1994 | Tbilisi, Georgia | Age: 11 | via Moscow
I look at my birth certificate every so often. This is the part that stands out for me - the “Nationality” field. It’s indicated in both Russian and Georgian, and instead of the actual nationality, it has my religion. It’s literally a label, a warning: “This person is a Jew.” They did this for all minorities - Muslims too. It was a way to discriminate because it was much harder to get a job or advanced education if your birth certificate listed you as a minority. I’ll always keep this because I think it’s very telling of the times there.
In Georgia there were only about 10 Jewish last names, so it was fairly easy to tell who the Jews were. If your last name ended in -dze you were definitely not Jewish. If it ended in -shvilli it could go either way. There was such a small community of Sephardic Jews, and we had to be discreet. We couldn’t display our mezuzah on the outer door frame, so we hung it on the inside. There was a secret synagogue and one butcher, who would secretly butcher kosher meat. I would go down deep into this basement with my grandparents to get the meat, especially for the high holidays. Occasionally they’d get caught and punished - whatever the punishment was. We definitely couldn’t practice openly, but we were observant as much as we could be. Back there, we maintained traditions, but couldn’t be too visible or too obvious. Now I still keep kosher even though my kids don’t, and my husband isn’t Jewish.
Growing up in Georgia and then here, I remember my grandmother frying buttered potatoes in this pan for us after school every single day. We lived with her, even once we came here. Now, that sounds so crazy to me. I can’t imagine living with my mother-in-law, even though we have a great relationship. But it must be so suffocating to have to live like that. My mom was 16 when she was married and 17 when she had me - that’s how it was done there. In Georgian families, you would live with at least one older generation, and always with the husband’s side. It was a stressful environment to grow up in, especially when we immigrated here and saw a very different lifestyle, in which we were not allowed to participate.
So I remember this pan because my grandma always made these very buttery potatoes for us. She got this from her mother-in-law, so it’s at least my dad’s age. It’s a rusty, durable little thing, in which I would probably never cook now. I’d feel risky using it. I mean we all survived, but… Anyway, I love this thing. I’m not going to cook in it, but maybe in my next house I’ll hang it on the wall.
In the Georgian culture, hosting is extremely important. Your doors must always be open to company. So when we were growing up, even here, we had to be expecting someone at all times. My grandma used to say, “You never know who is going to show up.” And I would think, “It’s 2pm on a Wednesday. No one is going to show up!” But she would say that you should always keep the house in an expectant state of impending company. And in Georgia that’s how it was - neighbors or relatives just showed up. My grandmother always had baked goods ready, and all her serving plates were like this - in the popular, decorative Rococo style. We were afraid of breaking them because we couldn’t just go out and buy replacements. Everything was obtained on the black market. Before we left, we packed our things in a shipping container that arrived here in about 3 or 4 months. A lot of the items were missing, as was common. But this one survived, and I love it. It doesn’t fit with my style, but it’s just really special to reminisce through these items and to share them with my kids. They’ll probably never see me using half of these things, but I could never get rid of them.
I used to play with this belt when I was a kid. It weighs a ton. I have no idea how old it actually is. I know that it belonged to my mother’s great-grandmother. It’s just about the right size for me, especially if I wear it over a thick sweater. More or less, women had these as status symbols to show off, like jewelry. The more silver and gold one had, the better. This is a real keepsake. I wonder if it’s valuable.