Interviewed by Carol Zuckert
February 18, 1999
CZ: Today is February the 18th and I'm interviewing Yelena Rozman at the home of Carol Zuckert, 2640 East 9th Street, and it's approximately 2 o'clock. Yelena is here with me today, and we're going to talk to her about her family and what s he remembers about her life in Uzbekistan. So Yelena, tell me about when you were born please?
YR: I was born November 6, 1974 in Uzbekistan in Kokand city.
CZ: Can you spell that please?
YR: I have to write it down before I spell it. K-o-k-a-n-d.
CZ: OK. And do you have sisters and brothers?
YR: Yes, I have one brother who is one year younger than me.
CZ: Was he born in Kokand also?
YR: No, he was born in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
CZ: Did your family move there between the time you were born and...
YR: No, my mom had some complications with the pregnancy and that's why she had to go to Tashkent to see some specialist there. So she was in the hospital since she was like five months pregnant up until she had the baby. I was so teeny, yo u know? Stayed home with my grandma.
CZ: Did you remember that?
YR: No, not really.
CZ: No, I wouldn't think so. So how long did you live in Uzbekistan?
YR: Um, I became 18 and we left Uzbekistan in 1993.
CZ: Just after you turned 18.
YR: Right, well actually I'm not actually sure if I was 18 yet. From 1974 to 1993, July of 1993 we left for Moscow.
CZ: Did you go to school in Uzbekistan?
YR: Yes. I finished high school and after that I decided to go working because we couldn't afford to put me through college at that time. So I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I decided maybe I should start learning things like sewing and hairdressing. So I started sewing courses and I didn't like it very much. After that I decided, I started learning how to cut the hair, you know, it was just so exciting for me. My mom worked at the salon at the time she was...
CZ: Oh, a manicurist.
YR: A manicurist. OK. And so she had a friend who was a hairdresser and her friend offered to teach me and I studied for six months and then I got my diploma and I started working as a hairdresser.
CZ: And you were in Uzbekistan still?
YR: Yes, still in Kokand, Uzbekistan, yes.
CZ: So how long did you work as a hairdresser?
YR: Oh, for a couple of years. Right, after I graduated yes, for a couple of years.
CZ: So, tell me. Let's back up just a little. Tell me about your schooling. What sort of an education did you have?
YR: Schools in Uzbekistan, and in former Soviet Union, not the same as here. Here you choose your classes and you choose what you wanted to do. There basically it's a general education, they tell you which classes to take for you to be a be tter person.
CZ: Is that what they say?
YR: Basically yes. And so I didn't like it very much because, especially at the very end when I was already in high school for last year it was so terrible because people's attitudes towards Jewish people were changing and I had a couple of teachers, I didn't have any Uzbeck teachers but I had a couple of teachers who were Catholic and they unfortunately didn't like Jewish people, so it was really hard to earn a grade in those classes, and it was really frustrating. A lot of Jewish people, and that's part of the reason that I didn't go to institute or anything else.
CZ: You mean by that a university?
YR: Right, because Jewish people basically have to pay a lot of money to enter. You know, under the table, not legally, they have to pay just to enter. The examination didn't matter. What mattered is money, how much money you can pay to ent er the university, and we just didn't...So that was kind of frustrating, and so that's why I didn't go to the university and I started working, which was kind of nice because I made a lot of money.
CZ: Oh, did you?
YR: Yeah, yeah. First of all, I enjoyed it so very much. It was really cool, working with hair. And I specialized in women but then I started doing kids and that was kinda exciting because kids are oh, so darling. And then I started doing m en and that was kind of interesting. I didn't like it very much so I specialized in women a lot because, you know, weddings, and wigs and stuff, it was really exciting.
CZ: So who went to beauty salons? Did everybody go?
YR: Actually, at the time, yes. Before 1991, I would say, a lot of women, Uzbeck women, any women, went. And in 1991 things changed a little bit because of the, you know, some Uzbecks decided to kill some Turkish people for some reason in t he area, and women became very afraid of going and doing something, you know, they were afraid to go into the salons and, I don't know, their men wouldn't let them or whatever. But yeah, basically before 1991 anybody...
CZ: Was it expensive?
YR: Oh yes, yes, and we had to make up our own tariffs. We didn't have a boss coming to us and telling us, you know, this is how much you have to charge for a haircut, this is how much you have to charge for a perm, you know, there wasn't s uch a thing. Basically what it was is we had a plan to do like every month we have to give him some money, like let's say, 50,000 every month, to the boss. And the rest we keep. So we do whatever we want basically, we charge as much as we want because we had to buy our own product, yeah, so usually we could make that sum in one day.
YR: Yeah, especially if you were a good hairdresser people come back to you and here you have an appointment and there, there was not appointment to see a hairdresser. You just show up.
CZ: Sometimes you'd have to wait a long time.
YR: Right, you have to sit and wait. And people were usually willing, they would spent easily half a day at the salon doing their nails and then doing their hair, you know.
CZ: Was this the kind of a career that was acceptable for you? I mean, it was OK?
YR: At the time I was just a kid, I was 17. I didn't care about anything else. All I cared was to have fun and I seemed to enjoy that very much. I seemed to enjoy playing with hair. And it was fun. And what was very exciting is that money w as coming and it was kind of exciting for me.
CZ: Did you live at home?
YR: Yes, I lived with my parents. And my father has some trouble at work and, you know, we were not financially stable, so it was kind of nice for me and mom to work. We were basically feeding the whole family.
CZ: And you were working in the same salon as your mother?
CZ: Did your brother go to college?
YR: No, the same story with him, plus he doesn't like to go to school anyway. He graduated from high school and he decided to do some business, bubble gum business. I don't know why. But even when he was in high school he always had an idea of opening a little business and selling things and buying things. You know, making money. So he did some kind of bubble gum business, he was buying from here and selling there and it was kind of exciting for him and he made some money that way. But he n ever went to school. He still doesn't go to school!
CZ: Is he here in the States?
YR: Yes. He is in Tucson.
CZ: Did he come here with you and your parents?
YR: Yes, we came all together. Well, actually, my grandma was with us also. We were living as a big family actually, back in Uzbekistan when I was back in high school and even when I graduated high school it was my grandfather, my grandmother, it was a huge house. It was my mom, my father, my brother and I and we always had somebody over, like my aunts would come over with their families, with their kids.
CZ: Food for meals or to stay with you?
YR: Yes, anything, for meals, and for, you know, Saturday nights were get them together nights.
CZ: Was that typical of Uzbecki families?
YR: Oh yeah
CZ: A lot of extended families, is that what you call it?
YR: Right, yeah. We just, I don't know. My grandmother wanted to see her children all the time and she had two girls and two boys, and three children were out of, they were not living with us. And so they would come over with their families and we would have long talks and it was very cool. Always have kids running around, that was kind of nice.
CZ: So did you have, in your education, did you have any religious training?
YR: No, no whatsoever, and as far as I know there was only one synagogue in Kokand and it was so teeny and women were not allowed in it and so my mom and I never even thought about going in. People basically would go into synagogue in Kokand, OK, when somebody had died. And then they would go, they would donate some money, and you know all of that, they go to read the Torah, all that stuff.
CZ: I see. Now people didn't go, any people didn't go on a regular basis? Some of the Orthodox men and things? They went on a regular basis.
YR: Yeah, the guy who owned - I guess he owned it - but he basically lived in there. There was this guy, he was not married, the rabbi, and he was there all the time. My grandfather used to live right next almost to the synagogue and so I kind of hung around there all the time so I saw people going in and going out. I never saw any women going in. Yes, there were some men, like my grandfather would go when he was healthy, he would go every week and that was kind of, for Shabat. Yeah, but usually people would celebrate Shabat at home.
CZ: How would you do that.
YR: OK. Different than here a little bit.
CZ: That's why it's really important to know that.
YR: OK. We would, well actually when my grandfather was alive we would celebrate a lot of different Jewish holidays because he knew how to read the book, the Torah, he read the Torah, we had all sorts of books for praying for different holidays. And so, it was kind of nice when he was alive. And we, OK, Shabat we celebrated, we didn't light the candles like we do here, we leave the little cotton candles, I don't know. We made them ourselves, OK? You take a plate, you put some oil in there, and then you take the cotton balls - basically there were no cotton balls, there were big pieces of cotton - you would make little ball with the cotton and then you would make a little teeny, to light the cotton ball. You would go like this and it would be like, you know, the candle has this little thing sticking out...
CZ: A cylinder, oh a piece of string, wick.
YR: Cloth or whatever, wick. Well you would make it like that.
CZ: Out of the cotton ball.
YR: Yes. The whole cotton ball is still there. You just a little
CZ: Uh huh, catch it, make a little stiff part at the top.
YR: Uh huh. And then you would put it in the oil.
CZ: The wick or the whole cotton ball?
YR: The whole thing. No the wick should stick out because you are going to light it later. OK, and so you make a few of them, depends on how many people died in the family, if that makes sense.
CZ: Really? So they were like yurtseg candles?
CZ: Every Friday you would honor the people that had died?
YR: Yes. If I remember the prayer, but I don't think I remember it, because I haven't done it in a long time. My mom still does it and my father does too. Every Friday night they did that.
CZ: Was it like our prayer, Barut ...?
YR: No, not at all.
CZ: Was it Hebrew?
YR: No, I don't know. OK, let me see, I don't even know. If I remember I will tell you and you will tell me if it's Hebrew. I don't think it's Hebrew though. OK, so you put those things in the oil and then you say the prayer and you light them.
CZ: Who lights them?
YR: It depends. I guess it would be whoever wants to. My mom asked me a few times, you know, it depends upon if you are clean. If the woman wants to light it she should be clean, they used to say.
CZ: Not menstruating?
YR: Right. And clean, you know, like, for example, when I was a little kid I still remember my mom would say Do you want to light the candles tonight? I would say yeah. She would say, Go wash up. So that was like you have to be clean. Men didn't have to do that, the women did.
CZ: Did men light the candles?
YR: Yes, for example, my father used to light the candles because when his father died every Friday night he lit some, not all of them, some. My mom usually did that though. My brother, I remember when my brother doing it that I used to be excited about that and I used to light them all the time. I can't remember the prayer.
CZ: It's OK, it may come to you.
YR: But in the prayer you have to say the person, you have to speak of the person who died and the parents of the person who died, so it's not always a prayer.
CZ: You have to remember the names.
CZ: Did you say Bat-somebody or Ben-somebody?
CZ: That's a female. Bat, daughter of. That's cool. And then what did you do? You lit the candles...
YR: Yeah, we didn't do any more other prayers. We would actually have a lot of people over and have a nice dinner.
CZ: Did you have anything like Halla?
CZ: Special breads? What about wine?
CZ: Never, ever?
YR: No, we had wines. I don't ever remember having any special wines, no.
CZ: Do you ever remember drinking wine at all?
CZ: OK, so you never did it as a commemoration of a...
YR: We had wine for Passover, but that was basically it.
CZ: Oh, you did have wine. OK, well let's talk about Passover. Tell me what you remember.
YR: Passover was the most beautiful holiday in my mind, over all of those other holidays.
CZ: A lot of people think that, do you know that?
CZ: It's very joyous. Freedom.
YR: Because all the other holidays I thought you had to kind of suffer, like you don't eat, or you don't do certain things. And Passover is like, oh, you know. You don't eat bread but still, you know, you eat so many other different foods that we don't get to eat the rest of the year. Anyway, speaking of Passover, Passover was very, very important in my family. The house had to be clean, I mean the whole thing, the whole house. And then put the dishes away, clean the whole kitchen and we had stored some new dishes, OK, somewhere that were Passover dishes, we still have them, we brought them here. Passover dishes. They have certain paintings on them. And so we would bring those over and we had to use only Passover dishes for Passover for one week. And then we had certain foods obviously you wouldn't eat bread, you wouldn't even bring bread to the house. I mean kids wouldn't eat bread.
CZ: Did you eat matzohs?
YR: Yes, matzohs, okay, long time ago when I was a kid we made, we had a [oven] in the house - I don't know if you know that - okay, it's a brick thing.
CZ: Oh, tandoori?
CZ: Like the Indians?
YR: Yes, tandor.
CZ: Tandoori oven.
YR: Yes, we have it in our yard. We have huge yard.
CZ: Big clay oven. Is that what it was, clay?
YR: Yes. So I guess it was clay. For some reason I thought it was made of dirt.
CZ: Well, somewhat similar, quite similar.
YR: OK, so anyway. We would make ourselves, we would make the matzoh.
CZ: You'd make it yourselves?
YR: Yeah, my mama would make, or my grandmother would make it when I was little, little kid but when I grew up, as I grew up my mom took over because my grandmother got sick and all that. And so, yes, we would make that.
CZ: Do you remember how she made it?
YR: No, not really. No. I always helped but I only helped to do the dough. I don't know. I never made dough myself. I never saw her making the dough but I help her to open it up and, it was very hard work.
CZ: Did you take a rolling pin?
YR: Yes, open it up and make it round.
CZ: You had round matzohs?
YR: Yes. We had big like this.
CZ: Wow, it's about 24 inches in diameter. Wow.
YR: Yes. And we would stick them in - I never did it myself but I was always watching, it was very exciting stuff - plus we always made bread in that tandoori, the other days because sometimes you wouldn't find bread in the store so we made homemade bread.
CZ: So what else did you have on Passover?
YR: Usually, boiled chicken and lots of different boiled vegetables, boiled eggs, hard, liquidy, my favorite part when I was a kid, the soft boiled egg. They were not exactly very soft, like you would have them for breakfast. They called them asoli. Which is like, they are not hard and they are not liquidy at the same time but they are in the middle. They would only make it for the Passover, they wouldn't make for any other...
CZ: Do you have any idea why?
YR: I have no idea.
CZ: Well eggs, of course, are birth, and so it's the freedom, the birth of freedom. If it's traditional. Could you use a Haggadah, a book, a traditional book?
YR: Yes. My grandfather used to read that.
CZ: And he just had the one. You didn't all have your own Haggadah?
YR: No, we didn't.
CZ: So did he tell the whole story.
YR: Yes, it was usually kind of boring because we didn't understand what he was talking about.
CZ: Was he speaking in Hebrew?
YR: No, not Hebrew. In Uzbekistan I don't think anybody spoke Hebrew. And those who read Hebrew very small percent of them understood what they read about.
CZ: Still true I think.
YR: And so it was hours and hours of reading and we were already falling asleep. It was a long reading process and we would sit, you know, the table was so beautiful, the food was there, the smells and all that. By the way, we didn't, like here they do the honey nut thing. We didn't do that there. We did apples with honey but we never did the honey nut thing. I don't know.
CZ: Apples with honey typically here that I know of are more traditional for Rosh Hashannah.
YR: Right. It's not like a traditional food that we would have.
CZ: So can you remember anything else. Did you [dip a finger in] the wine.
YR: We did the fork thing, yeah.
CZ: So you did dip, OK. Did you have matzoh?
YR: Yes, we did have that.
CZ: OK, I'm with you. I didn't understand what you meant but now...
YR: The honey nut thing?
YR: I just forgot the name.
CZ: What else did you eat? Did your grandfather, like, lean, rest on pillows?
CZ: He sat up like everybody else.
YR: He used to sit straight and his both hands were like this and his book was in the middle. And it was hours and hours of reading. Just amazing. We were sitting and he was reading and his hands were like this at the table.
CZ: Did the women sit at the table?
YR: Yes, everybody.
CZ: So that's Passover. And you really liked it even though it was hours and hours of reading.
YR: Right. The whole family was there and it was kinda exciting. When my grandfather died everything died, the whole tradition. We were not reading as much anymore. My father could not read Hebrew and so we would pray a little. It was not as, I don't know, I missed it even though I didn't like it very much when it was going on and on and on and on. But I missed it later.
CZ: Did you celebrate any other holidays when you growing up? What did you do for Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur.
YR: I don't really remember a whole lot of anything.
CZ: Do you remember fasting?
YR: Yeah, oh yeah. That was a painful process. I started fasting when I was like 13, maybe? I guess. Before that my mom would say oh no, I have a problem with my intestines and so I had to eat and when I was 13 I finally said you guys are not eating and I probably should stop eating too because we didn't bring any food into the house. The fridge had to be clean because otherwise you want to go and fix something. So the fridge had to be clean. No food. That was kind of painful. I didn't like that holiday very much.
CZ: What I didn't ask you, I didn't ask you a couple of things that were important. Did you honor Shabat? Did you do what they call Somer Shabas which means not work or not do anything on Sabbath?
YR: Not really. It was idea, like, you know, when we went to school, I never worked on Saturdays, anyway.
CZ: When you were a hairdresser?
YR: Yes, I never worked on Saturdays.
YR: Because it was my day off. Saturdays and Sundays we were usually at home. We didn't work. The whole family was home. My father, when I was little, he, OK, my father story. He was, when I was born he was a manager of the store and he was salesman first and then he became a manager as I grew up. Then he became an owner of the store and then they sold the store so he was basically working Monday through Friday, he never worked on weekends. Sometimes on Sundays but not usually on weekends.
CZ: Did you think that you were financially middle class until your father had some financial problems? Is that how you felt?
YR: We were never OK. We were never uncomfortable, that's probably what I should say. Even when my father lost his money I didn't feel like we were uncomfortable ever. When we wanted to buy something we could always do that because my mother, we were not under salary, my mother and I, we were making money. And if you wanted to make more you could make more. I mean, it's really your choice. You could raise your tariffs. You know, people would come to you if they love your work. So your goal is not to raise money. Your goal is to become better at what you're doing so people would come to you. OK, marketing lesson. And so, yes, and as I was going I was learning more, I was taking appointments and I was doing people at home. I had a lot of women coming in to me.
CZ: At your home?
YR: Yes. We had a bathroom and we had like, OK, we had a very big bathroom. Before the bathroom there was a little room so I made up a little, we put the mirror, and so it was like a little beauty salon. So, I did hair over there. Time to time. Not always, sometimes people wanted to see me and I was too busy. They would come in and Oh, you're busy, OK, I'll see you whenever I see you. I'll call you. And they would call me and schedule an appointment to come and see me at home.
CZ: So you scheduled appointments at home but not at the shop?
YR: No, in the shop no. Usually people would walk in.
CZ: Yeah, that's what you'd said. So was your brother Bar Mitzvah?
YR: No, we didn't do Bar Mitzvah. He had a bris. That was about it. Bris are very important. You have to have it on 11th day.
CZ: 11th day?
YR: Yeah, I guess it was 11th day, unless it was 9th.
CZ: Well, I better be quiet. My ability to remember but so,
YR: Yeah, I'm really bad with numbers myself.
CZ: Talk more please about being Jewish in your society. You said that Catholics didn't like you? Weren't there mostly Moslems?
YR: Oh, it was a completely different story with Moslems. Because I worked with a lot of Catholics and there was one of the ladies working with us. Working relationship was wonderful. We were interrupted and everything, my clients, most of my clients were Catholics.
CZ: As opposed to Moslem? How come?
YR: I don't know. I didn't choose my clients, they chose me.
CZ: Wouldn't you think, aren't there more Moslems than there are Catholics in Uzbekistan?
CZ: So maybe they didn't get their hair done as much.
YR: Maybe they didn't. There was one Uzbeck lady who had a lot of Uzbeck clients. They were people who didn't even care about their hair, as long as they get out of there soon. So it didn't really, I don't know. I had a variety. I should say there was 70% of white people in my clientele.
CZ: So, when you say white people...?
YR: I mean, you know, not Uzbeck people. Uzbeck people are usually dark.
CZ: Dark like me.
YR: Yes. I don't look like Uzbeck however. I look like Armenian. In Uzbekistan people thought I was Armenian. They never thought I was Jewish. That kinda helped me a lot.
CZ: Because they weren't biased against you? They weren't anti-Semitic. Or they were anti-Semitic but they weren't towards you.
CZ: So did you feel your anti-Semitism directly?
YR: Oh, my God, I don't think it was so much anti-Semitism as much as, I'll give you a few stories. OK. As I was growing up we would walk a lot, you know, there were buses but we didn't have very good bus system. In Tucson we never had a car. I had a bike and it was working out with him. That would keep him healthy. He had a heart problem. And so, I would always walk. My job was really nearby. And every time I get out of the house I always had a problem. Like people would walk, you know, Russians would never tell me "hey babe" or something like that. They would never even look at you. They don't care. Uzbecks would usually touch you. They could rub you, like, you know, rub your rear end. I mean, that was ridiculous. And so every time I get out of the house I should make sure that I have a bag with me that I could swing and hit somebody in defense. You know what I mean?
CZ: You bet.
YR: And sometimes you don't even want to do that. You don't want to hit somebody because Uzbeck people tended to go in 10-15 people, like big crowds and you don't want to get involved with that huge crowd so usually you had to like, whatever, touch me, whatever, touch me, I don't care. So you keep walking because you don't want to get involved it's going to be a big problem.
CZ: Was that because you were a woman?
YR: I don't know. I guess my brother never had a problem with that.
CZ: Did your mother?
CZ: Was it because you were a non-Moslem?
YR: Oh yes!
CZ: Oh that's why.
YR: I'm sure. You could be Jewish, you could be Armenian, you could be white, could be Russian. They would bug you if you were non-Uzbeck. If you're Uzbeck I don't think they would bug you as much.
CZ: And when you say Uzbeck you mean Moslem?
CZ: And so did they wear special garb, special clothing?
YR: No, they just look like one! No, they didn't, no. As I was leaving in 1993 they began to but no, at the time they weren't. But you could see, you could look at the person and you could see. Over the phone I spoke such good Uzbeck they could never be unfair to me because I sounded like Uzbeck and so I had no problem over the phone, but in person sometimes I had a problem. I'll tell you a story. I was leaving my grandfather's house one day and it happened so many times I would be so frustrated about that. I guess it would happen to anybody but I would walk out of my grandfather's house and there is a very, very teeny alley near that synagogue I was mentioning earlier. My grandfather lived very close to that synagogue. And so people, one guy always bothered me. If I walking this way and he's walking opposite way he always had to do something to me. He's just so bad. And he was a teenager also. I was like probably 13, 14 and he was probably 16, 17 at the time. So every time I walked by he had to either swing with a rock or the rock had to hit me or he's going to be throwing it until it hits me, or he had to grab me, or he had to hit me. He had to make me mad for some reason. Until I finally started fighting him. And it wouldn't help because I would hit him back, you know, like he would hit me and I would hit him back and it was so funny. I would hit him back and he say "what, what do you want. I own your body, you can't do anything about it." He would grab my breasts and there's nothing I can do so I just had to like, alright, whatever. I would cry for hours because it was like what can I do? There's nothing I can do. A few times at the salon, actually one time I remember very well, like it happened yesterday. This bunch of Uzbeck guys, they were usually teenagers, you know, maybe early 20s and late teens, walked in, like 5 or 6 of them, and they started throwing things at the salon where we worked. My mom was getting ready to leave, and I still had my stuff on my table and there was another woman working there. There were only two hairdressers. And they started throwing things. "Oh, is this yours? Oh OK." Expensive equipment. They started throwing things on the floor and there's nothing you can do. My father walked in. He came to pick us up and he like "don't talk to them, don't tell them, let them do whatever they want." My father told me "let them do whatever they want and then we'll leave." Well, I didn't say anything until the guy finally started talking to me and grabbing me when I told him to stop it. And you know, they surrounded me in a circle and this one guy was touching whatever he wanted. And they were all laughing and my father couldn't do anything. It was terrible.
CZ: And so they just left?
YR: Eventually. I never got raped and it was kind of lucky.
CZ: Just lucky?
YR: I think it was lucky.
CZ: Because you're pretty?
YR: I don't know.
CZ: Were you considered pretty?
YR: I guess.
CZ: Because you're different looking. Your dark eyes and all. So you think they picked on you more than your friends? Did you talk to your friends about that?
YR: No. My cousin, when we walked, I guess any young woman would do that. I mean, they wouldn't say anything to Uzbeck women. They usually were OK with them. But if it's a non-Uzbeck girl she would really get picked on. I don't know why. Feel so useless, so helpless.
CZ: Out of control.
YR: Oh my gosh. I hated it!
CZ: Small story. When I was in Istanbul I was wearing a dress. This was a long time ago but I was on a bus. And of course I don't look Moslem at all and I got molested. I fought back.
YR: Oh you did?
CZ: Oh yeah.
YR: I usually didn't. I don't know. I was afraid.
CZ: Well, you had a bigger issue. I was on a bus, it was a one time situation, I got off the bus but my elbows were just, I was jabbing people with my elbows to get them away from me.
YR: Yes, exactly, there we go. See, the Moslem countries...
CZ: It's Moslem countries. Women who are non-Moslem they have no respect for. That's what I felt was going on. So do you think your family was typical in terms of being Jewish, in terms of economics.
YR: Yeah. I think so.
CZ: How did you then leave? What happened to get you to leave?
YR: OK. I mentioned earlier, I think it was in 1991 but I'm not sure. We were not going to leave. We already started remodeling the house. In fact, my father said oh, this house, this one room was falling apart so we already made a plan and he was gonna rebuild the whole thing, the house, he was going to break everything up and rebuild.
CZ: He himself?
YR: Well, he hired some people. But at the time he was in construction business so he hired his team to do that. OK And so I was still in high school I remember and it was during the times of the finals and I think it's kind of little war started. I was at school that day. What happened was this bunch of men, Uzbeck men, were in the trucks and they were loaded with rocks and sticks, you know, they were prepared to kill somebody. They were basically not touching anybody else but Turkish people. They wanted to get rid of Turkish people. I don't know what happened. I don't know what caused it. They wanted to kill them all. And in fact they did. There were no Turkish people in Kokand after that incident.
CZ: They left?
YR: There were six students in my class. None of them came back after that day.
CZ: They withdrew?
YR: Well, the women were raped, the men were killed, children were killed during that incident. It was terrible. It was terrible. There was like a little village, I guess, and they were all, no more village. And so after that incident my father said you know what? We're not rebuilding anything. We don't know what's going to get into them next and what if they want to get rid of Jewish people? And Karimov was talking on TV - the president of Uzbekistan at the time - she was saying "who needs anybody else, we are such a power, Uzbeck people, let's make this country Moslem." We were thinking, OK, the president talking like this, let's get out of here.
CZ: Were there a lot of Jewish people in your town?
YR: Yes, there were plenty.
CZ: Do you have any idea how many?
CZ: Did you ever meet as a group.
YR: Yes. We had a lot of friends. Most of our friends were Jewish, friends of family. And my boyfriend, my boyfriend's friends, my girlfriends, they were all Jewish. So they were quite a few in the neighborhood and you know what? After that incident a lot of people left. Some people left to Israel. They already had their documents ready and they were thinking what to do, and that really kicked their butts. Out of there. And we didn't have anything, I mean, we didn't know what to do. My father was not prepared for this. We never wanted to go anywhere. Like I said, we were going to rebuild the house, we were going to stay. And that really caused it. We started applying to the Embassy to come to America because we didn't want to go to Israel.
YR: Very simple. Why is because leaving from one country, escaping from Moslems and going to another country and living near Moslems, we didn't want that.
YR: I don't want to see any face. You know, my brother right now works with a guy who is from Uzbekistan and he was going to bring him to the house. I said, if I see his face I'll go, buy a gun, and I'll shoot him!
CZ: You wouldn't do that.
YR: No, I wouldn't. But I don't want to see him. I have so much happen to me, during, at least 10 years I remember, and I don't want to go back and relive that.
CZ: Most of that, that you've been telling me about, where you were harassed, terribly harassed.
YR: Yes, it was terrible. I don't want to go back. A lot of people ask me, do you want to go back and visit? I said, no.
CZ: I'm going this summer.
YR: Good luck.
CZ: Well, it will be very different. They're not going to bother tourists, probably. Your boyfriend, did he come to the States?
YR: No, he's still there. His family's still there. They have a choice of going to Uzbekistan but they're sitting quietly, sitting low.
YR: Yes Israel, what did I say?
YR: They have their documents ready and all, but they are sitting low. I don't know why?
CZ: So do you have any friends here, that came to the States? Your cousins? Any other family members?
YR: I don't have anybody in Uzbekistan anymore. I have one relative who, I don't even know, one relative left in Uzbekistan. That is my aunt's son, that would make him my cousin, right?
CZ: And he's your age about?
YR: He is 39. Three kids and his wife. They are still there. He has a business and I don't think anybody's touching him because he has a lot of money. So he's OK but he's not thinking clearly. He's not thinking about his children's future, I don't think. Anyway, everybody else is gone. My friend left earlier than me. Most of my friends went either to Russia, or to Ukraine, or to anywhere else just to get out of there.
CZ: You said you went to Moscow?
YR: Yes, before we came to the States we went to Moscow, in fact twice. First time we went for the interview and that was a year and a half approximately before we went the second time.
CZ: With whom did you interview?
YR: American Embassy.
CZ: Not any official resettlement organization?
YR: No, they don't do resettlement. Basically what they do is they interview you and see if you really are persecuted. And they decide whether to grant you a refugee status or not.
CZ: And so what did they ask you?
YR: Oh my God, that was the most scary thing that ever happened. Well actually, my father didn't, like I mentioned, he doesn't like talking about things. And so, we were sort of pushing him because we said, you know, if you don't tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth we will never get out of here. And so we went, it was very scary, it was huge room and this American lady she was speaking Russian but she was asking us what was happening and why we want to leave.
CZ: So what was happening? So you had the president's talk.
YR: Yeah, president was not exactly optimistic.
CZ: Right, scary, very scary.
YR: And so we were thinking it's not going to get better, it's only going to get worse.
CZ: Did you talk about your experiences?
YR: Yes, I told, you know, they only asked me about one incident and I told them about one, and so that was enough for them. And then they asked my brother what was happening with his life and then they asked my father and they asked my mom and they asked my grandma. And they had decided after that that we do need refugee status.
CZ: Sanctuary, yeah.
YR: So they granted us refugee status and we had to get our things together, sell things, we sold the house. At the time everything was so terrible. Uzbeck people knew that everybody was leaving.
CZ: They took advantage of it.
YR: Oh yeah, a lot of people they would offer you. Like, we sold the house for $2000. We just gave it away. And they would tell you "you're leaving anyway, what are you going to do with it?"
CZ: You had no choice.
YR: Not really. If you were in Tashkent it was different. Kokand was a small city and everything was exposed, everybody knows everybody.
CZ: How small?
YR: Don't know the population.
CZ: Would you say 10,000?
YR: No, maybe more than that. Kokand is like a city, I should say a town, and there were little villages nearby and my father worked in one village, so it's kinda like, there were a lot of people and at the same time everybody in town knew each other. Not like "knew" each other, but run into faces a lot, same faces. When somebody new comes to town you already know "oh that face looks new to me."
CZ: How many schools were there?
YR: There were like 5 or 6.
YR: No. Well, actually they don't have that, they have mixed. One school for everybody. They have some Uzbeck schools and they have some Russian schools.
CZ: And you went to the Russian schools?
YR: Oh yes.
CZ: Did you have a choice?
YR: Yes, at the time we did. But I don't know, I don't think they have it now.
CZ: How did you end up in Tucson?
YR: Jewish Family and Children Services here accepted us.
CZ: Did you apply to them?
YR: I can tell you the process.
CZ: I don't know the process. I'd be interested in knowing.
YR: OK, what happens is, after that interview in Moscow or in Kiev, or in Tashkent, in the big city.
CZ: You didn't go to Tashkent for the interview?
YR: First they only had it in Moscow. Then they started spreading and now they have it in Tashkent also but we had no choice. Anyhow, so after that interview I think the case, I don't know what happens to the case right after that, but even tually the case gets to HIAS New York, the Hebrew National Aid, whatever. It gets there and people in HIAS they decide, they don't actually decide, what happens is they send it to, they fax it to some other organizations here in America, and if they have relatives, like we had the relatives in New York so they send our case to Nyana in New York and Nyana called our relatives and they asked, you know, your family is coming, are you willing to pay for them? What they are asking about is not to pay for the tickets, we would pay for the tickets ourselves. They are asking to, when you accept a family type, you are accepting your relatives, you have to pay $500 per head, even if it's child, $500 per person. And so that my uncle said no, he doesn't want to pay and so then some other relations had to decide whether they want us or not. Basically what happens is, like Jewish Family and Children's Services in Tucson got it, and they looked at it and said OK, the family consists of one elderly person, can we really help that person, in terms of medical care and stuff like that. And then there's OK, there's a hairdresser coming, can a hairdresser really find a job in town? This type of thing. But I came here as a hairdresser and I didn't really want to do hair here again, I never wanted to do it again, I wanted to go to school and get something better. In Uzbekistan hairdressing was fine but in America now, it's a country of opportunity, so let's face it, you have to go out there and get yourself an opportunity. And so, the problem was that we didn't speak English but that's another story. And so they decided whether they want us or not and at the time they were never calling us so when we were going to Moscow second time we thought we were going to Baltimore. That's the most amazing story. HIAS did things weirdly, and so we thought we were going to Baltimore but in fact we were not, and so we found Baltimore on the map and OK, it's a cold state, we have to get this, this, this and sell this, this, this. And so guess what? Coming to Tucson! We came to New York, got our passports and they say you're going to Tucson and we're like, what?
CZ: You didn't have any choice?
YR: No, not really. I guess we did have choice but we didn't know that at the time. After I started working at Jewish Family I learned some tricks but that's too late. So, we were so happy to come to Tucson. Fred was the first one at the ai rport to meet us.
CZ: He is amazing. And so that was when exactly?
YR: July 29, 1993.
CZ: So you didn't speak English, that was another story?
YR: Oh God, yes. My mother and I we took a lot of English, well, in high school we took classes in English.
CZ: Did you say your brother and you?
CZ: So your mom...
YR: Oh no. My mom I think she studied French or German in school. And my father in high school he studied English so he knew how to read and he knew the alphabet.
CZ: Not very much, right.
CZ: How much did you speak at that point?
YR: Some. From high school some, and then I wasn't preparing enough and I thought I better take some classes. And my parents hired us a tutor for 8 months, I think, we had a tutor and we would meet every week.
CZ: You mean your brother.
CZ: And not your parents?
YR: No, not my parents. My parents weren't interesting. Either my mom was working or my father was working and we would meet on weekends but my parents still wouldn't be interested. We were the ones who were supposed to, you know, when we came to this country I felt like they dropped everything they had there, my parents, and they came to this country because of us. They came so we could be happy in the future, OK? And it felt so weird because, I don't know if I would be making a choice. That's not an easy choice, to go to some country, you don't know the language, you don't know the culture, you don't know anything about it. And you just go because you think that your children would have a better future and you would never get a job you want, you would never speak the language the way you want, you never be able to interact with people the way you want. I mean, that would be scary for me, but they did it. And what was I saying?
CZ: You were talking about your speaking English and your tutoring?
YR: Right. So we took that tutoring for 8 months and then we were kind of prepared. You know, I knew how to read, I read perfectly.
YR: Oh yes, I read pretty well. I don't know why but my teacher, she knew British English, we only read British English and we spoke British English also, and my teacher, for some reason, had a huge emphasis on reading, not on speaking as much but on reading, and translating. I don't know why.
CZ: Vocabulary, grammar?
YR: I never wrote, we never wrote.
CZ: It's hard transition from reading to writing.
YR: Right. It was kind of difficult transition from British English to American English.
CZ: Indeed. So you came in 1993 and you can speak sort of?
YR: Yeah, kind of. I remember Fred, he still does that. He took us to the apartment.
CZ: And where was that?
YR: That was on Belleview, 3737 E. Belleview, Apt. 11, it's in Speedway and Alvernon area. Right behind that Chinese restaurant over there, on Alvernon.
CZ: I know where you mean, south of Speedway, no, north of Speedway. That great big restaurant?
YR: Yes, north, right.
CZ: That's right, we went through this the other day.
YR: Yeah, but it is north. But anyway, he brought us over there and there was a family waiting for us. No, we met them at the airport. The family we met at the airport, that was our family tie. That was an American family that was gonna guide us, help us out. We still keep in touch with them actually, we're like a family. We went to the apartment and he started showing us things and I was like, ooh, I speak English. And oh, also we had, my grandma was very, very ill at the time and we had a nurse with us. The man spoke perfect English and he was like our translator. So at the beginning we didn't really have to speak a whole lot. Then the next day we met our manager, case manager, at the Jewish center, and he spoke English and Russian so that was nice. And then we went to school, I don't know why but Lee Serbed said that - Lee Serbed, the one who spoke earlier - she said that it would be a good idea to go and learn English at Job Corps Center, that technical school.
CZ: Everybody, your parents too?
YR: No, not really. They only accept people to 29, 25? Some age. And my brother and I we went to study there. They had a very good English program, not as good vocational program.
CZ: What were you thinking you were going to do, at that point? Excuse me for interrupting. At that point, your goal was to go to the university?
YR: My goal at that point was to learn English. I thought I was prepared when I came because, you know, I could read and I could say things, I could put the sentences together. But then when Fred talked to us and when that case manager, that case manager never spoke to us in Russian, when Fred talked to us and the family didn't speak any Russian it was kind of scary because we didn't know what was going on. And it was terrible. So many sleepless nights. So many tears. More tears.
CZ: Tell me why.
YR: Because my family, my parents they were so, I know that they trusted in us enough to go from here. OK, my mom says to us a few times, we brought you that far, now you have to go out there, look how wonderful it is out there. So many opportunities. Go out there and get yourself a life.
CZ: A lot of pressure.
CZ: So is that what the tears were about?
YR: Yes, exactly. I was 18 and my brother was 17. We had to go out there and my brother didn't' like school, and he went, it was amazing, he went to Job Corps. At first it was so bad. You know what kind of population... we're not going to talk about that.
CZ: You mean that goes there to school?
CZ: They weren't middle class?
YR: They were lower than middle. So we went and we felt very responsible, especially me because I was older. And here we go, now. Our case manager is pushing on us, we have to learn English, you have to go out there and do things and my father was like, well, English is not that good. My mom's very bad. So it felt terrible because, the case managers were pushing for my parents to get a job and they spoke no English and it was like, whatever. And we kinda didn't want to get a job at the time because we wanted to concentrate on English so it was kind of difficult to make a choice I guess. So first 8 months I remember was hell. My parents got a job after a couple of months right away. We were not on welfare a whole lot. Both of my parents got a job right away.
CZ: What did they do?
YR: Bakery. They would never get a job, my father would never work in construction because, he owned a construction business there and here we go. Anyway. So, they decided, my mom really loves cooking and my father was like, whatever, I don't care, as long as we're together. So they both got a job at the same bakery, it was an Italian bakery, and they worked there for quite awhile. That started their lives. You know, the salary's menial but it was kinda OK.
CZ: You had some subsidy for your rent?
YR: Uh, yes. What happens is when you come to this country - I don't know if they do it right now - what they did to us is, she put some food in the fridge which is enough for a week or so. Oh God, food was really terrible at first.
CZ: Because you didn't understand it.
YR: Oh my God, it was like not good. The bread! After Russian bread, this bread was good!
CZ: You mean like white bread, packaged bread?
YR: Yes. They didn't put Russian rye or anything. They put those bread that, oh my God, we didn't have a toaster, so it was like cotton. Food was really bad. First couple of days we couldn't even eat. My father was so frustrated with the whole thing. We were like, it's hot out there, and the food we can't eat.
CZ: Oh, the summer, yes.
YR: And then the English we were taking, terrible. [Carol answers phone]
CZ: So we're going to continue. The phone rang and we were interrupted for a few minutes. So it took how long until you kinda got normalized?
YR: Probably 8 months.
CZ: It took you a long time. That's tough. And then when the weather got into winter you got happier, I presume? And your parents had a job.
YR: The first couple years weather-wise it was really terrible because it's very hot in the summer.
CZ: So what did you do, the first thing you did, did you work? Did you go to school?
YR: No, didn't work right away. My parents got a job, like I said, at the bakery.
CZ: And that was Lee that helped them do that, I presume?
YR: Yes, Lee was the one, and they were so thankful. And then my brother and I went to school and I graduated a year later.
YR: That Job Corps Center, I graduated with an accounting major. My brother never did. He dropped six months prior to graduation. So I started looking for a job and I didn't want to do bookkeeping, I just took it just because, they only had bookkeeping, whatever I was interested in. So I started applying and Lee calls me, before my graduation even, I graduated like in November and she calls me in September and tells me we got this opening for the clerk over at JFCS, so I applied and I got a job. I got an interview like two days later and I got a job right away.
CZ: So you worked there for now long?
YR: Three and some years.
CZ: And then you got married somewhere between that time?
YR: Yes, I met Daniel in fact, OK, I started working on the first of September and I met Daniel on the 25th of September.
CZ: And Lee was instrumental?
YR: No, no.
CZ: She says she was instrumental.
YR: She's all over the place. Kind of, she was, actually. We were gathered at the JCC. We had some kind of job fair type of thing. OK, she did some amazing things. There were some Russian people who were here for longer than a year and who got adopted already and were helping us, not so adopted, I guess you say, to get into the work force. I wasn't there because of that. I was there to just translate and stuff like that. Daniel was arisen, appeared. And there was another woman, Rosa Sinkovich, I gave you her name, she's the one who actually pushed me out of the door just to meet that guy because her husband used to work out with Daniel. Well, not without the help of Lee of course, I met Daniel and Lee started pushing me out also. She's like, go, go, meet him. It was so amazing. The whole room of women sitting there and telling me, go.
CZ: I didn't call her, she's the professor. Yeah I haven't called her. Fine, I think we can probably pretty much...If you think of something that we didn't talk about, call me and let me know. We can maybe do a 15 minute follow-up. Or if I think of something? Thank you, it's been very interesting. [tape off then on]
CZ: We decided to continue because I had not asked Yelena about her current connection to Judaism so with a few minute interruption we continue the interview. So, are you doing anything Jewish these days?
YR: Yes. Well I married a Jewish man so now we practice Judaism, not as much as we would like to, but you know, when we have time we do that. We do Shabat and we teach David, our son, to light the candles all that. We pray. We sing at the candles. The halla and the wine, the whole thing. It's really cool, David likes it, he looks forward to the Shabat every Friday night. We don't usually go to synagogue. We tried it a few times when David was little. It was a disaster. He started running around and talking and singing. We would like to go back to that actually because eventually I want him to get a Jewish education. I want him to...
CZ: You mean Orthodox?
YR: Yes I do. Well, he'll choose what he wants to practice later but I want him to learn as much as possible about Jewish religion and all that stuff, so we'll see. It's very exciting. I wanted to give him something that I didn't have back then and religion is really important.
CZ: Do you belong to a congregation yet?
YR: OK, we were trying to get in but it was kind of expensive. The one we wanted to join we couldn't get in to. Well, maybe if we go there they will be more [accomodating], they could probably give us a bargain, but we didn't do that. We kind of feel guilty that we can't afford whatever they require. We like the Orthodox. We went a few times and it was perfect. And they have a baby sitting, so it was kind of wonderful, but we couldn't afford it. I asked him where the people worked and I looked at some of them and went woo-woo. So no, at the time no, because I don't work as much and Daniel pays for my education. Long story. Anyway, but yes in the future definitely want to belong to something, because I want David to go to one of the preschools or Craycroft and 5th and they require membership also.
CZ: Anshai. Well, Orthodox has a school as well.
YR: Right. But Anshai Israel has a wonderful school over there. I already went and met the teachers and stuff like that it was kind of cool. But for all holidays we go to Anshai Israel. Yes, we buy the tickets for all the holidays.
CZ: With your parents?
YR: No, my parents, if they go they go to, can't remember the name. Israel.
CZ: Young Israel. So they go to an Orthodox congregation, literally.
YR: Yes. It's more in their tradition.
CZ: OK, well, thank you very much again.