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September 25, 1987 - Image 23

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-09-25

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pianist. "We came here to continue
what we couldn't do in Russia;'
Vladislav says. "There you cannot
really express yourself the way you
want to. Artists are more
cosmopolitan [than others]. "We need
to see where art was born, where the
great composers were inspired."
For Irina, Soviet life -was
claustrophobic, with the unrelenting
oppressiveness of a prison. "You feel
it always!' And as in any prison, she
suggests, many inside come to com-
pletely depend on its regimentation
and predictability. "If they opened the
gates, [most] people wouldn't leave,"
she believes.
The Kovalskys were different.
"We were ready to leave in 1973,"
Stanislav says. "It was getting worse
and worse?'
Says Irina: "Since my childhood I
felt this pressure. As a child even you
can't have your own opinion if it's not
considered good?' Adds Stanislav:
"Being Jewish adds to this!'
They explain that even in the in-
ternational sphere of music, in the
USSR being a Jew threw up subtle
barriers: "Even if you play Beethoven
like everybody else, still it makes a
Soviet musicians' jobs are
guaranteed and state-sponsored.
Despite the much chancier careers
musicians lead in the U.S., the
Kovalskys both found work in their
chosen field. Of all the Russian pro-
fessionals, musicians have the most
difficulty finding employment in the
U.S., according to Lydia Kuniaysky.
The many engineers who arrive find
adjustment much easier.
"Newton's Law is the same here
as in Russia;' quips Alex Goldis, an
engineer who, nine years after arriv-
ing in Detroit at age 28, owns his own
business. When he arrived, carrying
one suitcase, he says, there was no
family to greet him.
"I was met at the airport by a
volunteer of Jewish Family Service.
They had a room provided for me in
Oak Park.
"Like everybody else, I wasn't ma-
joring in English;' he continues, wry-
ly., "I had to take some classes. The
next couple of days I got a job at
Burger Chef, working in the evening
and going to school?"
A half year later Goldis was work-
ing as an engineer for Burroughs
Corp. Meanwhile, he brought his
mother, brother, sister and their
families out of Russia. He is married
to an American and has three
Goldis is proud of his Russian
work ethic. The secret of the Rus-
sians' success in America, he says, is
that they are "willing to roll out of the
sack and put some food on the table?'
In this regard, he argues, the arduous
Soviet system may have given the
Russians a cultural advantage over

Americans. "In Russia you are faced
with, the fact that you have to strug-
gle. So when Russians see oppor-
tunities, they don't stumble over them
— they seize them?'
"They were coming to absolutely
no one," Kuniaysky says of the im-
migrants of a decade ago. "It was a
terrible shock, sometimes more
powerful than the joy of leaving?'
A Soviet emigre herself, Kuniav-
sky arrived in Detroit in 1975. She
has been the Jewish Family Service's
liaison with the Russian immigrants
for ten years. Perhaps because she has
been in the U.S. for so long, or perhaps
because her life revolves around the
absorption of others, she refers to the
Russian Jews as "them" rather than
Emigres found their new homes
in the U.S. via the Hebrew Immigrant
Aid Society (HIAS) offices in Rome.
HIAS would seek American com-
munities to sponsor groups of :Rus-
sians. Detroit was particularly open
to the emigrants, Kuniaysky says.
"We were receiving a new family
every week!'
In Detroit, JFS provides a
volunteer to greet the newcomers at
the airport if there is no local family,
an apartment with a refrigerator full
of groceries, and financial support for
the first three months. Young people
are referred to the Jewish Vocational
Services which tries to find them
The immigrants required a lot of
counseling, she continues, "even for
practical things: the supermarket, ex-
plaining about the garbage disposal!'
The cultural gap the Russians fac-
ed was often enorinous, "as if people
coming from Mars wanted to know
why you wear clothes;' Dr. Luba Ber-
ton explains graphically.
As Kuniaysky and JFS take care

Irina and Vladislav Kovalsky: "We need to see where art was born, where the great
composers were inspired."

"They were coming to
absolutely no one. It was
a terrible shock,
sometimes more
powerful than the joy of




Emily and Sam Valk with their son, David: Many Russians pin their hopes for a stronger Jewish identity on their children.



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