Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Immigrant's Summer of Firsts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Immigrant's Summer of Firsts

Article excerpt

The first thing I remember from the summer of 1990 is Coca-Cola. A cold, red can of Coca-Cola that a flight attendant offered me free of charge on a midnight flight from New York's La Guardia Airport to Manchester, N.H.

I'd just turned 21 and this was my first can of Coke. My family and I were on the last leg of a journey that had taken us 16 months, 11 days, and 20 hours. The journey had begun in the kitchen of our apartment on the outskirts of Moscow when I'd finally persuaded my parents to emigrate.

The second thing I remember is lights: billboard lights, storefront lights, streetlights, car lights, gas station lights. The small city of Nashua, N.H., danced in light. By comparison, Moscow - a metropolis of several million - was sunk in darkness.

The third thing I remember is the pool, the bright blue outdoor pool that belonged to the complex where the Jewish Community of Nashua rented us our first apartment.

Going for a dip in the pool was a concept so foreign to us that our Russian grammar didn't contain a phrase to describe the experience. We had to invent our own. "Go on the pool" cut at our ears at first, but then became an integral part of our Anglicized Russian - much like the new American reality that at first shocked yet soon permeated our lives.

Before we left Russia, our knowledge of America came from the essentials of every Soviet Jew of the 1980s. We listened to shortwave radio tuned to the Voice of America. We played bootleg Bruce Springsteen records. We discussed Ronald Reagan's visit to the USSR and his plea to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to let the Jews emigrate. We read letters from relatives who had left years earlier, and we marveled at photos of their big cars and big houses. To us, America seemed expansive, full of hope, and replete with promise.

Our arrival that summer unleashed an avalanche of first experiences. The can of Coke, the lights, and the pool were quickly supplanted in significance by the omnipresent smile Americans wore on their faces, whatever the situation; by supermarkets the size of a small town; and by choices we were free to make. …

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