My JCP Story: Bianna Golodryga – Rosh Hashanah 5777

L’shanah tova Everyone. I’m delighted and honored to be here with you all today. When I was first asked to speak about my JCP story, I thought, oh wow, this will be so incredibly boring. You see, as a journalist, one of the things we always think about is how we can make the story more interesting, how do we retain viewer interest. And while I’m relieved to know there’s no competing story you can chose to listen to instead (you’re kind of stuck with me for the next couple of minutes), unlike television, I can actually see you and see your reactions… so I’m still pressured to try and make this somewhat interesting.

In some ways, my story is not unlike many of yours, an ambitious, hardworking young or youngish couple meet, fall in love, get married move downtown, start a family, and in the midst of big city life and stress, realize that the one thing missing is a community where we can meet new people, educate our young children, celebrate our Judaism, and yes, worship on occasion without having G-d forbid, to travel above Canal street. That is how we came about JCP, and how we’ve been so fortunate to get to know so many of you and send our now 4 1/2 year old son to school with many of your children. Knowing that an enriching culture always mindful of our Jewish heritage was and is at our disposal is a privilege we are so grateful for. I know many of you feel the same.

Where my story differs is that the guarantee of finding that kind of reality took moving not just to another part of town or city or state even, but rather thousands of miles, leaving loved ones and every material possession, and start a new life in a new country with a new language. I was 18 months only when my parents bravely joined the ranks of other Soviet refuseniks, and moved to the United States as political refugees. Like most Jews immigrants, we settled in Galveston, Texas. Ok, that was meant to be sarcastic. my parents were quite the contrarians, choosing to forgo the comfort of settling with thousands of other Soviet Jews in New York or Los Angeles. Instead, they wanted to go someplace warm, where they could find good jobs, and where they had the best chance to assimilate with other Americans. The Jewish organization which facilitated that move then suggested Galveston, and so we became Texans. Six months after moving to Galveston with just $210 ($70 each), my father found a job in neighboring Houston, where I grew up and where they still live. They truly symbolized the American dream in many aspects, my mom is an executive at a Fortune 500 company, my father, a successful engineering contractor. And all the while, we were congregants at one of Houston’s largest synagogues. I was bat mitzvahed, went to Hebrew school, made life long friends, and was the curiosity of many non-Jewish schoolmates (for many I was the first Jew they met), and the envy as well.

When I was exempt from school for high holidays…though I assured them that wasn’t exactly a fun filled day of goofing off. The temple and rabbi served as a backdrop thru every major milestone we achieved. It’s a coveted right that we as Americans can easily take for granted, no matter what religion.
Moving to New York in feb of 2001 to pursue my career in journalism, I was reminded of that unique guarantee first hand when covering the attacks of 9/11 just blocks away from here. 16 years later, we are still threatened by those who oppose our views and values as a nation. And I’m not just referring to physical terror threats from enemies abroad or here at home. Social media is rife with bigotry, racism, and antisemitis. Journalists have faced a rather surprising uptick in anti Semitic slurs and attacks simply for doing their jobs. It’s become one of the controversies surrounding this wild campaign. interestingly enough, both candidates have immediate Jewish family members. There’s nothing ordinary about this election. I would have never guessed that one candidate as my father says- honeymooned in the country we escaped from- another one would cozy up to and defend a murderous dictator, (a dictator who is almost certainly is trying to influence our elections by hacking into emails). And oy, and don’t even get me started on emails pertaining to another candidate.

It’s easy to get depressed when looking at our political landscape now, given how polarized the country is today. However, one of the wonderful things about this country, that makes it so special and something my parents constantly remind me never to take for granted, is that it allows us to congregate as a community, here at JCP to discuss all of these issues. The good the bad and the ugly. The same way it guarantees the right of other Jewish and non Jewish communities for that matter across the country to gather As we enter a new year, it’s an extra special one for us, as we welcomed another baby into our family 5 months ago. I’m so excited for her to have the same experiences her big brother has had with you all.

Thank you!