Lech Lecha: Go forth from your land.
For most of you, Chanukah is next-up when it comes to Jewish holidays. But my head is already at Pesach!
There is actually good reason for that. I am writing this as I contemplate the 40th Anniversary of my family’s own Exodus from a different Mitzrayim – the Soviet Union. On November 11, 1975 my grandmother (Sofia Reingbald), my father (David Galperin), my mother (Irina, née Grinfeld, Galperin), my sister Vera, and I, all boarded a train in Odessa, thereby embarking on a journey to freedom.
We passed through the border town of Chop where Soviet customs agents strip-searched my 74 year old grandmother, poked and prodded my 8 year old sister, and threw everything out of our suitcases (we were prepared with sacks to regather our meager possessions). They split my 16 year-old teddy bear in half (yes, I still had a teddy bear) and emptied out the stuffing – and all of this took so long that we missed our scheduled train to Vienna. Needless to say, the experience made us that much more relieved to finally cross the border.
We spent the next night huddled in the cold of a train station in Koshevitz, Czechoslovakia, and were treated to Coca Cola (our very first!) and beer, by a kind Slovak, a fellow passenger on his way to Bratislava. With a total of $90 per person, we arrived in Vienna on November 13th and were met by emissaries from the Jewish Agency, the JDC, and HIAS. After two weeks on another planet, Austria, we spent four and a half months in Italy, and in April of 1976 – just before Pesach – we landed in another galaxy: Los Angeles, California.
I have written and spoken quite a bit of my family’s journey since then. I have also devoted much of my professional life to ensuring that the magnificent Jewish communal enterprise that was there for my family will still be there for others when they need it. And there is little doubt in my mind that it will be needed.
So, on this 40th Anniversary of my family’s personal Exodus, my wife and I will be making a contribution in memory of our fathers – Dr. Martin Guyer and Dr. David Galperin – to a scholarship fund at two of our children’s school. Our children attend the Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn, New York, where the Jewish values of mutual responsibility, community, pursuit of justice, and learning, are taught, lived, and experienced every day. Our parents, in ways different from one another, made this possible for each of us, and in turn for our very fortunate children.
As it happens, my father in law’s yahrtzeit this year aligns with the Gregorian anniversary of my family’s emigration, making this week a particularly emotional one for all of us. We are also aiming to make it a proud one.
Dr. Misha Galperin is author of two books and currently heads a philanthropic consultancy business. He is former CEO of Jewish Agency International Development. You can subscribe to his musings at Zandafi.com.