Remembering the Unknown

By: Klaira

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to interview my younger brother Naum (or Numa as we call him) about his knowledge of our family history, and more specifically,  about our great grandmother Chaya. Since he has read my blog, I was expecting him to reiterate everything that I have been writing here, with his own personal spin. However,  what he said both surprised me and shed light of the nature of memory.

Numa struggles to recall what he has read and what he was told by his parents, grandparents, and myself . He recollects the facts due to their excessive repetition but can’t piece them together. Perhaps we are putting too much pressure on the importance of remembering one’s history, at such a young age. Maybe it is just too much weight for an eleven-year-old to carry on his shoulders.

Eventually –keep in mind that the original interview is close to 13 minutes–Numa admits that what  he doesn’t remember is really what he doesn’t know. This makes me wonder: what is the essence of Chaya’s story that will be passed on to the next generation?  Or will she be just a name in our family tree? 

At the end, I asked him what he thought was the moral of Chaya’s decision. Even though his answer was quite tentative, his ultimate message was very strong.  And it offered an alternative idea about Chaya’s story that I  had never thought of before.


What can you accomplish in a month and a half?

By: Klaira

On October 13, 2009 my grandfather Shevakh (also known as the husband of Chaya’s daughter) turned 80. In order to celebrate this important milestone and prove that he can beat senility, I decided to purchase him a personal computer. The talk of  getting my grandparents  a computer has been going on for years but every single time I would bring it up, they would say that the new form of technology would be too complicated and difficult to master.  I, on the other hand, was convinced otherwise.

Raya and Shevakh in their 20s

I knew how talented they were and I was sure that they could master anything, with the proper ingredients that is. After two weeks of researching, without their consent, I purchased an All-in-one personal computer, three learning books, videos-all in Russian, and an internet connection. Now they had no excuse but to tackle their fears. If only they knew what I had up my sleeve…

For days, I have been pondering on ways to break it to my grandparents of my surprise. I have decided to approach it from an authoritative standpoint: I told them that their their computer would be arriving in two days and there is nothing they could do about it. My grandpa was thrilled! Even though it has been greeted with resentment initially,  my grandparents invited this now common piece of technology into their household, with open arms.

Remember, it is one thing having a computer and completely another know how to use it properly. What seems completely natural and easy for us(everyday addicts) is foreign for them as I had to explain the essential double clicking of a mouse on a folder.

Dedushka vs. the Technology

This has been such a rewarding experience. I visit them once every week (I wish I could do it more often); my grandpa fascinates me with how far he has gotten. So far it has been 2 months and he is advancing at an alarming speed. He can comfortably navigate around the computer, go online, watch movies, play games, check email, and most importantly- video chat with his friends and relatives in Israel.

Is It Worth It?-Part 2

By: Klaira

Chaya and Yosef remained in Novograd Volinskiy, known at that time as Zvyagel. They lived a noble life: built their own house (which was later destroyed in WWII), had three children, and loved to help the less fortunate..they were not that far off from that themselves.

Chaya never questioned her decision to remain in Novograd even though she had lost contact with her brothers.

Zvyagel (currently known as Novograd Volinskiy)

The next three generations, including myself, were born in Novograd as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to meet my beloved great grandparents, as Chaya died (to the day) a year before I was born and Yosef passed away 15 years before that.  Chaya’s only son, Naum, immigrated to San Francisco in 1992, at the age of  65, through the efforts of his wife’s relatives. He immediately started to search for his lost uncles and relatives. After many long years of posting ads in various newspapers all over the country, Ruvelle, a daughter of one of the brothers, stumbled upon an ad and contacted him.

I heard that this reunion was featured in newspapers and on TV, but, unfortunately, I  wasn’t able to find any of these reports.

On Jewish holidays, my grandmother and Ruvalle call each other and only speak in Yiddish, as my grandmother doesn’t understand English and Ruvalle is not familiar with Russian. It is absolutely remarkable that a dying language is able to bind the two cousins, once separated for 90 years by thousands of miles and an Atlantic Ocean. What was once known as foreign land became the country of endless possibilities.

The Miraculous Reunion

If only Chaya was here to see all of this…

Is it worth it?

By: Klaira

One of the biggest and most important lessons that I have learned growing up is that our lives do not depend our own decisions but rather on the ones that others make for us. Think about it, we don’t have the opportunity to choose our parents, (as unhappy as we can be with them at times) what schools to attend, what to think and believe.

I, for one, wouldn’t be here today but for one of the most important decisions that my great grandmother made while she was in her late teens.

Chaya in her early 20s

During the early 1900s -before the Internet was created, before television and telephones became commodities, before the Wright brothers flew around the globe –-Jews were experiencing pogroms and were deprived of their basic human rights. Rumors were that America was the ultimate dream country, an escape, where one could prosper and have the opportunity for a brighter future. What more could you ask for?

For nineteen  year old Chaya life was no different, growing up in a small town of Novograd Volinskiy, just three hours away from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. Rather what is today known as Ukraine, Ukraine’s capital and Novograd Volinskiy.

The journey to the Land of Opportunity would be difficult and took several months by train and ship.Older children were often the first to immigrate to the new land send for their parents and other siblings after they got settled. Chaya and her brothers were no exception. Since their parents died, before Chaya was able to turn nineteen, her two brothers remained her only relatives but they lived thousands of miles away.

The next time they would see each other would be on the new soil of the glorious United States. But who knew how long that would take… if at all….. They finally were able to gather enough money to send for Chaya: the three of them would all be together once again.

On the day of her departure, Chaya was saying farewell to her friends and neighbors, and a beloved suitor, Yosef. When it comes Yosef’s turn to say goodbye, he tells Chaya that if she leaves, he will throw himself under the rails of the very train that she will be on.

One of the biggest and hardest decisions that Chaya had to make was to jump from that train as it started moving, leaving all of her belongings. That was also the time that Chaya realized that she would probably never see her brothers again.

Over the years, the three communicated through letters but that became very difficult as the First and Second World Wars came and went, when the Soviet government censored any contact with the outside world.

Zvyagel (currently known as Novograd Volinskiy)

In order to stay alive, Chaya had to stop communicating with the land of opportunity, knowing that her chance would never come again.

In case you are wondering, Yosef did become Chaya’s loving husband, and later my great grandfather.

Proof of my sanity…or lack thereof….

Klaira-Profile Pic.

By: Klaira

Just under a year ago, before the craze of online quizzes, constant status updates, and fortune telling applications, the loyal members of Facebook shared 25 interesting facts about themselves. This seems like one of the most sincere ways for people to socialize and get to know each other, instead of a generic quiz written for pure entertainment. It look me nearly a month to come up with my facts.

Here is a little peek into my “vita”.


I have always had a passion for telecommunications

1. When I was little, I would always get sick. My mom would “bribe” me with candy not to attend school.

2. I can easily drink a gallon of water every single day.

3. I am very good in remembering dates and random facts. Tell me your birthday, (unless I already know) and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

4. I actually stood in line for 4 hours on July 11th, 2008, the first release day of the 3G iPhone, just to see what kind of people have nothing else better to do. I do have to admit it was an entertaining wait and i got my iPhone 🙂

5. I don’t like rice. Well, only in Sushi. I can only imagine what is going through your head right now…

6. I have American relatives who have been living in the states for the past 60 years and don’t speak a word of Russian. It has been a pure miracle that we have found each other.

7. I can crack almost every major bone in my body

8. I have edited/shot, and acted in a documentary film about my immigration which has been shown all over the world. I give presentations about it to this day.

9. “Spicy” should me be my middle name. I am always up for something spicy with great flavor

10. I own more books than articles of clothing. Still can’t determine if it is a good or bad thing

11. I learned English by watching the Rugrats. How many of you remember that cartoon?

12. I can’t shop for more than 2 hours. I get extremely tired, dizzy and not to mention whinny (one of my few rare moments). Trust me; you don’t want to be next to me once the 1:59 mark has been hit.

13. My mom used to be a famous column writer and poetess for several popular papers back in Ukraine

14. I find that I am allergic to new things every day. These allergies come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes. Consider yourself warned: you can be next.

15. I completed two majors and a minor in college in 4 years. All because I was interested in almost everything so it was extremely hard to narrow it down. However, my senior thesis still remains as my biggest accomplishment.

16. My second bed is a movie theater. I have fallen asleep during 75.6% of the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy them.

17. I started my own business selling special pens in 3rd grade. It got very popular and was very successful. Unfortunately, the dean of the school forced me to close it. Deep inside, I still think she wanted one of those special pens for free.

18. By the time I was out of middle school, I have finished writing two screen plays and a couple of chapters of a novel which is still in process of being finished and published.

19. I can get high (in my own definition) from the smell of early morning, the ocean, and the rain. In general, I adore nature traveling and exploring but don’t to take advantage of it that often.

20. Because of the insane amount of copying we had to do in 2nd grade, in order to develop our penmanship, I taught myself to write with both hands. This talent exists till this very day.

21. Maybe it is the inner child in me but I love board, card, and other games made for a group of people. Nothing is better than being with your friends laughing, exploring, and having fun-all together.

22. At 7, I made a bargain with God. Needless to say, the results were “interesting.”

23. I love coming up with new inventions to make life funer and easier. However, it turns out most of my creations already exist, even though I have never seen one. The day and I still young…

24. I don’t get offended that easily. Try me and you’ll see…

25. Growing up, I used to have a cat who had the same name as my next door neighbor. You can only imagine all drama that followed that, chances are you are right. Needless to say, my poor kitty committed suicide.

26. At 5, I finally started rolling my “Rs” by pronouncing a Russian swear word. Trust me, I had a blast practicing my new skill on the street while holding my grandparents’ hand. Great memories 🙂






The Difference of One Letter

Klaira-Profile Pic.

By: Klaira

It’s September 17th, 2004. I enter my first college class and  become one the thousands of excited and eager freshman faces who are overwhelmed by the never ending possibilities of the next four years.  As I find a seat in the crowded auditorium, I look at the individual trying to read the roster followed by faded variations of “Here” and “Present” all around me. In reality, the situation to me is quite too common:

Long Pause…
“Klll-“, Pause. “Kla-“.

The individual looks perplexed.
I raise my hand. “Here.”
“How do you pronounce it?”

Silence. My professor still looks confused.

“You can call me, Klaira” I say with a smile.
His body language shows relief but the mouth still struggles to say it.

Success! I have converted yet another. It is all too funny to me.

You see, to give a Jew a Jewish name in the former USSR in the 1980s was equivalent to giving up everything you and your ancestors had worked for– not even to mention inviting additional anti-Semitism and discrimination. Thus, in order to be sly and avoid such a predicament, my parents changed my name from the intended “Klara” to “Klavdiya” or Klava for short. “It it just one letter, but what a difference does it make!” I would hear every single time my great-grandmother’s name is mentioned. It was true: by changing one letter of my name; I became a goy.

The fight between "R" and "V"

Both, or rather three, of my names have become a secret identity. My close friends know me as Klava, and I’m Klaira, my designated Jewish name, to everyone else. Very seldom the two meet. Klava has won a couple of scholarships while Klaira has created a documentary film, earned a double major, and traveled all over the United States and  little bit of Europe. At times, I have thought about changing my name officially but I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter what my “actual” name is on the passport but rather the persona by which I am known and respected.

So how do you call me? Well,  I have always admired my great grand mothers’ witty response. “You can call me what you want; just don’t get me in the oven.”