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Brighton Beach, New York you guys want to make every day an adventure? This is the place to inspire you to do so. I guess I could say I am a Soviet Union refugee. What does that mean?
It means that I was born in the Soviet Union before Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, all these different countries separated. And I was actually born in Odessa, which is part of Ukraine. But during the Soviet Union, everyone spoke Russian. There were no separate languages as there are today. For instance, if you meet anybody 30 years ago or more that arrived in the United States from the Soviet Union, regardless of where they came from, they all speak Russian.
And even back 30 years or so ago, if you went to any of these countries, none of them spoke their native language. As if today you go to Ukraine, you will only hear Ukrainian. However, anybody that is 40 years or older does speak Russian fluently, even though they might not be speaking it. Regardless, the majority of me and my family arrived in the United States in the late Seventies. That was during the Cold War when the majority of the migrants from the Soviet Union were all 100% Jewish.
This was during the Cold War. If you were non-Jewish, you would not be allowed to get out. And the reason why I am Jewish, it’s not because of my religion. It’s very important to understand the difference between Russian Jews versus Judaism and Jews. Yes, the basis is Jewish, but because we were during the Soviet Union, Communist era, religion was not permitted.
However, Judaism was maybe practiced underground. Regardless, that is not who we were. Russia, we were Jews. And why is that, again, something that’s different from the Jewish religions? Because in the Soviet Union, antisemitism was a very strong thing.
And people who were Jewish literally in their passports had a Jewish stamp. So they were never part of the Russian community. Right. And then whenever I hear my parents speak about back in the Soviet Union times, they always say, well, he was Russian, he’s Jewish. Not because of their religion.
Because if you say Russian, you don’t think of a religion. Right. And it goes the same for Jewish people back during the Soviet Union, but also they were the only ones permitted out of the country to be refugees because there was a lot of help for the Russian Jews back then. I was one of them. I am not a practicing Jewish person.
That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. Just so a lot of people understand the difference. So during this migration, and it was a mass migration during the Cold War, during the 70s that arrived in the United States, actually, the way it really worked was you were given after a lot of time, after cutting all ties, a lot of drama, a lot of problems. You were given permission to leave the Soviet Union, but you had to give up everything. No passport, nothing.
It’s a zip code. You are leaving and you are on your own, and they don’t care what happens to you. You’re not allowed to go back, but basically, you’re in no man’s land. This was a pilgrimage that the majority of the Jews back then followed. We were one of them.
So you would leave and get on a train to go to Vienna, Austria. That was the very first stop because we were sponsored by several different organizations. They were Jewish. Yes, because they were hoping that when they bring you over that you will join the Jewish faith again. You do not have to be a Jewish religious believer to be part of this.
Okay. So we arrived in Austria and there were a lot of us. We were all living in this one huge room. There were maybe like 1015 families waiting for our next step. The next step is Rome, Italy.
So after you were given the go ahead, you’ll get to Rome, Italy. Now, in Rome, Italy, that is where you sat. Some people sat for a month, some people up to a year, because now you had to get permission to enter another country. So Israel took everyone. However, Israel was a new country back then, and for you to get into Israel, you had to join.
There were a lot of different things that you had to give to be an Israeli citizen, although it was completely open to everybody. So a lot of people didn’t really want those restrictions. A lot of people obviously wanted to go to either Canada or the United States. Some people went to Australia because they had a distant relative friend, who knew that invited them, and they were going to Australia. We were almost on our route to Australia when finally, after three or four months, we got a visa from a friend of a friend from my parents for us to arrive in the United States, and it works the same for Canada.
So when people back then arrived in the United States, they mainly went to New York or California. We were in New York because that’s where my parents’ acquaintances were. But it was probably the mass exodus. The mass amount of migrants arrived in New York, and they pretty much, I would say more than 75% to 80% went to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, back in the 70s, 80s, and even in the early 90s was considered Little Odessa.
Everything was in Russian. Everything, even the street signs. If you were to work in any of the shops and you came from, let’s say, a neighboring town like Bensonhurst, which is predominantly Italian, but you got a job in Brighton Beach. You did have to learn the basics of Russian because everybody there spoke Russian. It’s like Chinatown.
It’s like Little Italy. My parents refused to move to where we would just literally be with our own people not learning the language. They wanted me to have more of our upbringing, so they did not move there. We ended up moving to a different area. However, personally, because I was raised by that I barely ever went to Brighton Beach so recently I had the pleasure of going back to Brighton Beach.
Brighton beach has really changed today. It is very different but it is still a predominantly Russian neighborhood. Russian is still the predominant language so also to this day it is known to have the very best Russian restaurants, Russian grocery stores, Russian pastry stores, Russian pretty much everything right because it still has those roots in the little Odessa time. So I came to visit and to, of course, indulge in Russian delicacies. My personal favorite is a Russian pastry called Napoleon and of course I went and just enjoyed some very typical Russian food.
So if you really want to get to have real Russian food, the Russian tea room is overpriced but yes, you’ll get it. But to get that real nitty gritty Russian food like even being sold by the babushkas on the streets you need to go to Brighton Beach. Other than that it’s really not much more to do in Brighton Beach. It is on the beach so it’s kind of cool and you could pretty much even walk to Coney Island from there. It’s that close so the boardwalk is pretty and the beach, it’s a new York Beach.
It can be okay but if you want to eat like real Russian food that is definitely the place. So that was my trip. I make every day an adventure. When I visited my parents I just took a subway ride out to hang out for a half a day in Brighton Beach. So if you want to have cool ideas for making everyday an adventure go to my site travelexperta.com travelexpertwithina.com and you can get a free list to download and if you’ve enjoyed this episode please leave a review and share it with your friends and thank you.