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"A Story About a Staircase, and Then It All Started"

Published on Sunday May 12th, 2019

My first childhood memory is my first day at school. I was a student in a school in Kharkov city, in the Ukraine.

All the little girls were accompanied to class by both parents. Mine left me in the school yard, where they thought it wise to inform me that they were separating.

My father left immediately, and my mother turned around before the traditional opening ceremony of the school year began. I stayed alone, an abandoned little girl in the midst of a sea of parents and other children.

From that day on, I lived with my mother, my grandmother and my grandfather, my mother's sister, her husband and their two sons; three families in a sixty-square-meter apartment. "Overcrowded housing" is an elegant expression to define our way of life. My grandfather taught me that I was Jewish, but my Judaism was reduced to the idea that there is one G-d and that we should eat Matzot on Passover. I also knew that it was forbidden to say that we were Jews. Later, I understood why.

It happened the day a child in my class saw in the teacher's log that my nationality was registered as "Jewish". He threw the notebook to all my friends shouting "Anna is Jewish!"

This was the start of a terrible harassment campaign.

With time, I could not stand the harassments anymore. From second grade, I began skipping classes. I sat for hours in the library. Nobody paid attention to me. My father lived in Moscow, and my mother was focused on herself and on all kinds of business enterprises that were not seeing any success. I would hang around the river or at the market, watching people walking around, then I would come home like after a normal school day.

One day, towards the end of the school year, the principle caught me in the library, and, after investigating my file, decided that I would have to repeat second grade.

I had no choice but to tell mother everything. She then bought chocolates and a good sausage and arrived the next day at school to coax the principle. The latter took the chocolates and the sausage but remained firm in his positions: I would have to redo second grade.

The last option was to call my father. He arrived from Moscow the same day, with a more convincing argument than chocolates and sausage: $50. The principle may have been anti-Semitic, but her greed was stronger than her hatred of Jews. I had to go back to school and continue to face harassment and abuse because of my Jewishness.

One fine day, after a recreation full of harassments, one of the children who attacked me most came up to me in the hallway and started making fun of me out loud. His words were the last straw that broke the camel's back. In desperation, I grabbed a chair that was within reach and threw it at him. He hurtled down the stairs and broke his arm.

Nobody witnessed this because it was the end of recess. I saw teachers running towards him and I fled. My heart was beating violently, waiting for someone from the management to come and take me from class to punish me, but no one came. The next day I saw the boy with a cast. He had not told anyone.

Everyone around him said that he had stumbled and broken his arm. That is what he told everyone. I could not understand why he had not denounced me. It was a miracle in my eyes.

From that day on, he stopped mistreating me, but the abuse of other children has been steadily increasing. There was not a recreation where someone did not stick a Star of David on my back, or hit me and then run. They threw snowballs at me, deliberately, not for laughter, but in a very brutal way, to the point of putting my life in danger.

I could not cope any more. I decided to go to another school where nobody knew me.

When I went to register at the new school, the secretary hinted to Mom that the school may not be suitable for me.

It turned out that I had gone from bad to worse. They very quickly discovered that I was Jewish, and their harassment was ten times worse than in the previous school. In particular, there were two girls who had assembled a real team whose goal was to harass me and make my life miserable. They stole my school bag, ate my sandwich, spread glue or rubbish on my chair. I did not have a break. And during all this time, I did not have my father, and even my mother was not really present.

As if parental alienation and social hatred were not enough, the abuse also received the approval of the educational team. The math teacher, for example, was not ashamed to speak openly about my Jewishness and deliberately fail me. With this endorsement, it was clear that the violence had become acceptable and even desirable.

I was the loneliest child in the world. Unfortunately, I had no connection with the Creator, and I was far from even suspecting His existence. Despite this background, I finished primary school with good grades, and I even went on to college with clenched teeth. I was the Jew who represented all the others, and this excited all my peers.

I asked my parents to attend the end of the year party, so that they could be proud of me. But my mother told me she had things to do, and my father replied evasively that "he would see." Well, like my first day at school, I found myself alone, without anyone, without my parents. The tears strangled me, each student was called individually to receive their end of year diploma and then they received the accolade of their parents.

My name was called. I climbed onto the platform with a miserable face, I took my diploma, and then I saw a figure calling me and cheering me in the crowd.

It was my father! He had come especially from Moscow. I was taken by surprise! I came down from the platform and I also received the paternal embrace that I deserved.

When I turned 17, my mother's family from America came to visit us. They were holocaust survivors who had fled Ukraine and had miraculously made their way to the United States. There was my mother's aunt, and her two daughters who had never married. They had no connection with Judaism, like me. For several days, we went on trips around the region, and this created a bond between us that lasted even after they returned to America.

One day my aunt suggested that I should travel to America for a return visit. If I would have responded favorably to his offer, I would probably never have found my Jewishness. But Divine Providence sent me a friend who suggested that I go to Israel for six months to attend a camp that encouraged Aliyah. "You'll have plenty of time to go to America," she said. Go and spend six months in Israel instead, and then you'll go wherever you want. "

I found myself alone in Jerusalem, a bit scared at first, but in hindsight it was the best moment of my life. Our group of girls traveled the country, and we actually merged as one family.

When it came time for me to return to the Ukraine, I was absolutely sure that my place was here, and only here.

But my story does not stop here. I have kept the best for the end…

At the age of 22, Shidduch proposals began to be suggested to me of native or emigrant boys from the USSR.

 

I received a suggestion without much detail, except that the boy was from Kharkov. This did not attract me, quite the opposite. I did not have very good memories of Kharkov, and I wanted more information. It turned out that his name was Moshe (Micha), that he had made Aliyah with his parents, that he was learning accounting, and that he was a fine and kind boy. This was not a lot of information, but I decided to accept the Shidduch.

I met him with his parents. He spoke about the Yeshiva where he was learning and his adaptation to Eretz Yisroel. His parents made an excellent impression. His family was the exact opposite of mine: warm, connected and caring people. Exactly the family I would have wanted for myself.

Towards the end of the meeting, we talked about Kharkov. "I was told you were born in Kharkov," I asked him.

"Yes," he replied.

I inquired about his address, which was not far from mine.

"When did you discover your Judaism?'' He asked me.

"I always knew I was Jewish. My grandfather always told me that we were Jewish, that there is only one G-d and that we must eat Matzot on Pesach''.

''And did you eat Matzot on Pesach?''

''No. And did you eat Matzot on Pesach?''

''Not at all. I did not know that I was Jewish until I was 12 years old''.

''And how did you find out that you were Jewish?''

''It's a long story. At school there was a little Jewish girl that everyone used to torment. One day I insulted her out loud, and she threw a chair at me, which made me fall down the stairs. I almost fainted ".

He did not pay attention, but I was about to faint myself.

He continued his story: "I went to the hospital, and they quickly called my father. By the time he came to me, I was already plastered up. My father asked me what had happened, and I told him that a girl had thrown a chair at me and I had fallen down the stairs. My father, who was a teacher, was not alarmed. He asked why the little girl had thrown a chair at me and if I had provoked her. I told him that I had harassed her because she was Jewish, and that all the students did the same.

My father sat on my bed and was silent. Then, I saw him pacing up and down. I did not understand what was suddenly happening to him. He sat down on my bed again, opened his mouth, then closed it. It was obvious that he was hesitating. Suddenly he began to speak. First, he congratulated me for telling him the truth. Then he explained to me that I had hurt someone, who not only was already being hurt by others, but who was also guilty of nothing. Then he was silent and I thought he was finished, but he then got up and started walking back and forth. I understood that he was still disturbed by the same thing as he had been before he spoke to me.

That was when he sat down and said, "Besides for that, Micha, you too are Jewish."

I was stunned. I had goosebumps. This was extraordinary news without any warning! At first, I took it as the worst thing I had heard in my life. And then, suddenly, I remembered that my father spoke a lot about the Jews, especially after Gorbachev came into power. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of people who emigrated to Israel, some of whom were Jewish, and others who simply pretended. Contrary to the general opinion, my father said that the Jews are the chosen people, the most intelligent people and the oldest nation in the world. "Do you know who Moshe was?'' My father explained to me that he was the leader of the Jewish people when they left Egypt for freedom. "You are named after him".

Not only was I Jewish, but I was named after a Jewish leader! This was all a bit too much for me...

This was only the beginning. Back home, I heard my father explain to my mother the discussion we had had together. My mother was very moved. In retrospect, it turned out that I was the only reason why my parents had not yet immigrated to Eretz Israel. My parents were afraid to upset me by revealing my Jewishness, so they had kept it a secret all my life.

I went back to school. My father forbade me to talk about what the little girl had done so I simply said that I had fallen down the stairs. Six months later, without saying anything to anyone, we took our belongings and immigrated to Israel.
"That is my story'' Micha told me. I imagine being the only person in the world who "became" Jewish by breaking his arm. Astonishing, no?"

Throughout the story, I sat with my head down, unable to believe my ears, and trying to hide my tears. "Do you know the name of the little girl who made you fall down the stairs? I asked. He shrugged: "Let me think ... No, I do not remember." "Well, her name was Anna. Anna Forman. " He looked at me absently. I then said: "It was me!!! "

That is the whole story. This plunge down the stairs pushed an entire family toward Judaism and eventual Aliyah to Israel. Today we have four children studying in Torah institutions.

Once a year, when we read in the Passover Haggadah the words "with a strong hand and a strong arm," we remember our own exit from Egypt.

Chaim Valder - © Torah-Box

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