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Russian Women: Stateside

Many waves of Jewish emigrants from the Former Soviet Union have landed on American coasts. Their educational backgrounds, intentions and destinations differed, but they all hoped to obtain the valuable right to be themselves, professing what they believed in, doing what they were good at, and living the life they chose by themselves.

I myself was a journalist in Moscow, working for the scientific newspaper Radical. Since coming with my entire family to the United States in 1992,1 have become a manager at AT&T’s multicultural marketing department as well as working closely with the New York Association for New Americans. This is my first attempt to introduce my fellow countrywomen to American readers.

Dina Zuckerman came to New York City in 1990, leaving her friends and family in Moscow. A biochemist in the Former Soviet Union, she cleaned houses and volunteered until getting a job as a biochemist at the Cornell Medical Center.

“There was no women’s issue in the FSU. Equal rights were declared. And you indeed could see women constructing roads and working hard with hazardous materials. Women even could be elected to the highest legislative structures, but only for sitting on a level with men as dummies. They could be heads where they worked and at the same time slaves to housekeeping: hunting for food; bringing up children; cooking and cleaning. They never had a rest. I’ve never seen a Russian family in which the husband and wife share family duties like Americans do.”

Marina Kovaleva came from Leningrad to New York in 1978 with her husband, Sergey, and their 8-year-old daughter Rina. Since then she has helped 23 relatives, a lot of friends and Jewish dissidents come to the U.S.

“Everybody said it was impossible for a Russian Jewish lady to get a museum curator position in the U.S., but I finally got a position at the Brooklyn Museum. Three years later I lost my position just when I felt secure and was hoping to work all my years at the Brooklyn Museum,” “That was when I decided to start my own business, where my future depends only on what I do. I started taking Russians and showing them American sights. As a result we became tour operators not just for Russians but for Americans traveling to Eastern Europe. We were the first tour to show Jewish sights. Even at the time of the highest oppression. Now, we take hundreds of groups to the Former Soviet Union, provide them with kosher food and the chance to meet Jewish families and Jewish activists.

Mila Kazimrsky left Odessa, Ukraine in 1979 with her parents, husband and 8- year-old daughter Irina. Before coming to the U.S. she was a philologist and worked as a school teacher. She washed floors and stairs in Italy on her way to America.

“Everybody told me that the most popular and wanted profession in America was accounting. I never liked it, but obediently entered the course. I studied nine months, and sobbed each of those days. I had about 35 interviews and was not hired anywhere. One man who finally hired me confessed that he saw immediately that I am not good at such a job, but he always dreamed about the blond working in his office. Now I work as a real estate agent. This is mine.”

“My greatest discovery in this country is its motto: ‘It is never too late.’ Huge ships full of old ladies traveling all around the world! Colleges and universities where you can take any courses in spite of your age! Singing, dancing, painting, no matter what you did before! All my life I longed for creative activity, feeling something unknown in myself. Once I opened a door in a studio where people were busy modeling and said, ‘Let me join you. I’d love to.’ They laughed: ‘O.K., come over! Take some clay.’ Now I am displaying in a gallery.”

“I do regret that I was not born here and had not grown up in this country as a free person. On the other hand, there is some advantage in taking the opportunity to live more than one life.”