I was a young man when my family’s journey began in the search for freedom. We resided in a decent little neighborhood just in the outskirts of southern Russia. All the families around knew each other very well therefore I could never understand why my family always seemed so miserable. I mean I heard stories and watched the news about bad accidents from muggers to murderers but I never seen anything like that around where we lived. Until one night my father did not come home, my mother told me he was just working late, but I knew something else was wrong, it was way after any working hours. I became so frustrated of waiting for my father I guess I ended up falling asleep because next thing I remember was being woken up at 3:30 am by my mother hysterically crying. I knew it was my father so all I could do was sit there and hug her.
The officer told me he had been found in an alley after being brutally beaten, and he was already dead upon their arrival. Witnesses claim they saw him get jumped outside of the synagogue which he had been seen leaving earlier that afternoon. My father always carried his valuables on him, all his money, personal information cards, and bank account numbers. None of this was on him when he had been found, which only meant one thing, they could be coming for us next. My mother spent days searching for friends or family we could stay with for awhile until we could get ourselves together. But with our luck we were helpless.
We’ve heard many stories about America, that is was “the land of opportunity”. But we could only dream about living there. A scary thought which never left my mind was that my 18th birthday was approaching, which meant I had to enlist in the Russian army, which for jews was like asking for an early death, because not many Russian jews came out of the army well if even alive.
I’ve seen it myself that out in the streets Russians would get discriminated against, the hardest thing to believe was that it was in our own country, by our own people. Discrimination occurred mostly because we had different beliefs or a different culture, which was not good to display in public. Judaism was a major religion which had it really hard in Russia. We as Russian Jews had no way of escaping this society which had been making our lives unbearable. Jews could not speak their minds or walk down the street showing any support in the Jewish belief or they would be punished for it.
I told my mother I would rather die than enlist in the Russian army and she broke down in tears. Both she and I knew immediately we needed to get away from this life and we had to do it fast. The next morning we packed our most valuable belongings (which wasn’t much) and began out journey to the free world. We had no money, no place to go, and nothing to live for except an ambition for freedom. We took the bus to the nearest train station where we wanted to see the soonest routes away from home.
We planned to head all the way out west where we wouldn’t know anyone and we could start a new life. But at the ticket counter the lady said there was only tickets left for Ellis Island, neither me, mama or Babushka knew where that was but we were told it was all the way out west so we took the risk and got on the ship. After all we had nothing to lose. We didn’t know what to expect and were a bit scared or what might come. Spreading down the ship we heard rumors that we were headed to America but it was hard to believe so I just closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep, but the thoughts of America couldn’t leave my mind….
Entry 2: February 12,1887
Wow! What a boat ride it has been. I don’t even know how many days I was on that boat, long enough but it was well worth the ride. The rumors were true, we’ve actually made it to America!! The land we only hoped and wished for. On the ride we met many lovely people all with the same hope, a better life. We heard many reasons of why people were leaving Russia, mostly in search for a better life, religious freedom, and to escape persecution. “Ellis Island” was a major immigration station for the US at which we had arrived at. Upon arrival we were greeted by fairly nice authority officials who told us where to go and what to do. Everyone had to be examined for diseases and checked for being physically and/or mentally fit.
Many people were admitted but still some were deported, like my grandmother Maria, she was very old and couldn’t walk well on her own so she got deported. I miss her dearly, but I know she is doing fine. Luckily my mother and I had all our documents confirming who we were with us because all of them were checked. After 5 hours of going through the Ellis island station we had finally entered America! The streets were beautiful, nothing like I had ever seen before, lined with tall trees people cars, and smiles!
We stuck with a family which we had met on the boat, they told us they knew people who could help us get situated and help us get an apartment until we can get our own jobs. And they did as they said, we got a little one bedroom apartment right near the port of entry which was very convenient because most of the people we came over with had also lived there, where we formed our own Russian community.
As time went by which we had spent in America we came to realize we had no Americans to look up to for help so slowly but gradually the Russian society formed its own community. We didn’t receive much respect but no one really gave us any problems. After all we were blessed to be where we were. I remember in Russia not being able to go outside after 9:00 pm at night because of the dangers that walked the streets. But here, any time of night you could receive a smile from at least one person.
The lower eastside of New York was were we had been living for almost two months. Recently I began working in a grocery store where I started off making $2.00 an hour, which wasn’t bad at all, I made just enough to support mama and myself and to buy food once a week. The working conditions weren’t bad. I worked just as much and just as well as everyone else. Although the people there weren’t to nice I learned to deal with it, I was only there to make money, not friends.
So in the end this boat ride to nowhere turned out to be a dream come true!!