The Letter From America That Changed Our Lives

            January 2014    
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My Rendezvous with Destiny

By David Edelman

It was the night of Passover when a small commuter plane brought us from New York to Bradley International airport. In the terminal waiting for us was Rabbi Jezer, his wife Rhea, and their three young kids. They all greeted us with big smiles, hugs and welcoming signs. We were exhausted, disoriented, and very nerves. We were not sure anybody would be there, with the holidays and all. But outside the terminal a whole bunch of strangers greeted us again, all incredibly jubilant. Now we felt like foreign dignitaries. Our "escort" consisted of about a dozen cars. They brought us to a house on Northampton street in Holyoke, where they rented the second floor for us. There a Passover dinner was already cooked and served. In a crowded kitchen Rabbi Jezer with a glass of Manischevitz in his hand drew an uncanny parallel between us coming out of the Soviet Union on this night and the biblical Exodus of the Jews form Egypt.

It was all very touching and in good fun.

Two weeks later Rabbi Jezer called: "David, get ready, we are going to see someone about a job. His name is Lou Kostin. I'll pick you up in a few minutes." Mr. Kostin was in his sixties, and he was quite a character. He was born in Galicia, a province in western Ukraine. With a fat cigar in his mouth he looked like a typical capitalist, the way they depicted them in the Soviet magazines. His house was purple on the outside, and purple on the inside, his wife's favorite color.

On the coffee table in the living room there was a tray of crackers and cheese, and a bottle of Scotch. "Lets have some schnapps" Mr. Kostin announced cheerfully. The first toast was to the state of Israel, the second to America, the third to my success, the fourth........but I digress. After a while Mr. Kostin left the room. When he returned he was carrying an accordion. "David, I hear you can sing".

So we sang some Ukrainian songs, and some Yiddish songs. The poor Rabbi diligently sand along, although he never heard any of them. It was getting late. Finally Mr. Kostin said: "Now lets get down to business. Listen to me David, and listen carefully. I am a small businessman, you can say a tiny one. I manufacture book cases and book shelves for libraries, colleges, private use. I have only eight employees, and they do the job nicely. So you see, my friend, I need you like a hole in my head. But if fellow Jews won't help each other, who will? I'll pay you $2.25 an hour. Naturally, you can't make a decent living on that. But it's a start. Look around, and when you find something better I'll be the first to congratulate you." He paused for a moment to measure my reaction, then added: "You start Monday, and don't be late". We shook hands and parted.

Everything worked out the way he said it would. Three months down the road I found a job with a big industrial company, and for the next 30 years built a career from machinist to production manager.

So many years passed by. Our children grew up, they have their own families now. It's me and my wife these days. The old synagogue is still functioning, and the congregation seems to be doing just fine. Some of the old guard passed away, some moved to better pastures, a few remain. To all of them, wherever they are, goes my deepest gratitude. Their enthusiasm, their goodwill and generosity of spirit are forever etched in my heart and in my memory.

Sometimes, when I think back to that fateful day in Rome, I can't help but wonder : "What if that phone never rang, what if there was no letter?" I probably would've ended up in New York, or Philadelphia, or Chicago, or San Francisco. Those were the places where most of the Soviet refugees went in those days. My life in America would've taken a fundamentally different turn. And I ask myself: "What have I missed, or have I?" At such moments I am advised by the wisdom of the great Ralph Waldo Emerson : "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else."

Then everything falls into place, and I have no regrets.


from the January 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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