Wednesday, October 22, 2014



Who is this, you ask? It is I! My friend sent me some pictures from our childhood.

My elementary school class and our teacher, Yelena Eduardovna. 
Whoever finds me in this photo, will get a prize: a year's subscription to reading my blog for free! 
(Since my blog is already free, here is the answer: I am in the second row, standing second from the right)

Yo heard me talk about my dog, Juli. Here he is. I, for some reason, thought that he was smaller.

High school. Think, you know, which one I am?
(No luck? I am the fourth from the left in the first row)

Well, here is only me and our woods in winter.

Boy, I was pretty! In my family, though, mom called me (affectionately, mind you!) "the ugly one". What do you think?

Monday, October 20, 2014


The room was dark. It was also very small. I expected something so different from a salon, where they do facials, that my mind began to buzz with worry. Didn't the little Cambodian lady understand, what I wanted? Are they going to stick me in a closet before a room for the facials becomes available?

     In the twilight I saw a bed. The lady handed me fleecy two-piece pajamas and told me to change into them. Since they were about ten sizes too small, I stood there dumbly, until she realized the problem and took them out of my hands. 
- "You can keep you dres-s o-n..." Her child-like accent calmed me down. I mean, I knew that, people with the same accent (as all people) can be capable of unspeakable atrocities, but I was glad of my tiny victory over the dress and readily looked at her for further instructions. 
- "Lie down, ple-e-a-s-s-e!"
   The bed was too tall and oval because of the extensions for a person's arms. I raised one of my stumpy little legs and my butt, but was unable to mount the contraption. With a lot of the huffing and puffing I managed to, finally, get on it, but not before breaking one of the extensions (I prefer to think that, it just folded under my bulk). "OK" - I said in hot embarrassment.
     My heart was thudding from exhaustion and apprehension. 
 - "You lie the-e-eh, I get ready foh yo-u-u!"
     The ceiling was far above and dark. I began to relax. The worry was replaced with an inner chuckle. 
     I felt cold, refreshing cream on my forehead. She then spread it all over my face and wiped it off with warm, moist pads. I was still blinking in the dark, getting used to this new development, when she put warm, moist little ?cotton balls? on both my eyelids and continued her ministrations.
     The sensations replaced one another and were not altogether unpleasant. My caretaker used on me a polishing mechanical doohickey and then - a rougher one. I couldn't open my eyes, so it took some adjustment of my control-hungry mindset to relax completely. 
     It came to me then that, this could be a great opportunity for personal growth. I had to let go of control and preconceptions in order to have a good experience. 
     - "Let go, forgive (I thought of other things on my heart than the facial), love. Let go, forgive, love." I chanted soundlessly, and busy fingers moved on my face. I heard the wheels on the floor: she pulled something over, and suddenly the warm steam waffed over my skin. 
     We were both silent. Contrary to my nature, the weight on my eyelids also prompted my lips to remain closed. 
     A clang of some instruments in a tray. I winced, thinking of all the visits to a dentist, when this sound meant another, different torture. 
     And - torture I got! 
     The little fingers used something to scrape my face of the decades of crud. She didn't know mercy, but I knew, it was for the best!
     After awhile, it was over. The cool cream smoothed my stinging cheeks, chin and forehead. She moved to my arms, put lotion on them and strongly massaged them from shoulders to the tips of my fingers. I endured pain in silence.
     The lady then put a gauze over my face and ladled some concoction on top of it. It was a mask. After painting the gauze with it, she left me, so to speak, to stew in my own juices. 
     The tension fled. I dozed off, not worried anymore about the impending meeting with my relatives or the kind of an impression I will make on them. If they want to keep the connection, they need to see the real me. What kind of a relationship would it be, if I have to keep on impressing them in vain?
     - "Ah you OKa-a-i?" My caretaker was back. She removed the mask from my face, washed the skin and put some more lotion on it. 
    - "Se-e-e? No r-e-d! I to-oh-d yo-u-u!"
     I touched my cheek. It was so smooth that, my fingers slid off! I forgot how tight the skin on the face should be!
     - "Yo-u come ba-a-a, I'll take care-e-e o you-u-u" With that promise, I was led out into the light. 
     Do you think, there could be a lesson somewhere in this?




     Does my life have meaning? I am trying to make the best of my existence. 
     Do I read as much as I used to? No. I write, but do not read much anymore. 
     Do I have meaningful relationships with the people whom I call friends? Not in a strict sense of the word. We have fun and brief moments of selflessness between us, but that is not constant and can not be relied on.
      Do I mean that much to my family? Can they rely on me? Do they? 

Saturday, October 18, 2014


     On the other side of the table the phones were being pulled out and a lot of the technical jargon sounded in the men's excited voices. They looked, like they had a lot to discuss as well. I tried to translate, as much, as I could, of the pertinent news from Sofia, but the conversation with her seemed too deep to interrupt it.
     She had three sons. One died when he was six and a half years old. Even though we didn't talk about it, the third son is very sick. That's a lot of suffering in these parents' lives! She told me, how her remaining sons don't want to get married, and that breaks her heart.
     Time to time, Sofia would lean to her husband and whisper something to him in Hebrew. I asked, what was the matter. 
     - "Where is that food?" It takes so long!"
     - "Are you hungry?"
     - "No, we ate the whole chicken on the way to the hotel. I still am full from it!"
     Mr. Rosenthall, the waiter came and assured us that, our food is almost ready. 
     After a few minutes Sofia started to worry again:
     - "Go, tell them in English: the people are hungry!"
     Vova tried to calm her down: 
     - "They are just preparing it! It takes time!"
     - "How much time do you need to fry a steak?!" - Her voice rose at the end of each sentence. I suppressed the desire to smile. - "Two minutes - on one side, two minutes - on the other! Go, Dina, tell them in English: the people are hungry!"
     I heard that phrase from my mom enough times. For some reason, she thought that, men could get hungrier than women. I also knew: there is no use arguing with her, when she worried about feeding people.
     - "Mr. Rosenthall," - I said, walking up to the waiters' station.
    He took my hands in his own. I was a little put out by that, but continued to explain to him the concern at our table. He ran to the kitchen and came back with the same news: "Its almost ready!"    
     When Jewish people feel, like they are getting a preferential treatment from a member of their own race, they are willing to forgive a lot. For awhile, Sofia stopped glancing in the direction of the kitchen, pursing her lips and rolling her eyes in irritation. 
jpeg (259×194)    images (266×189) Our meals were great. Taka and I got lamb chops with balsamic reduction and tiny potatoes, Sonny and Vova ordered steaks. Since Vova refused to accept the potatoes with his meal, Mr. Rosenthall put a double portion of salad on his plate.
     Sofia liked her salad. Mr. Rosenthall created a                                                                           jpeg (344×147)
images (225×225)              special vinaigrette dressing for it, and she was happy. She also grabbed her husband's salad and distributed it among all of us, saying: "He doesn't want it anyway!"   
Auntie Rachel
     We continued to remember my mother and auntie. Unfortunately, those two didn't get along, and Sofia wanted me to tell her, why. I offered a suggestion that, it could've been because my mom was jealous of us paying affectionate attention to other people. It was true: she always got upset, when I found a friend among older women, and never failed to go check on my dad, when they studied English in school in New York. They were in different classrooms, and she'd go meet with him during the recess,
protecting "her own" from the covetous eyes of the other women. 
Dad's and his sister's love for each other ran deep, and mom could'n abide it.
     It seems, like I am putting my mother down. Its not so. She was, what she was, because of the painful memories of her father abandoning her in her childhood. She did her best and loved us the best way she knew how. 
     Back to the reunion.
     We sat in the restaurant for a few hours. Another party fizzled and left. Sonny sat with his cheek in his hand, eyes closed, and we knew that, he wasn't contemplating the world's problems! I gave Sofia my gifts, the perfume. She had the same idea and gave me perfume as well. I bought some gifts for my other cousin, Estella, and her husband and asked Sofia to convey them. She, for some reason, didn't look, like she wanted to talk about her sister, and I let it go.
     Time and again Sofia came back to one topic: 
     - "You are Jewish, which means that, your children are Jewish too. They have no business being in a "church"! You are a mother, you can influence them!"
     I tried to explain that, someone's faith is a question of their conscience and not to be dictated by a person's ethnicity. This was not something that she or Vova could agree on, though, and I resigned myself to nod and smile, when Sofia brought up the subject of the church.
We took pictures (I called on Mr. Rosenthall to help us). It was time to say goodbye, but we only just met! When will we be able to see each other again? 
     It was sad to say goodbyes. They took us to our car. We hugged, then they were gone. 
     Blood is thicker than water. I never met Sofia and Vova before, but now I miss them. I hope that, our reunion was as meaningful to them as it was to me.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Sweets from Japan.

     The ones in the form of Mount Fuji are
one one hundred eighty thousandth of the real mountain, at least, that's what it says on the box!

The big green ones are wafers with green tea cream in the middle.

The white thingy is, kind of, a chestnut shortbread. 

                                              Little mushrooms with                                          chocolate tops.

                               The triangular pieces are the bamboo shoots shaped chocolates.

This brown thingy is a piece of cookie in black sugar.

The thin beige ones - apple flavored cookies. 

The green little pieces are peanuts in sugar coating.

And the sweetest of all: my niece, Reina, who came back to study English in a Berkeley school!

Thank you, my sister-in-law, Hitomi-san and obaa-san (my
children's grandmother)!

Thursday, October 16, 2014


jpeg (279×181)

     We met in this lovely, luxurious, Sofitel San Francisco bay hotel in Redwood city. Sonny and I drove to pick Taka up from work, and then he drove us (crazy) to the hotel. He might've been very tired after work, because he kept missing turns and losing his temper. 
     Did I mention that, I never met Sofia and Vova before? I didn't even know, how they look now! Twice, while waiting for them in the lobby, I smiled broadly at some men, saying: "Are you Vova?" The receptionist began to get a wrong idea about me, when a small, fashionably dressed lady and a handsome older man walked up to us. 
Sofia in her youth.
                                                                                             Sofia now.

I repeatedly told Sonny and Taka that, that couple were the most beautiful people on my side of the family. Well, time waits for no man, and, definitely,  for no woman. 
Even though I was sad to see, how different Sofia looked in comparison to her photos just a couple of decades ago, right away I felt a deep connection with her and Vova, who came up to us with his arms outstretched in a hug.

It might be that, in Israel people are more used to showing their emotions, and it could be that, my relatives were just being overly warm, as is customary in their society, but my feelings were real, and I wanted to accept them as my blood kin.

I made reservations at a restaurant in the same hotel. It was located behind the bar, and the noise was simply deafening! A waitress tried to refuse Vova's request to give us a table in a closed off section, which was farther away from the noise, but he won the argument, and we sat in comparative peace.
I thought that, both, my cousin and her husband could speak English. That wasn't so! Vova's language skill was passable, but, I realized, it was better to speak Russian with his wife. That and the table, which was too big, fractured our group. Taka, Vova and Sonny sat closer to each other and tried to speak in English, while Sofia and I made a cozy group on our own, talking about the family's past and present, asking questions in Russian. Time to time, I would translate, what the reason was for a laughter or a solemn pause in our conversation, but, other than that, the men let us be.
A waiter came to take our order. Sofia and Vova came from a very different place that the U.S, and weren't used to how we do things. Sofia decided that, she wanted a salad. "Just a salad!" - she repeated, lifting her shoulders and voice at the waiter's apparent lack of understanding. There were about ten different salads on the menu, but she wanted simple lettuce-tomato-cucumber fare.
-"Do you want onions"
-"Yes, lots of onions!"
-"What kind of salad dressing do you want?"
Sofia threw her hands up in a gesture of exasperation. She was tired of all the questions! A salad is a salad, right?
Vova did a little better. He chose s steak, which was on the menu. After that things went down. 
-"And do you want French Fries, or mashed potatoes with it?"
-"No, no potatoes!"
-"This dish comes with a choice of French Fries or mashed potatoes, with pearl onions, asparagus and baby carrots."
Vova was adamant: 
-"I just want the steak and salad!" - said he, cutting the air with his hands for emphasis. 
-"Do you want vegetables?"
-"What?! Isn't salad - vegetables?!"
I interfered and explained that, the waiter meant the boiled veges for Vova's meal.
-"No, just steak and salad, and that's all!"
That waiter had the patience of an angel! He asked us, from where Vova and Sofia came. 
"I am also Jewish" - he said - "My last name is Rosenthall!"
When he left, the emotions settled down. We went back to talking. Sofia told me that, she remembered, like it happened yesterday, how my dad came home from the war. She explained the way grandmother, dad's mom, and her mother (dad's sister), saw him coming toward the house in his soldier's uniform. How they called out his name and fell to kiss and hug him, all the time crying and keening from joy. 
I almost cried myself. This happened very long ago and very far away, but it meant the world to us!
Tongue in cheek, she asked me about the reason, why she didn't see me at the family reunions, while my parents lived in New York. I answered straight forward, that I was a missionary in the Unification Church (like she didn't know that!) and was occupied elsewhere at the time. I then put my hand on her arm and said: "Sofochka [making her name sound dearer and closer], I since decided to distance myself from that church".
She looked pleased and switched the topic to something else.

To Be Continued....



Yesterday, I met with my cousin from Israel and her husband. Here are some pictures in regards to the story. I'll write it later! Now its time to get ready to go pick up Reina at the airport!

Later that day...

These are my auntie Rachel and her husband, and their children, my cousins, Sofia (left) and Estella (right). They immigrated to Israel in 1957. 

Sofia was a very beautiful girl. In Israel she married Vova (emphases on the first syllable). When we received their wedding photo album, we viewed and treated it like a museum piece. The couple looked wonderful, like some kind of celebrities!
     Sofia and Vova traveled a few times to the United States before, but, I guess, because of my involvement in the Unification Church, were loth to meet me. They are not 
at all tolerant  to the Jews, who go into other religions. I don't blame them: that's how they were
Auntie Rachel in her sixties.
taught to think. Once, I tried to explain to Sofia's mother, my aunt Rachel, my experience of finding God, thinking that, because she lived

outside of the Soviet Union with it's atheistic attitudes longer than my parents and could comprehend something about spiritual life, but she said that, I was talking nonsense.
     Sofia and Vova also knew, how much my parents suffered, when I left them to become a Moonie, and resented it..
     Time softened their apprehension. They decided to get together with me and mine during this trip to the U.S.

     As is customary for me, I went a little bonkers in preparation for that meeting. Little by little, though, I managed to control my impulse to go buy new clothes for myself to seem, somehow, prettier and thinner than I really am, as well as lavish presents for my relatives. Amid our car troubles, I hardly registered that, the reunion was going to happen the next day. I grabbed Roberta and together we went to Macy's to buy the only present that made                                                                           
images (225×225)sense: perfume. OK, OK, I did spend a pretty penny on it and some other things, but who could blame me? They are the family whom I never met before! Actually, my aunt was responsible for funding my family's immigration from the Soviet Union, and I owe them a lot!

This pink, shiny, new face is the result of an hour and a half of the facial treatment! Call me insecure, but I couldn't let my cousin and her husband from Israel see me for the first time the way I looked. I will definitely write a post about that experience, but for now I just want to say: I was happy-(er) with my appearance after that!

To Be Continued...