Friday, April 1, 2016

Ukraine: "Ever since I was a child I knew I could never reveal my Jewish identity"

Via Times of Israel:
Ever since I was a child I knew I was Jewish; I also knew I could never reveal my Jewish identity.

It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century a Jew still has to hide their Jewishness, but that is exactly what I went through growing up in Dnepopetrovsk, Ukraine over the last 20 years. Yes, officially, there is Jewish life in Ukraine, and yes thousands of Jews live and attend Synagogues and Jewish cultural centers in my hometown. But tens of thousands still fear the repercussions of revealing to the outside world that they are Jewish. My story is one of these and only when I moved to Krakow, Poland was I able to understand how crazy my situation was that in this day and age I was forbidden to tell anyone my secret. What happened in Krakow? That is for the happy ending of this sad tale, and I will speak about it later.

My first memory of Judaism was very positive. I felt special, I was proud. I was 6 years old and I knew I was part of this special club and I just wanted to let everyone know. So on the first day of school when the teacher asked every child to introduce themselves and say something interesting about themselves (I have a pony, I like ice cream, I am left-handed…), with a big smile on my face I stood up and said I AM JEWISH! My teacher’s face soured, the exercise ended immediately and we were all told to go to our seats and open our textbooks.

That night my parents sat me down and told me how disappointed they were to receive a phone call from the principal complaining of my ‘bad behavior.’ I didn’t understand at the time (I’m not sure I understand today as a women of 22), but I followed my father’s orders and never mentioned it to my friends again.

Until I was 14 — when I had my first love. His name was Dmitri* and we were in love together. We spent so much time having fun, going out, and cherishing each other. I was convinced that Dmitri was my one true love so I cautiously revealed to him my secret — I am a Jew. Dmitri thought nothing of it until that evening when he told his parents. The next day I called but no answer. I sent emails but no response. Finally I confronted him in his home — where I had been countless times — and cried out to him, ’what happened?’ His response sends shivers down my spine to this day.

“NEVER TALK TO ME AGAIN ELIZA, you are disgusting, your people are evil, I wish you were dead”.
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