Monday, September 15, 2014


Emigration from the Soviet Union was akin to giving birth, with someone pushing a baby back into you. Every step of the way one had to contend with the government's resistance and people's prejudice. Our family's case was "lost" two times. Rimka had to leave her job, claiming that she suddenly found out that she was three years older and eligible for retirement. Lera and Dina, both, tried to call it off, sick and tired of putting their lives on hold.  
images (278×182)Dina's friend, a band musician, found her a job as a director's assistant in a small theater. Moscow and Russia were full of the theater-folk, but the authorities didn't like the innovation coming from the unsanctioned sources. The theater where she started working was performing - unheard of - the Rock Opera! The director was Armenian (another minus in the eyes of the chauvinistic powers-to-be). 
From the moment that she saw the actors not even acting, but just opening the curtain on both sides of the stage - so in sync, so gracefully - Dina was mesmerized. This was something she could really appreciate and give her full commitment! 
     She found herself, an unlovely and unlovable, or so she believed, dilettante, amid a talented, attractive, graceful crowd of people. She didn't have any real skills, couldn't even type fast. She dived in anyway. Her life changed one hundred percent. The troupe didn't get paid until the 
This is the skinniest I've ever been!
And the saddest.
authorities approved it's work. When they had something to show, usually,  a government appointed, middle-aged critic in a wrinkled cheap suit would show up, watch the performance while chewing on a toothpick and, most of the time, declare it inconsistent with the ideals of the Marxist-Leninist society. The director would be told to prepare something else, and his people would go without pay for the next few months. Every day, all they had to eat was, just some bread with butter - the cheapest food at that time, and a lot of tea. That was it. Dina, now losing all interest in leaving Russia, took her visa application back. Her parents stopped supporting her. She would steal some food from her house and share it with her friends.  
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At first, she thought that she found her idyll. It was a privilege and a pleasure to participate in a creative process, even as an administrator. Dina loved to watch the rehearsals and discuss theater and related things, sometimes, all night long. She came home when there was no other place to go, exhausted, but filled with inspiration. Every time she encountered her mother, they had a fight. OnceRimka hit her on the face with a boot; once, Dina locked her mother in the bathroom and left the apartment. They were both off their rocker! 

Lera was introduced to a suitable young man, who was interested not only to marry her but also to emigrate. To make sure, he was a little peculiar. On one of the first dates they went to a restaurant. The "nobodies" like them had to wait in a long line to get in, and then they had to share the table with other people. Such was life in the U.S.S.R.! Lera felt very uncomfortable, so after the meal was finished, she wanted to leave. Grisha, her intended, put a hand on her arm and said, primly: "There's still bread left!" He didn't move from the table until the last of their bread disappeared. He had a lot of phobias and strange habits, but was a decent fellow, and Lera was already twenty eightRimka convinced her elder daughter that a peculiar husband was better than no husband. And so they got married. 
Wherever Dina went, on the street corners, on the dark stairwells, she saw men, whointerestingly enoughwere almost alike looking! They read newspapers or searched the shop windows, but the realization finally donned: she was being watched. One morning, there was a knock on the door: "KGB!".  
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The agent took Dina walking to the police station nearby. Her father, on a verge of a heart attackfollowed them. The police and the KGB questioned her for close to two hours. They wanted to know, if there were any anti-Soviet activities going on in the theater, who there did what, why Dina would work there without pay and why she wouldn't, already, leave the country!
 Dina, from shear fright, instinctively, appeared to be a naive fool, just practicing the virtues extolled by the Soviet books: the love of the country and a selfless commitment to a cause. Time to time, an interrogator would say: "You know, we could put you in jail!" They couldn't get anywhere with her and let her go. Her dad cried when he saw her come out of the police station.  
The only way for Dina to convince her parents to leave her in Russia and go to the U.S. was to get married. She went to her director and offered a deal: she'll fictitiously marry one of the actors, who didn't have a permission to stay in Moscow, provide him with that opportunity, and he'll  help her deceive her parents that, she was in a stable marriage relationship.  
 When Dina brought a skinny, bearded Armenian(!) actor home (Jews were just as prejudiced as the rest of the country) to introduce to the parents, she thought they would faint! Nevertheless, they set a table to welcome the guest. Like by magic, Lera appeared there too, and her squinty-eyed gaping added to the macabre nature of the evening. No-one believed that the proposed marriage was real. 
There is something to say for the conventional wisdom. They don't base novels or plays on it, but, unfortunately, most of the time, it rules the world. As predicted by the naysayers, with all the inspiration that Dina received from her work and association with actors and the theater, things began to fall apart.
 After days and nights spent in exciting, culturally charged atmosphere, she felt even lonelier coming home alone.  Some of Dina's friends left the troupe because they found the director to be a cult-like leader. Then he began to try and talk her into leaving Russia, despite her own wishes. She understood that, her parents managed to bribe him. The idea of the fictitious marriage petered out and was abandoned. 
It all seemed like a terrible tragedy to Dina. This time she gave all her heart and felt even more betrayed than ever before. She was constantly tortured by thoughts of loneliness and despair. Standing on the train platforms, she played with an idea of stepping in front of the train and ending all that misery.  
She was, probably, a stupid, unrealistic fool, making a mountain out of a molehill, but that was all she knew how to be! Things looked very dark for her, with no hope in sight.  
The same musician-friend who helped Dina find the job, came to her aide again. Some weeks before Dina realized that she was being played by the director, he told her - at a loud party, among the drinking and carousing"If it will get too difficult for you, just talk to God!" She took it for one of his eccentricities, nodded and forgot all about it. 
On a night that threatened to become her last on this Earth, she remembered the friend's words and, for the first time ever, poured her heart out in prayer to an unknown God. She knew that, it was her last chance to survive the despair and confusion
She fell asleep, finally, and dreamed that she was running across the meadow. A sinister someone trapped her, and she called out to God to help her. The voice said: "Draw the pictures of saints on the sand", and she became free.  When Dina woke up, even before thinking about what happened the previous night, she felt completely different. The weight lifted off her shoulders, she felt elated, new, and clean, and sure that, she should go with her family to the U.S! That morning Lera came to try and convince her to reapply for the exit visa, but Dina shocked her and her parents by readily agreeing to do so. 
Nothing prepared her for this experience. She, like all the generations of the Soviet people, was raised as an atheist. They were taught that religion was used to control people and the clerics were all corrupt hypocrites. Dina didn't know anything about and was distrustful of the Jewish religion. The only ideas about God and Christianity came from some classic Russian literature, like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. All that didn't matter, because God would not be stopped by lies and misrepresentation. He rushed into her heart with tremendous love, forgiveness and acceptance. She still felt depressed a lot, but the prayer helped her to withstand difficulties. No-one knew about her newly found faith.  
The family started to get everything in order to leave the country. All of them left their jobs (Dina still helped at the theater, though). According to the rules for the intending emigrants, Meyer had to re-paint the apartment, so he did, destroying the beautiful artistic work that he's done on it earlier. Now the walls of the flat were covered by the papers with the  English phrases.
 Lera and Dina could catch on to that language quite easily. Meyer didn't even try. Rimka attempted to learn and found herself so overcome by the unfamiliar sounds and rules of that tongue, that she started yawning right in the teacher's face, after just a few minutes into a lesson.   
About two weeks before they had to leave, the police revoked their exit visas. They announced that the family was under suspicion for some kind of illegal activities, and, until it could be proven otherwise, they had to postpone the emigration.  
My exit visa.
The panic ensued. If they didn't leave on the arranged date, they wouldn't have money to buy new airplane tickets. There was nothing left for them in Russia,- no jobs or lives, because the stigma of the traitors would prevent them from establishing those things anew. 
Everyday, Meyer and both his daughters had to go to the police station to have a talk with a commissar - a representative of the Communist Party, or, actually, the KGB. The meetings went smoothly. Once he told them: "I want to go to America too!" Their startled expressions alerted him to his mistake: "As a tourist, of course!"  
Lera and Dina found a Jewish police detective at that station and asked him to sign the paper, stating that there was no reason for detaining them in Russia. The man listened to them quietly, then signed the document right in the hallway, on his knee. They never knew his name or met him again, but he took a real chance to do this for them! 
They flew out of Moscow on a dreary, late December night. The immigrant lore suggested that they do certain things to be able to bring their property with them and have money once they get to the West. One of those things was to put all the expensive jewelry and clothes on to pass the Customs; another claimed that, certain Russian products, like guitars, were in vogue in the West, and the immigrants could sell them there. As the result, Dina had five golden chains on her neck, and Meyer ran around the airport, snug and toasty in three coats, with a guitar in his hand! 
The family didn't pack wisely. The Customs officers took Meyer aside and checked him bodily for valuables. After a while, a senior officer came out, sized up the situation and said, venomously: "Why aren't you through the Customs yet? The plane is about to leave. Now you'll have to stay!" Rimka attempted to take the golden chains off Dina's neck, as ordered by the authorities, but they were impossibly tangled. For a moment she looked like she would gladly strangle her wayward daughter with those things. Instead, she turned to her family and barked: "Leave everything that they didn't check yet!" And so, the family's treasured china and silver, their photo albums and other heirlooms were left behind with the relatives. 
 The queerest and most memorable moment of that evening for Dina's parents and relatives came when her theater producer, who was charged by the troupe with seeing Dina off, suddenly stepped up to her and gave her a passionate kiss on the lips! Now her folks were convinced that, all the rumors they heard of the 
Two hours spent on make-up
before taking this picture really made a difference!
bohemian goings on at her job were true! ActuallyDina was the one most surprised by the kiss: he never said a private word to her before in her life! 
They were free! Funny, but they didn't feel happy. Most of the people on the bus carrying them to the plane were crying. Some - for their country and the families, and all the familiar and dear things they left behind. Some - because of the final humiliation that they suffered at the airport.  
Good Bye, Mother Russia.  

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