Tag Archives: immigration

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Reconnect With the People

The story of the Jews of the Former Soviet Union is an evolving one. It’s a story of suffering and distress, a story of incredible challenges — many of which were forfeited, equally as many of which were overcome.

But mostly it is the story of a modern miracle.

Twenty-five years after Operation Exodus — nearly 45 years since the first wave of Soviet immigration to the U.S. — the Baltimore Jewish community will come together next month to reflect on the past, honor the present and celebrate the possibilities of the future.

“By all accounts, we probably shouldn’t even be having a conversation about involvement with Russian speakers in our Jewish community,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, who is spearheading events known collectively as The Journey, Together: 25 Years After Operation Exodus. “But I am glad to say we are. Therein lies the miracle.”

The first Soviet Jews arrived in Baltimore in the 1970s, a period when the Cold War eased a bit and Jews were given a slightly better chance to leave the FSU; just fewer than 2,000 Soviet Jews arrived in Baltimore then — each with his own story to tell.

One of those was Rafael Chikvashvili, his wife, Lidya, and daughter, Deya. Chikvashvili has a full repertoire of unsettling stories about his life in the Former Soviet Union. There were the three years that he and his family spent as refuseniks [see “In Detail”] and denied permission to leave the U.S.S.R. There were the several days that he was tailed by a Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) agent and threatened with the kidnapping of his daughter. And there was the period during which the government, in order to get around the policy of not firing employees, dissolved the department of mathematics in which he was an assistant professor and then formed a new department without him. And this was despite the fact that Chikvashvili had already been told that, as a Jew, he would never be made a full professor.

Chikvashvili left the FSU because he desired greater freedom to lead an active Jewish life and he wanted to ensure his daughter would have the ability to pursue the educational and professional avenues she wanted — clear of anti-Semitism.

While his ultimate emigration was itself an intense 10-day journey of unbelievable adventures — he was called a “dirty Jew,” he was summoned by policemen, a Polish woman tried to wrestle his toddler child from him — Chikvashvili was fortunate to get out when he did. For in 1981, the Soviet Union once again all but closed the doors to emigration by Jews.

At the time of Chikvashvili’s arrival, the Jewish community was largely unprepared to shoulder the burden. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and then Jewish Family Services took an active role in helping the immigrants assimilate successfully into the fabric of American life, but it did not engage them in Jewish life, explained Shoshana S. Cardin in her book “Shoshana: Memoirs of Shoshana Shoubin Cardin.”

“They remained on the margins, a community of their own, helping one another,” she wrote.

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All About Family

Amor Cover Final Hi Res JPEGLove knows no bounds. That’s the message in a new book by Baltimore native Nathaniel Hoffman and co-author Nicole Salgado.

In “Amor & Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders,” Hoffman, a journalist, and Salgado, a biologist and educator, have exposed an aspect of the contentious immigration debate that readers may have overlooked until now.

Hoffman, 36, who attended Krieger Schechter Day School and Gilman while growing up in Pikesville, became interested in journalism at Cornell University. After graduation, he held reporting and editing jobs in news organizations across Idaho and northern California. One of Hoffman’s main beats was immigration, and through his reporting, he became knowledgeable and interested in the issue.

“I started meeting a lot of couples having trouble getting their partner’s green cards,” said Hoffman. Three years ago, he left his job at the Boise Weekly to concentrate on writing a book about the stories of these couples.

Meanwhile, Hoffman’s college friend, Salgado, who was living in the San Francisco Bay area, had begun dating her future husband, Margarito Resendiz, a Mexican immigrant.

“I met my husband in 2001 and then found out he was undocumented,” said Salgado, 35, an American who grew up in central New York.

“I knew a little about immigration, but I really didn’t have a good understanding of the policies. In 2004, we were married. By then, I realized that being married wasn’t going to help my husband [gain citizenship.] The problem was he was EWI [entry without inspection],” explained Salgado.

In other words, Margarito Resendiz had entered the country without undergoing the required admission process with an immigration officer.

At first, Salgado, who had always been an activist, assumed she and her husband would find a way around the legal red tape, but as time went on, she began to realize that there was nothing she could do to avoid it. Due to his EWI status, her husband had what is called a “permanent bar.” Therefore, his only path to legal immigration was to leave the U.S. and wait 10 years to apply for a waiver. In the meantime, the Salgados, still living in California, found themselves with a difficult decision on their hands.

062813_all_about_family2“Things were going really well for us professionally. I was finishing my master’s degree, and he was offered a partnership in the construction company where he worked. But I was actually beginning to be fearful. [What would happen if] a light on his truck was out and he got pulled over? Then they would find out he doesn’t have a driver’s license because he’s not a citizen. That’s how it happens. I didn’t like living that way,” said Salgado. “So we weighed the options – stay in the U.S. and live the good life but risk deportation, or move to Mexico? It was a slow buildup to finally taking the plunge and leaving. No decision was a pleasant one,” she said.

Salgado and Hoffman had kept in touch after college, and he soon became aware of the irony of their situations.

“I was writing about this, but Nicole was living it,” said Hoffman.

When he learned that Salgado was keeping detailed notes about their ordeal and had her own plans to write a book, Hoffman approached her with the idea of co-authoring the book. Salgado, who has lived in exile in central Mexico with her husband and 3-year-old Mexico-born daughter since 2006, agreed.

“I think people are missing the point of immigration reform. The point is to keep families together, not to penalize Americans for their relationships,” said Hoffman, whose book also documents America’s history as a country of immigrants.

Hoffman said another issue portrayed in the book is the “plight of same-sex couples” with immigration dilemmas. Among the true stories that appear in “Amor and Exile” is that of Glenn Greenwald (a journalist whose column in the Guardian recently revealed details of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program) and his Brazilian partner. Since the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits Greenwald from sponsoring his partner for legal citizenship in the U.S., the couple resides in Brazil, where that right is available to gays.

“There are lots of same-sex, bi-national couples in the book. They have the same set of emotional and relationship issues [as the straight couples in the book], but they have no rights at all,” said Hoffman.

“What we did with the book was to try to raise awareness among Americans of what fellow Americans have gone through,” said Salgado.

Recently, Salgado and Hoffman raised $12,000 that enabled them to hand deliver copies of “Amor & Exile” to elected officials on Capitol Hill. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Chicago), a major proponent of immigration reform, wrote a letter to his colleagues urging them to read the book.

“When we were up on the Hill, I encountered people who are [supposedly] ‘in the know’ but who don’t grasp that an American citizen could be exiled for 10 years. We need relief and for people to consider their neighbors. Consider this country’s immigrant history,” said Salgado. “I hope people get a copy of the book.”

The day  this article published, on June 27, the U.S. Senate passed sweeping immigration reform in a bipartisan vote of 68 to 23 with 14 Republican senators supporting the bill. Now the bill will be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives where Speaker of the House John A. Boehner has already said he will not bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. Instead, Boehner said the House will write its own immigration reform bill. 

To learn more and to purchase a copy of  “Amor & Exile,” visit amorandexile.com.