I never thought that I would start my own blog, and yet, that is exactly what I’m doing. Why? Not because I believe that I am a profound thinker and the world cannot live without my opinions, and not because I am a vain person. Why then? Well, I’ll be honest with you. Because I just finished writing my first book “The Education of a Traitor” (I have published essays and articles before), and now I need to build “my platform,” or, to put it plainly, I need to prove to the publishing world that there are people out there who will read what I write; that I have something to say to them –even if they are very different from me. Can I do it? I don’t know. I just have to try, for there is nothing more important for a writer than readership. And now, let me introduce myself.
I am a foreigner. I was born in Moscow, Russia (which in those days was called the Soviet Union) and I lived there for 39 years. When I immigrated to the U.S., I didn’t speak English, and despite many years of studying, I speak with an accent. This may take time to get used to, although people usually say, – oh those polite Americans! – “What a charming accent you have! Where are you from?” (Just between you and me, I HATE my “charming” accent. So if you ever meet me in person, don’t ever say that! :)) In any case, I usually reply, “I’m from Russia,” to which many say something like this: “I’ve been in Moscow/St. Petersburg/etc. Great country! Great people, too! Do you go back often?”
Well (this, again, is between you and me), I haven’t been back since the day I left my crying relatives at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (none of us knew whether we would ever see each other again) and, accompanied by the hateful glances of the Russian border patrol, boarded a plane. Why don’t I go back? As I already said, I lived in Russia for 39 years — which was a very “interesting” experience in itself, but to make matters worse, I was born into a Jewish family. I did not know then that that wasn’t a good idea, but neither I nor my parents could do anything about it anyway, since in Russia being Jewish is very different from being Jewish in any other place on Earth. It doesn’t mean that you go to religious services and celebrate Sabbath every Friday (sorry to say, I still don’t even now). In fact, the Soviet Union was an atheist haven where nobody believed in anything, but everyone cited Karl Marx: “Religion is opium for the masses.”
To tell the truth, very few of us knew what opium actually was, but we all understood that it must be something very bad, like rotten capitalism, wars, exploitation of the working class, or writing curse words on the wall. Our knowledge of religion was mostly gastronomical. For me and the Jews of my generation being Jewish meant eating gefilte fish and matzah for Passover (if you don’t know what matzah and gefilte fish are, google them!), and for my Russian counterpars, the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church narrowed down to painting eggs and baking cakes for Easter. Also, a week before Lent, we all religiously ate blini (small pancakes) with sour cream, and those who had “connections” (and you absolutely had to have some kind of connections if you were to survive in the Soviet Union) ate them with caviar – nobody giving a hoot what Easter was all about. Which was actually good, because outside our stomachs, religion could mean serious trouble – expulsion from college, difficulties at work, and possibly, even worse.
So, what made me and others like me Jewish? Our ethnicity, of course! Well, they called it “nationality,” and as such it was recorded in all our documents: from our maternity wards to day care centers, schools, colleges, places of work, and in the most important places of them all – in our passports, which every Soviet citizen received at the age of sixteen. Whatever the document, it read (always on the fifth line): “Nationality — Jewish.” Of course, it didn’t help that, as popular saying had it, our Jewishness was “written on our faces” — meaning that in the sea of the light-headed and light-eyed Russian majority, we, dark-headed and dark-eyed, with tanned complexion, stood out. This might not have applied to everyone, but it surely applied to me.
The most revealing thing about me was my nose. It was long and protruding (still is, in fact :)) — a typical Jewish nose that I inherited from my father. My mother’s nose, on the other hand, appeared almost normal. In fact, her nose appeared so normal that she didn’t look Jewish at all, so her patients (she was an overworked and underpaid district doctor) told her anti-Semitic jokes and complained about the global domination of Jews: “Those kikes took over all the good places, so true Russians don’t have anywhere to go!” To which Mother, whose low salary was often less than the salaries of her “true” Russian patients, only nodded and said, “Take these pills twice a day and get a lot of rest …”
Well, see how far talking about my accent got me? I think I’d rather stop now. Talk to you later! 🙂