“Is It Really a Lost Generation?”
By Margarita Ukman One summer’s sunny Saturday morning my daughter became a Bat-Mitzvah in one of the most beautiful synagogues inEastern Long Island, The Jewish Center of theHamptons. The monumental architecture expressed in the combination of glass and wood with a reflection of history on the walls was a reminder to us of the ancestral light that people carried in their hearts throughout the generations. The Cantor’s incredible voice rebounded from the walls and penetrated the souls tuning them to the finest. The memory of our life in formerSoviet Unionfloated back to me nostalgically.
The light was entering through the skylights blessfully praising one with the sense of unity and rejuvenation. Rabbi was introducing my daughter as a granddaughter of the “Lost generation from the formerSoviet Union”. I immediately realized by that the Rabbi meant my mother who at age 54 leftMoscowwith her two children to finally reunite with our already extended American family that lived inSt. Louis,Missouri. She had the strength to start her life again just to give her children what she had never had herself—freedom.
Seated in the first row next to the bima (Podium) I could not stop thinking about the term ”The Lost Generation”. Growing up under the communist regime, we all knew that we were supposed to be atheists in order to fit in. Religion was a utopia for most people, but not for my grandmother, who spoke fluent Yiddish, kept Kosher, and celebrated Shabbat at her home as part of her orthodox upbringing. She had her own seat in the Moscow Central Synagogue where she was seen every Saturday and on Holidays.
The Synagogue is located in the heart ofMoscowbehind the Kremlin. My grandmother would get up early in the morning while most Muscovites were resting from a hard week of toil at the factories and engineering laboratories. The streets were empty. The billboards with government officials’ portraits, red flags, and communist exhortations were hiding the beauty of the century old architecture. Water trucks were cleaning the streets. The sun was rising and the mist from the trucks formed a morning rainbow as they went from one street to another. The rainbows were seen from a distance. The sounds from the sprinklers in the water trucks resembled a spring waterfall. The cool, crisp air was filled with hope for a better future.
My grandmother would arrive at the synagogue where she would find solitude. I vividly remember a picture of her in the first row surrounded by friends and acquaintances. She was as always happy, smiling and welcoming. She was a woman with a second grade education, but she had the courage and the wisdom to carry on and to raise two children who became successes on their own.
Every year during Passover with the help of synagogue members, we would receive Matzah, the unleavened bread. The Matzah would be delivered to us secretly. I remember one cold night; the bell rang at ourMoscowapartment. My mother asked me to stay in my room. I could not resist looking out in the long hallway to see who was at the door. I saw a big middle-aged man wearing dark clothes and a dark hat. It seemed to me that he almost tried to hide his face. He dropped two big boxes on the wooden floor. When my mother tried to thank him, he said in his deep voice: “Do not worry, it’s a Mitzvah, a blessing for me”. He immediately pushed the elevator button and disappeared in the light. I looked at my mother’s eyes; they were filled with feelings of pride for her people.
The strength of my grandmother’s religious beliefs was never broken, but her strength was shaken when she had to make a decision to go to US to visit her sister in 1978. She was a tall, renaissance woman who had never been afraid of anything or anybody. She stood up for the weak and needy. I remember my grandmother’s eyes when she would talk about her sister who married an American man fromSt. Louisand leftUkrainein 1920. My grandmother was full of memory of her favorite sister who was an embellishment of a perfect woman. She wanted to see her sister one more time. She would say:” If I only was a little younger, I would definitely go”. She was 71 years old and she was afraid for the first time in her life.