Prose, Grades 7-9: Third Place

My Parents’ Life and How it Shaped Me in America — Angelica Sirotin

What is different about my family? We are bilingual and don’t follow any sports. But these things are just on the surface. The real difference is my parents’ love of freedom and American values. My parents grew up in the country that used to be called the Soviet Union. President Reagan called it the evil empire, and my parents agree with that statement. You would wake up in the morning and listen to the radio which would feed you lies about how great your country was. In reality it was the opposite. There was poverty everywhere, stores barely stocked with food, with people waiting in lines for basic necessities. Everywhere you would walk, your school, neighborhood, and street, all of it was filled with propaganda. Instead of billboards advertising products, there would be a slogan promising the next generation of Soviet People will live under real Communism.

Another aspect of the Soviet regime was complete suppression of religion. If you were a Jew, there wouldn’t be a synagogue to go to. Moreover, if you try to observe privately you could be sent to the Gulag or a psychiatric ward. This was true for all religions.

To most Soviet people the only source of true information was the Voice of America, that could be transmitted by short wave radio. That is how my grandparents and parents knew that America is a great country where you have the opportunity to get ahead in life. In the Soviet Union, everyone was artificially equalized at a low middle class level with very few exceptions. The Soviet Union had high expectations of the people, and yet people received very little reward. Most lived in small apartments and did not own a car. If you owned a car, you were considered well off. Moreover, most cars were Soviet, which meant they were of horrible quality. In the words of my grandfather," I had to fix it for two days for it to run for one day."

Lies and dishonesty were a normal part of life in the Soviet Union. The government was extremely corrupt, and bribery was the only way to do business. People stole as much as they could from places where they worked. In order to obtain building materials for home improvement projects, most people bribed security guards to get the needed materials directly from manufacturers. When big government controls free trade, people have no choice but to find ways around it. The socialist system is what drove my parents to come to America.

I was born on the 14th of December, 1998 in the land of the free. As the Jewish immigrants would say, "Goldene Medina," the" golden land" in Yiddish. Most information about the Soviet Union I learned from my grandparents. It sounds like they had a very bad life.

When I started school I was very lucky to be enrolled in an all Jewish school. There was no such thing when my parents were growing up in the Soviet Union. I could see the differences between me and my peers. For example: during winter kids normally wore a warm sweatshirt with some pants. I had to wear two layers of socks, super warm pants, a scarf, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, and a really puffy jacket. Sometimes I even wore two hats. If I would forget one of these warm items my grandparents would have a total “freak out.” “You’re going to get a cold! you will get sick!" Russian grandparents love their grandchildren a lot. They are concerned about us 24-7.

Another difference is that I lived with my grandparents for ten years. Others may only see their grandparents twice a year because they lived in a different state. I was very fortunate to wake up every morning and see my grandparents, enjoy a warm hearty breakfast, and talk about life with them. The conversations that I have with them are priceless. From my grandparents I learned: fishing, setting up tents, making bonfires, boating, gardening, and their passion for the outdoors.

My parents are also different from my peers’ parents because whenever I ask my Mom a question she always has a scientific explanation. She would even quote a source. "Mom what is in cereal?” Mom would answer, " There are artificial food coloring and aspartame which can theoretically be carcinogenic which……" Another thing I asked , "Mom, why don’t we eat grilled meat more often?" And Mom said, "Because grilling meat at high temperatures produces carcinogens…"

My father loves history, and when we sit together and talk about it, the French revolution always comes up. Every major American holiday my Dad takes out the constitution, and we read something from it out loud. My Grandpa rants about how we should carpet bomb our enemies.

Another major difference between me and some of my peers is not taking our Jewish heritage for granted. When I first started Saturday school, I was fortunate to know enough Hebrew to start directly learning t’filah and Torah. I was soon ahead of my whole class and started to read Torah very early. Before my Bat Mitzvah, I would go to other Bar and Bat mitzvahs, and I would see kids do their service and then the Rabbi would congratulate them on a job well done. I would go to their party and have fun, and after that Bar or Bat Mitzvah never see that kid in the synagogue again. It’s as if those kids are using synagogue as a Bar and Bat Mitzvah factory. That’s not how I treat my religion. I take religion very seriously because it was taken away from my parents. I did great on my Bat Mitzvah because I have passion for my religion and I want to be a leader. I didn’t make a single mistake and the Rabbi told me I was the one of the best Bat Mitzvah they have ever had. As of now, I am the most active young Torah reader in my synagogue. None of this would have happened if I didn’t put my heart and soul into it.

I tell you the story of my family because our experience is very unique. I believe that people should be educated about Russian immigrants and their children who grew up here. Next time you go shopping and something you want isn’t there, think about those long lines in the Soviet Union with barely stocked shelves. The next time you go to synagogue tell yourself that you are so fortunate to have freedom of religious expression and be proud to be Jewish. This is what separates me from the crowd: I know that if you have the passion for something or the drive for something you will achieve it. Because in America, the Golden Land, you have all the materials at your disposal.