Chapter 2, Coming to America, from The Life of a Jewish Stripper — Part 2 of a series

Chapter 2 — Coming to America

As I said before I was nine years old, and no one asked what I felt or thought. I was being taken away from my friends, my grandmother, the only home I’d ever known. I don’t know if I was scared or excited or both and I’d just been molested by a total stranger while my mother and grandmother were in the house while it happened. I suppose it was an adventure and I can’t imagine how scared my mother was to also leave behind everything she knew and travel half-way around the world with a young child.

We had to go to Austria and then Italy to get our visa papers done during December of 1979 and January of 1980. It seemed great to me at the time because I didn’t have to go to school, and I was getting to travel the world at such a young age. I was not even aware that my mother didn’t know where we were going to live in America. We were being helped by HIAS (The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and since we had no relatives in the states they would just randomly select where we would live. Originally founded to aid Jews fleeing persecution in Europe HIAS now helps immigrants and refugees all over the world now not just Jews.

I didn’t know what refugees or immigrants were or that we were being persecuted in Russia. I didn’t know that we were what they now call asylees. My mother’s sister’s family had applied to leave Russia and go to Israel, but they were denied leaving for eight years on account that my uncle, (my aunt Rima’s husband) had a security clearance and the Russian government thought he may smuggle out some government secrets. So, Jews in Russia were hated yet if they were scientists, doctors, engineers, writers or artists they were not allowed to leave.

If you can imagine that you want to leave your country and go somewhere else, you didn’t have the freedom to just get on a plane in communist Russia and go wherever you wanted. You had to ask the government for permission to leave and if God willing they did let you go after almost a decade of being refused, then you can leave pretty much with the clothes on your back. Believe me they would check every orifice in your body to make sure you weren’t smuggling diamonds up your ass. No joke, that was for real. If you had rings or earrings or anything gold or diamonds, you were not allowed to take it with you when you left Russia.

I don’t think I even understood the concept of different countries and cultures, and I knew nothing about any religions. I don’t remember what I learned in school, probably just math and Russian grammar. I remember we sang songs about Lenin, who was God in communist Russia.

I didn’t even know what Christmas was because communist Russia was supposedly an atheist country but to appease the Russian Christian Orthodox masses, they changed the holiday to celebrate the new year. So, when I was a kid in Russia, I had a New Year tree instead of a Christmas tree and with all the trimmings on the tree and presents under it that I opened on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. But instead of St. Nicholas we had Grandfather Frost and his little helper girl called Snowflake.

And then we came to Austria, the birthplace of Hitler. But I thought it was wonderful being that at the time I didn’t even know who Hitler was.

It was magical. Everything was lit up for Christmas and I thought it was just beautiful that they celebrated the New Year just like we did. I don’t remember anything like it in Russia and I was in awe. It seemed like a fairy tale or a dream. Such a simple thing like fruit yogurt tasted amazing the first time I had it. And the bananas were perfect, and we ate a lot of them because they were hard to come by in Russia.

We walked a lot, and I am almost certain I was in awe of the beauty of Europe. Don’t get me wrong Russia was beautiful. After all I was born in a European city. St. Petersburg or Leningrad as it was called in 1970 was a center of culture built by Peter the Great who was a great admirer of the French and had built St. Petersburg in the French style architecture and built his palace to try and rival the Versailles Palace. I didn’t understand it’s beauty because it was my home, and I really didn’t know it’s history and greatness.

When my grandmother took me to Peter the Great’s palace in the suburbs of Leningrad, I don’t remember being in awe of its beauty, though it was very grand I hadn’t yet studied Russian history and therefore unaware who Peter the Great really was in terms of his importance in Russia.

But Western Europe beyond The Iron Curtain was a new adventure. They had pony rides in the city, and it was the first time in my life I was even close to a seeing a pony, though I remember seeing cows on some trip to a farm back in Russia and drinking the fresh milk. And although Leningrad was a big city the vastness of Vienna somehow opened my eyes like they were never open before.

We had stayed in Vienna for two weeks. What you must understand is that in Russia culture was very important and my mother tried to instill that culture in me. Ballet, classical music, opera, and art, she adores them and in Vienna she was in heaven. It was the first time she was in a country beyond the Iron Curtain, she had been to Bulgaria, but it was during communist rule so she may as well had still been in Russia.

When I was a little girl, my mother played records for me of different ballets for children that told the story of the ballet with the music in the background. I knew the ballets ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Swan Lake’ by the time I was five. And yet at the same time I remember my mother was playing ‘Abba’ records and I think I knew all the words to the songs without even knowing what they were saying and to this day I can learn a song in a different language and repeat it without knowing the meaning.

If I failed to mention it before my mother was an English teacher, but I learned most of my English in America. So, I developed this eclectic taste in music when I was just a kid. But the classical music, ballet and opera never stuck. In Vienna she even dragged me to an opera that was standing room only and I was falling asleep standing up. I still like some classical music and I can enjoy a ballet, and even an opera occasionally but I don’t love it the way my mother does. However, I do suspect that being a ballet dancer was something I thought I may have enjoyed doing or it would have pleased my mother.

I don’t know why my mother didn’t put me in ballet classes because I would have thought she would love having a dancer in the family. In any case I’m certain the kind of dancer I became was not something she would have approved of.

But getting back to Vienna, we were done with our paperwork there and moved on to Italy. My head must have been spinning from all the Christmas lights in Vienna and all the travel. I don’t remember how we got from Vienna to Rome. From Rome I recall being on a bus going to a little town called Ladispoli. Imagine you are nine and you’re getting to travel the world or what seemed like the whole world. It had just turned from December 1979 to January 1980, and I was going to turn ten in March.

Everything in Italy was still lit up for Christmas. I can’t remember where we celebrated the new year. Apparently, in 1979 or 1980 it was the year the Russian government released the largest number of Jews. We were Jews now, officially, though while we lived in Russia our passports didn’t say we were Russian, they specifically said Jew. We were never exactly Russian citizens and now we were refugees without a country.

But I was in awe. Italy was so beautiful; I must have been enchanted. My mom likes to recant that when we went to see Rome and the Vatican we got lost in the streets of Rome so we could go home to Ladispoli, yet somehow I remembered the streets and I led us out to the right place. My mom was amazed at my memory of the streets. Perhaps I was Italian in a previous life since my DNA test showed that on my mother’s side of the family had spent time in Italy. I personally do believe in reincarnation, previous lives and many Buddhist theories of life, especially Karma. To be honest, I’m often very certain that I have some seriously fucked up Karma that is making my present life so difficult. I often ask God what the hell did I do in a past life that has caused me so much pain and suffering in this life.

Anyway, getting back to Italy, I can remember that Ladispoli was like a typical, quaint Italian village with narrow, cobble stone streets, all kinds of little shops, laundry hanging from balconies, and everything covered in snow. There, was the first time I saw pornography in a magazine. All I recall is a cartoon of a man and a woman showing how the man’s penis looked when it entered her vagina. It was also the first place I saw a porno theater. Of course, I didn’t know what it was, I just remember a poster of a naked woman outside the movie theater.

Then the theater brought back a memory of while we were on summer vacation, my mother taking me with her to a movie, a French movie I believe was called ‘No Problems’ with very adult, sexual themes. I don’t remember the food though it must have been amazing¸ I just remember my shock or may be delight at these new discoveries. I had never even seen my parents kiss or even together and all this coupled with what happened before we left Russia was spinning my head around. I don’t know how else to describe it.

My little nine-year-old brain was trying to wrap itself around all these changes and experiences. I think in the back of my mind as I was taking in Europe, I was asking myself how certain things could happen and why did my mother and grandmother let them happen. I knew that what happened was wrong or the men who molested me wouldn’t tell me not to say anything.

What a whirlwind my life had been up to now, and I was only nine. I remember the Spanish steps in Rome and the Colosseum, and the crazy traffic and then the peacefulness of Ladispoli. Except, in my head in it wasn’t peaceful at all. I remember huge crowds of people in the Vatican and wondering what was so important there. Perhaps my mother had mentioned that the Pope live there, however I don’t recall having any interest in who the Pope was. I was nine years old and saw the Sistine Chapel and the statue of Peter in the Vatican. I don’t think it made an impression on me because I had all this recent sexual experience nagging at me and at the same time new information about sexuality from all these new sources. I had questions that I was afraid to ask and things that I couldn’t say. I was trying to process it all.

I suspect that my life was a whirlwind at conception. My mom got knocked up at eighteen on her first time and at six months pregnant already fighting with my father, so all this crazy activity it seems was no stranger to me.

But back to Italy. We were in Italy for a month and all I seem to recall about food is bread that I never had like in Russia. It was like a French baguette with a hard crust and soft on in the inside. I didn’t know what was coming next. No one had a conversation with me about America. I didn’t know how big it was or any geography since I only got up to third grade in Russia. I didn’t even know Russian history or geography. I think I loved going somewhere on a plane, that’s why to this day I still love it and didn’t get nervous until after 9/11.

So, just when I had gotten used to living in Italy, it was time to move on again. That sort of became the story of my life, every time I got used to something new, things changed. We were like gypsies it seemed, moving on all the time. I remember my mother was nervous because she had gotten news that we were going to be placed in a city called Arlington which she thought was in Texas and didn’t know about Arlington, Virginia. Then it turned out we were going to Washington, D.C. Another new adventure was all I thought, I suppose.

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I am an a writer currently working on my memoir. I am also a Jewish woman who survived an abusive marriage and happen to be former stripper.

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Alla K/writer

Alla K/writer

I am an a writer currently working on my memoir. I am also a Jewish woman who survived an abusive marriage and happen to be former stripper.

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