1992 | Kiev, Ukraine | Age: 32
My Principal wanted to promote me to be Vice Principal, but when she submitted my paperwork to the local Party office, she was told that she was crazy to appoint a Jew to the position. So I understood at that point that a career in administration was never going to happen. I loved my job though. I taught Russian language and literature, but there was no upward mobility for me. That would have been ok, but when Ukraine declared its independence, I was told to re-educate myself to teach Ukrainian language and literature. What was offensive was that my administration neglected to understand that I was already fully accredited to teach both languages. So when the topic of emigration arose, I knew that I wasn’t giving up a promising career there, plus the future of Ukraine was uncertain. The only issue was that I couldn’t take my parents with me. I had worked with my mother in the same school, the same school where I had been a student. I was very close with my parents, and leaving them was very difficult. Once here, everything was foreign. I can’t say that we felt like we were going into an unknown abyss, but we didn’t fully understand what were were getting ourselves into.
We took things that we knew. At 32, I knew how to teach. We were an ordinary family. We didn’t have much in terms of valuables. So like the rest of the intelligentsia, we brought books, and because my education and profession is tied to language and literature, I thought maybe I could use them to teach or just as a reminder for myself. I took an orthographic dictionary so that I would always remember how to write properly. Russian is not an easy language and there are many rules and exceptions. I brought a few more highly specialized dictionaries that had been incredibly difficult to come by. And I did end up using them extensively here when writing and editing news articles.
I also brought some of my favorite writers - Paustovsky, Bulgakov, Pushkin - not only because I love their writing, but also because they had lived in Kiev and wrote about the city. We know the areas they describe; we walked along the streets they talk about. I studied in the same buildings at the University where they had studied. They describe our places, our city. We also took a couple of photo albums of Kiev, published around the same time as we were leaving. In the first couple of years here, when I missed Kiev and my parents terribly, I would look through the albums and read these books often. Reminiscing through these always made me feel better.
There were also books that you could exchange for collecting paper recycling. The collection process wasn’t easy, but at a time when there weren’t many good movies, books were difficult to buy, and libraries were very limited, these books-for-recycling provided an incentive and a bit of entertainment. No one actually knew what was done with the recycling afterwards, whether it was processed and repurposed into something else. The government campaign for this lasted for about 10 years. There was a huge deficit of toilet paper, so you have to wonder where all the recycling went if not toward toilet paper production.
I would climb up to my parents’ dresser, open up their little treasure box, and play with their trinkets. This tie clip was my father’s, and it had been part of his military uniform. He studied at the Military-Space Academy in Leningrad, where he met my mother, who was also studying in Leningrad at the time. The tie clip is from there, and on it is pictured the Russian cruiser Aurora. So this little tie clip holds a lot of symbolism for me - my childhood, my parents’ meeting each other, Leningrad, my father’s career. I hadn’t seen it in many years, but my mother gave it to me when my father passed away. I didn’t even know that they had brought it with them.