute also and he finished fourth level, and then he got his first
job at Floyd Security ...
LS: What did he do?


37



NS: As a technician, and he continued to take English classes for
two years. We paid money.

LS: Where did he take his English classes?
NS: In International. He took it twice per week. Now two months
ago he found another job.


LS: What is he doing now?
NS: He is working as a senior technician in the Little Six Bingo doing


all this... It's a casino. He is working for the security systems as
electronics [technician].
LS: Does it have any connection with what he was doing in the


Soviet Union?


NS: Yes, it's sort of, but it's quite different, it's another level, it's a
higher level, and it's another [different sort of] money.
LS: He is earning more money now?
NS: Yes, and the work is quite different. It's not engineer's work,


but it's near it.


LS: Is he content or does he really want to get back into
engineering?
NS: I think, after a while he can do it. I am sure he can because he


has very good knowledge. His problem is with his English, only
English.

LS: Technology changes so that in engineering you wonder ...
NS: But he knows a lot of things. I think he is a good professional,
and I hope.


LS: When did you move here, to this apartment, which is about half a
mile from your other apartment?

38



NS: Yes. First of all, it's larger. We have two bedrooms. Jane
Sinitsky lived here before she bought a house.

LS: Did you have to use public welfare for a while?

NS: Yes, until Yury got a job. It's long enough. We came at the end of
July and he got a job in April, I think. It's about seven-eight months.

LS: So you felt that was enough.
NS: It's too much.

LS: But now you are paying taxes, right?
NS: Yes, I think, after a while we'll return everything.
LS:
are
I think so
your folks
too. You
living?
are contributing members of society. Where
NS: They live in Minneapolis because they got a high-rise quickly.
LS: Are they living in the downtown, this area that has a lot of other

Russians?
NS: Yes.
LS: Are they pretty happy there?
NS: I think so. They are quite independent.
LS: Isn't it strange for you to be living so far away from them?
NS: It was terrible. It was crying when they got this paper from


this house.


LS: Did they want to move so far away from you?


NS: No, but at that time... now I think it's a mistake because they


should wait and find the same house in the Highland area.


39



LS: You mean they could have waited?

NS: But they couldn't wait because the financial situation wasn't so
good for the beginning.

LS: Couldn't they stay in that apartment near Cecil's?

NS: It cost him $360 per month. Now it's much cheaper in the highrise.


LS: I see. So that's why they moved. But you were crying because
they were moving so far away?

NS: Yes.

LS: And you really needed their help, didn't you?

NS: For the beginning, yes. Now, as I said, they are quite
independent. They know everything around, they can do shopping. Of
course,. we try to help. We went every week and we tried to help as
much as possible, but. they are pretty energetic people and very
optimistic, and I don't think they have a lot of problem. Now they
study English and it's much easier than in the beginning.

LS: How is your father spending his time?

NS: He is studying all the time. He is studying, I think, more than
me. He enjoys it. They got the Russian newspaper, they got Olive
[?]--you know, this is a Jewish magazine. So they got a newspaper
and a magazine in Russian.

LS: What about their relationship to Masha? They see her once a
week?

NS: Once a week, yes.

LS: When you came here, you had Jane to help you and tell you what
was going on. What about, you were saying that it was awkward at
that time and probably the most awkward because your husband was
not Jewish. Why was it awkward and how was it awkward?

40


NS: You mean, is it difficult? Yes, it is. I think actually not
because of my husband but because of myself. I want now to be a
little bit closer to the Jewish community, and this is me and
should go to the temple, I should take part of the community life,
and I feel a little bit. ..

LS: Are you saying you feel sort of torn?

NS: Maybe, I am not sure, but now I feel pressure, religious pressure.

LS: From whom?

NS: Maybe from myself. I didn't care before, but now it's starting to
get interesting for me.

LS: It's starting to get interesting?

NS: Yes.

LS: Because of Masha?

NS: Probably because of Masha. First of all, when we came we didn't
have time to participate, to be members of community as we
understand and as community expects of us. We couldn't do it, first
of all because of language and then we had problems to find a job. It
takes time, but now I feel maybe I can do, today maybe I am ready to
do it, but. ..

LS: When you say "can do it," are you talking about going to services
and finding out more about what traditional Judaism is?

NS: Yes, but I don't think my husband likes it. Not because it's
Jewish, he does not like religion at all, any kind of religion.

LS: He is just an atheist.

NS: Yes. Actually, I was an atheist also, probably I wasn't really
Jewish before. Now I think first of all, I want to be part of the
community. If I became part of community, I should be more Jewish.

41



[End Tape 2 Side 1]

[Tape 2 Side 2]

LS: ...have said, "lt:s in my blood."

NS: Yes, that's true, and it's in my heart.

LS: But how do you live like a Jew in America?

NS: Yes. Actually, I don't know. You see, when I go to the temple, I
don't understand any words. I like this music, I enjoy the
atmosphere, and I feel Jewish at that time--1 really feel it. But I
take this book and I don't understand anything, and I can't be an
artist [actor] and just hold this book and repeat like everybody. I've
seen other people who understand and my Masha now understands.
And it is very important for her. I am glad that she has now this
feeling and she can express more than me.

LS: Do you think that synagogues could be more helpful in setting up
either smaller sessions that are in Russian and Hebrew rather than
in English and Hebrew and gear a service so that Russians could feel
that they can participate in a greater way?

NS: Maybe, but I think they have already this kind of service.

LS: I am not certain. It's something I have to find out.

NS: I think so. They have Russian text for the special part of the
ceremony.

LS: Yes, they have that, but would it be easier if there was a
separate service or do you feel like the feeling of being a part of a
bigger Jewish community?

NS: You see, I don't think that a special service will help. I think
time will help. Every day we start to be closer. We don't realize it

42



sometimes, but through our children, our kids, we are closer, and it's
not an easy process for us, because we didn't have an opportunity to
study, we didn't have an opportunity to think about it, and when
people come here, they don't have an opportunity to start thinking
about it just right now. They have other problems.

LS: Your problems are earning a living.

NS: Earning a living, it's true. I think everybody feels like Jewish,

even if they don't participate in the service.
become more Jewish, it just takes time.
After a while we will
LS: You said something about what the
What does the community expect of you?
in a certain Jewish way?
community expects
Do they expect you
of
to
us.
live
NS: I think so.

LS: What do they expect of you? That was my question.

NS: I think they expect appreciation, which is normal. Then, they
expect to be an active part of the community, which is quite
difficult for us and I'll try to explain why. I am sure you are doing a
lot of work as a volunteer, right?

LS: I have in the past, yes. That's the way American society is set
up.

NS: In the Soviet Union it is quite different. They have another
social feeling, and we don't trust this idea, the volunteer idea. It
takes time to become real American. I understand volunteering is
society of this country, but for us for the beginning it's impossible.
But the community expects [it] of us. I know it, I understand it, but
we don't have power to do it. Trust me, not because we are lazy, not
because we do not appreciate. We appreciate, we understand. I am
sure a lot--maybe not all--but people are quite different, in this
country too. Again, it takes time. I know a lot of Jewish [people]
who came twelve years ago, and they participate now more than
from the beginning. It's difficult for us at least because of

43



language, but not only. So it takes time. And the community expects
of us help, I think, but it's going to be in the future, not now.

LS: Now we can move into another area. When you said the
community expects help from you, it seems as though you are giving
help, because you have other relatives coming. Is that right?

NS: Yes.

LS: What other relatives have come to join you? Your brother came.
When did he come?

NS: He came two years ago We came two and a half.

LS: Were you able to help him when he came?

NS: Not financially, but physically, of course. We did all the stuff
like Jane did for us. We go to the furniture, we gave him the car-because
he drove in the Soviet Union--our car, we didn't have any
extra car, but for the beginning, of course, all stuff that usually
people do. It's a lot of problems, all appointments, a lot of
translation, first orientation, first steps.

LS: Who else has come in your family since your brother came?

NS: My mother's cousins. It's a big family. It's two cousins. One
cousin is alone, another cousin with the husband, with her daughter
and husband again and their daughter. So it's six people.

LS: And when did they arrive?

NS: Just two months ago.

LS: I thought that you couldn't invite cousins any longer, that they
had to be closer relatives.

NS: Actually, they are not inviting. It's Jane Sinitsky's mother's
sister, but they live nearby. We can help more than maybe they can
because they live in Eagan now. It's quite different. We live nearby,
so we try to help.

44


LS: Did you expect what the Jewish community did? Did you know
there would be the Jewish Family Service to help you out? What did
you know about the level of service that would be available to you
when you came here? .Did Jane tell you what to expect?

NS: Yes, we had quite enough information. She wrote a letter and
she described the situation. We knew a lot from different people
who came in this country earlier. We knew about help from the
Jewish community in different states. In different states, the
situation is different, but most of the people got help, and we did
know about it.

LS: Were you disappointed in the help you got?

NS: No, I've never been disappointed. How can normal people be
disappointed? What can we expect? We can just appreciate.

LS: I think it's natural for people to want a lot.
NS: You mean about help or about life?
LS: About both. Some people are upset, you know, they could have

found us a better job, because it's always hard to go down.

NS: You mean about life? I was thinking you asked about help.

LS: I am talking about the help. For example, getting a job, finding a
job.

NS: You see, of course, getting a job, everybody is disappointed, but
it's not a fault of the community and it's not our fault--maybe wrong
expectations. First of all, as I understand now, we had the same way
as American people. It's quite difficult to find a job for American
people, as I know. They have a lot of trouble also, but of course, it's
easier because they have the language, and of course, it's easier
because they have connections. Nothing wrong with this--if I know
you very well, I will recommend you. It's normal in this country
because if I recommend the wrong person, I myself am wrong. We
understand it now, but we did not understand it two years ago, when

45



we came. Especially, in the Soviet Union, job security hundred
percent. It's very difficult to compare two systems and it takes
time to get used to, to understand this. It's very difficult for the
people who came from the Soviet Union. I think that people who
came twelve years [ago] still feel this pressure. They are afraid to
lose jobs every day, because if an American loses a job, it's much
easier to find another one than for an immigrant. Yes, I am sure
because the people who came twelve years [ago], they still don't
have perfect English, a lot of them, and they are getting older, and
they didn't have any help from maybe relatives, maybe friends--1
don't know--1 don't think that Americans actually help relatives.

LS: No, it's more difficult if not impossible.

NS: It's more difficult, it's a problem. You see, we were born two
and a half years ago--we were born in this country again.

LS: You were born again. [both laugh] So how do you feel? Do you
feel like you are beginning to fit in? Do you feel like you are going
to be an eternal outsider?

NS: You see, I do not think I'll fit in for the rest of my life hundred
percent, but a lot is changing and probably I myself will change
more. Of course, I had other expectations, but I didn't think about
money at all, to become rich. It wasn't my goal when I came here.
Of course, we expected a higher level of life, of normal human life. I
can't say in the Soviet Union we had normal human life. Of course,
we have it now. It's impossible to compare our life and apartment in
the Soviet Union. We don't have any of the same problems like in the
Soviet Union, but we have a lot of different problems which we did
not expect when we came here.

LS: Like what?

NS: I am sure ninety-nine percent of people never think about the
language, about differences of the culture. It's one thing to
understand it and another thing to live in another country. It's quite
different and it shocked [us] very hard. The difference between
cultures, we had an American friend, and he gave us the book of
Andrey Voznesensky--you probably know this poet. So it is an

46



English translation and Russian text. I know pretty well this text in
Russian, of course, but it was interesting for me to compare the
translation. I am sure it is a good translator, I don't know his name,
but I am sure it is, but it is incomparable. It's funny, and this is our
life.

LS: Are you in a crack between the Russian and the English? You are
trying to climb out of the crack?

NS: It's impossible to translate. So I don't think we'll ever fit in,
like you said, but we can get used to, we can adapt, and my daughter
is already American.

LS: Just a few more questions. Were you assigned a host family
when you came here, an American family to help you out?

NS: Yes, first of all, we had a marvellous tutor, Stan Donsker. He is
like a gift of God. I like him very much and he got perfect help for
us. Actually, he was our best friend and he is a friend now, and we
appreciate it very much.

LS: Did you also get a host family?

NS: Yes, but...

LS: It's a very artificial sort of relationship?

NS: Yes. It didn't work.

LS: Have you made American friends or do you still feel that there is
this big culture gap or language gap?

NS: I think we are very lucky. We found an American family which
thinks the same way and we have this family. It's not a Jewish
family, but it's good people.

LS: How did you find them? Through work?

NS: No. Our host family [unclear] they are friends of our host
family, but now we are closer to this family now.

47


LS: That's really nice. So who are most of your friends? Are they
Soviet immigrants?
NS: Yes, of course.


LS: And your family?
NS: And my family and my brother--we have a big family, it's
enough.


LS: It is. Especially when they need so much help. Are you happy


with the school that Masha is going to?
NS: Yes. Of course, Talmud Torah was a perfect school because she
had the time, first of all, to be in a normal environment, in a
beautiful environment. And now she is in Ramsey, she is in the
seventh grade.


LS: How many years did she go to Talmud Torah?
NS: Two years.
LS: How is Ramsey working out?
NS: It's OK, it's a nice school.
LS: Would you keep her rather in Highland Junior High school?
NS: Yes, Susan Kobrin recommended this school, and we decided to


pick it. I checked the program, it was a good program. I like small


schools better than big ones. So far so good.
LS: So many of the Russians that I've interviewed have been
extremely unhappy with the American school system.


NS: If we talk about the system, I agree with them. I just talk about
her feeling, and she feels pretty well in school, but of course it's
impossible to compare. You see, she was sick now, she had
pneumonia, she just went to school on Monday. I think she missed

48



about three weeks, because you see, she had bronchitis, she went to
school and then she started being sick again. So she missed three
weeks. Yesterday she took the homework. Nothing happened.

LS: Yes, it's not moving along very quickly. Are you members of
Temple of Aaron?
NS: Yes.


LS: And does she go to Sunday school there?
NS: Yes, Sunday school and evening school, and she is going to have a
Bat Mitzva.


LS: When you say evening school, do you mean she goes to Talmud


Torah?
NS: Yes, Monday and Wednesday. She missed a lot, she skipped about
a month because she was sick, but she enjoys it because she has
friends here, which is very important.


LS: And she is going to have a Bat Mitzva?
NS: Yes, in February.
LS: So you are really in the midst of preparations for this?
NS: Yes.
LS: That's a real American Jewish rite of passage, isn't it?
NS: Yes, which is surprising. If somebody told me three years ago in


the Soviet Union my Masha is going to have Bat Mitzva ...
LS: It would not have meant a thing to you?
NS: No, never.
LS: It's an American custom, totally American custom. When your


grandmother died, were there any Jewish prayers said over her?


49



NS: Yes. First of all, in Odessa we had a Jewish cemetery. So we
had an opportunity to do all these things like Jewish, like Jewish
tradition.

LS: I guess I hadn't realized that that was still possible.

NS: It's possible, now I am sure it's possible. It was possible two
years ago, at least in Odessa because we had a synagogue, we had a
special cemetery, which is unusual.

LS: Is it unusual?

NS: I think so. You see, there were a lot of Jews living in this area
traditionally. That's why maybe we feel a little bit freer than in
another city.

LS: Is there any problem with this Bat Mitzva because your husband
is not Jewish?

NS: Yes, it's family problems.

LS: Is there any problem with the synagogue?

NS: Not with the synagogue, but I still, for example, today, I don't
know how we can make it, because the husband should stand near the
Torah, and he can't, so I don't know. But I have a brother, maybe he

can do it. It is usually done this way, do you know?
LS: No, am afraid, I don't. I think the rabbi might be able to help
you out.
NS: Yes. I asked the cantor, and he said, "No problem," but I think I

should talk with the rabbi.

LS: mean they'll work out something so that it can be a happy
affair for everybody. They don't want to embarrass anyone. am
sure there is some solution, but I honestly don't know what it is.

50



LS: When you said Mash a was sick, do you have adequate health
coverage here or is that a problem?

NS: Yes, we have insurance .

. LS: You told me something about expectations, about living in the
Soviet Union, and the expectations of the Jewish community. You
said that the expectations of the Jewish community are unrealistic,
expecting you to jump in and be a volunteer, expecting you to have
some other level of Jewish background, and it was impossible to
have.

NS: From the beginning.

LS: Do you feel, though, that what you are bringing to the Jewish
community has been overlooked or slighted because they expect you
to be a certain way and you aren't and they just sort of dismiss you?
Or do you feel that Jews value what you are bringing to the Jewish
community? Or do you just feel as though they think of you as
another social service burden?

NS: I am afraid I don't quite understand your question.

LS: Do you feel that when you see American Jews at the synagogue,
do you think that they want you here, that they are happy that you
are here?

NS: I don't know. Some of them maybe yes, some of them no. It's
quite different, because there's different people, there are a lot of
different opinions, and maybe some of them thought we came to the
synagogue because on Friday they have a lot of cookies, but it's not
true. I can afford a cookie at my house.

LS: Right, right. You laid out a lot of cookies for me. Do you make it
a point to speak Russian in the house so that Masha won't forget?

NS: Oh, this is a problem because she picked up English very quickly
and of course, we talk among us Russian, but if she is trying to tell
me something special, she uses English. So this is trouble. And

51



started to read books to her in Russian because she doesn't want to
read Russian books. This is terrible.

LS: You ought to tell her that if she can keep us her Russian, she'll
get credit when she enters the university. Do you celebrate any
Russian holidays here? Women's Day or .. ?

NS: No. You see, lots of Russian holidays were political holidays,
except the New Year's, which is improper because we have Hanukah
here, and everybody has Christmas, but actually, the New Year's is
not like Christmas ...

LS: It's a holiday here too.

NS: It's a holiday here, but we did put a Christmas tree. It was our
normal tradition. It does not mean I think in this time about
Christmas, but it was a tree and we decorated it, and maybe it's kind
of a mixed tradition, but I grew up in this tradition.

LS: Do you still do it?

NS: Last year we got a letter from the Jewish Community Center,
and they explained to us very politely that a Christmas tree in our
house is not a Jewish tradition and try to avoid it. So we tried to
forget this tradition. But I don't think it's so good. It's normal.
What do you think?

LS: It's an evidence of American Jewish community putting pressure
on you.

NS: Yes. It's pressure, right? I like it. I remember the smell of this
tree, and I never think about God, any god--Jewish God or Christian
God--it's kind of different and it's the only one non-political holiday
in Russia, only one. This holiday came from the time of Peter I. He
brought his tradition from Europe to Russia. Since this time
everybody started to put green trees. It wasn't a Christmas tree, it
was just yolka -green tree. When the revolution started, there was
a special decree--nobody can do it any more, but after a while
people started to do it again because it's a nice tradition.

52



LS: So will you do it, you think?

NS: I think so. Don't tell anybody. [both laugh]

LS: I must say that you have a right to do whatever you want to do.
As I said, it's a free country, right? You are in a free country. Are
there any cultural differences you find really frustrating in
America?

NS: · Yes. You see, when we came here and got our first jobs, of
course, it's another level of jobs, it's a low level of jobs compared
to Russia. Anyway, we should communicate with people with
another level of education. I think we have a high level of education,
so it's another shock. There are a lot of educated people in this
country, I know it, but for the beginning we don't have an opportunity
to communicate with these people, we can't, we are not ready for ·
this, it's not the fault of these people, it's our problems. So we
started to communicate with people whose level of education and
intelligence was much lower, and it's very djsappointing.

LS: Were they unkind to you or were they just sort of stupid?

NS: Just sort of stupid people. Sometimes very kind, sometimes no,
but it makes no difference for me because I never communicated
with this kind of people in Russia--we have a lot of this kind of
people also--but now it's our life, so of course, it's a problem also.

LS: Is that still a problem with your husband working in this Bingo
place?

NS: Not now because this is a different kind of job.

LS: So that was a rude immersion into American culture. You are
still self-conscious about your language?

NS: Of course. am going to take English classes maybe in spring
time because it's necessary.

53



LS: If you want to classify yourself now, do you classify yourself as
a new American, do you classify yourself as an American? You
haven't been here long enough to actually take the naturalization ...

NS: I classify myself like a person who came in America two years
ago.

LS: I see. So you are caught in the crack of the pages, right? Are
you missing things about Russia, about the Soviet Union? I can't
even say the Soviet Union--it doesn't exist any more. Now I have to

say about Ukraine.
NS: Of course, I miss my language, my culture, not particularly
things, my city of course, because it was a beautiful city. There are
no friends in Odessa now. [End Tape 2 Side 2]

[Tape 3 Side 1]

LS: How often do you go to the synagogue?

NS: Before I started to work, we went quite often, probably around
twice a month. Now the problem is I am working Friday evening and
Saturday morning--not like a real Jew. So since I got a job it wasn't
possible, but now I try to send Masha to the synagogue with anybody,
with my friends, because I am working the evening time on Friday
and usually finish at 8:00, 8:30.

LS: Do you use the Jewish center very much?

NS: Not really, but we are members. Last year Masha used more,
now she has three schools--evening school, Sunday school and
normal school--so she doesn't have a lot of time.

LS: Has she gone to camp, any Jewish camp?

NS: Yes. First and second year she went to the (Camp) Butwin, of
course, and to the Herzl Camp. The first year we got full
scholarship, last year we paid about $300, which wasn't easy for us,
but she likes this camp, it's very important, and now we got new...

54



·\

I

don't think we can afford it this year because she is already grown
up and the first session is not for her, and the second one too
expensi;ve.

LS: Well, there may be scholarship money available.

NS: Yes, we will try, because it's very important for her.

LS: Yes, there are scholarships given through the synagogue and
through the Talmud Torah.. So you have to see what you can do.

NS: We will try it. Of course, it's very interesting and it's good
rest, but expensive.

LS: Yes, everything is expensive in America, that's the problem. Do
you have plans to stay here or would you rather move to Eagan if you
could? What are your future plans?

NS: don't like to live in the country, like Eagan, but if my husband
will keep the job for a while, of course, we'll think about a house,
because we already pay about $500 for this apartment, so it's not so
expensive for a house, but we'll be able to afford· it after a while if
he will keep his job. And there are no new buildings in Highland and
it's very expensive to buy something in this area. So just one way is
Eagan, but I don't like it actually, I'd rather live in this area, I like
this area more.

LS: Sometimes the areas north of Grand Avenue and north of St.
Clair, they have smaller houses that are not quite as expensive. So
you are making your way in America, but you've only been here what,
a few years?

NS: Yes.

LS: When you think about future, the fact that it's only been two
. years, you've really made enormous efforts to fit in

'NS: Everybody wants more, just right now, today.

55



LS: Right, everybody wants more. OK, I want to thank you very much.
I may have to come back because there's always questions that occur
to me 9-fterwards.

NS: I see. No problem.
LS: Thank you.
NS: Thank you.


\

I,

56