Overcoming Obstacles.

There were two options: the first one to become a tour guide and interpreter from English into Russian and Ukrainian, and from Russian and Ukrainian into English; and the second one was to become a foreign language teacher or tutor. I chose to become a tour guide and interpreter and applied to the Tour Guide and Interpreters Company which at that time was called Intourist. I had three interviews and the selecting official told me that I was hired and would soon start the required training which would be three or four months. A few days later an administrative assistant from the Tour Guide and Interpreters Company called me and told to come, and also bring my internal passport to verify my place of residence (propiska). Also, the Tour Guide and Interpreters Company would need some other important information. When I came, I was told I had to wait 30-40 minutes. Finally, I was called into the office. The administrative assistant looked into my internal passport, saw that my nationality was Jewish, and told me the position was unexpectedly canceled. So, they were not hiring. That was a teaching moment. At that very moment in my young life, I understood that my life would be very different and difficult from any ordinary youth my age and would be extremely unpredictable from any other citizens of the Soviet Union. I would be living by command not by choice. As I looked at it, “Be yourself wasn’t an option – being yourself was the problem.” As some form of propaganda, the Soviet government bragged that in the Soviet Union live people of more than 110 nations and nationalities. Although the Jewish people as an ethnic group had never been mentioned. I graduated high school at the top of the class, but I was told I didn’t meet the criteria to qualify for a gold or a silver medal, which were awarded at that time for the highest achievements in all school subjects, and exceptional behavior just because of two school subjects I had in the ninth grade. And these subjects had never been mentioned. It was just an excuse. Receiving a gold or silver medal would give the applicant to any college or university he or she applied the advantage take and pass only one entrance examination instead of four or five entrance examinations which were required in case it would be grade A. It also depended on the college or the university “internal” regulations and policies. Neither my parents nor I disputed that decision of the school and the Department of Education because it was useless. The decision was final, as everything else in the Soviet Union when the authorities ruled. I decided to submit my documents to Kiev National University, the department of foreign languages. I was preparing for the required four entrance examinations scheduled in the first half of August. Two weeks after I submitted my documents, I received a letter to come immediately to the admission office at Kiev National University. The head of the admission office told me with a smile on her face, she was doing me a favor. I had to take my documents from that university to some other ethnically friendly university because unfortunately for me, Kiev National University had already had the necessary quota of 1% of the Jewish applicants to be considered for admission. I applied to Kiev Linguistic University, department of foreign languages. I was admitted only to the evening department because I didn’t score 20 out of 20 which was absolutely impossible for any applicant – not even to mention a Jewish applicant. So, I was admitted to the evening department, and was very grateful. I scored 19 points – received three As and one B grades out of the maximum 20 points. One of those who was conducting the entrance examinations that year was Professor of History Dr. Smishko. He was one of the two professors administering the History examination. He told me that nobody could know Early History and History of the Soviet Union, especially the key historic moments well enough, even including him, and the grade B was in his view beyond imagination when given to an applicant. Dr. Smishko was smart enough not to say a Jewish applicant. Anyway, I was admitted, and I became a student. Studying at the evening department required me to be employed only in the field of education. It was not a choice; it was a requirement. It was mandatory. I had to look for employment, and it should be a school or a city college. Without having employment, I couldn’t qualify to study at the evening department, and I had a short period of two months given to us by law to find employment. I looked for it at schools as a teacher’s aide, or as a coordinator of a foreign language lab, which both qualified me for studying at the evening department. When I would call a school to inquire about employment, they would immediately invite me to come for an interview. Then at the end of the interview they would ask me politely to show my internal passport as if they wanted to check the validity of the place of my residence. That happened eight times. I was exhausted and I was losing hope. Only when I found a school through very reliable connections of my Dad (he was a veteran in the military as well as a wounded warrior), and the promise I made to work three months without pay, I was hired to work as a foreign language lab coordinator at school of Extensive English learning. Finally, five years later, I graduated from Kiev Linguistic University, department of foreign languages in the top five per cent with the diploma of a foreign language teacher majoring in teaching the English language and literature and the Spanish language and literature. I couldn’t get a foreign language teacher position neither at school I worked as a foreign language lab coordinator, nor any other of more than 324 schools in Kiev at that time. The only problem was my Jewish ethnicity or nationality as it was secretly defied in the Soviet Union. As I was told in plain language, I was a Jew. So with a certified teacher diploma I continued to work as a foreign language lab coordinator, and my pay was thirty-three per cent of a foreign language teacher salary. I tried to to substitute when one or several teachers at our school were either sick or were absent from work for a certain important reason, but the chances were zero. A year later the schools in our district were reorganized, and a new school principal Galina Ivanovna Bohdan was appointed at the school where I worked as a foreign language lab coordinator. Before becoming the school principal Galina Ivanovna worked at the Central Committee of Ukrainian Komsomol (Young Communist League Organization). Galina Ivanovna talked to me from time to time and observed very closely my work ethic and attitude when she was attending English language teachers’ class to observe their work and students’ performance, and how I was detail oriented helping students who recognized my teaching skills and desire to help them when they would approach me. Galina Ivanovna saw my potential and my dedication to every little thing I was assigned to do. Also, my dedication to students I would volunteer to help. Galina Ivanovna decided to give me a chance to teach as she admitted later, although she knew that I was Jewish. This school where I started teaching was one of the twelve schools in Kiev, one in each district of the capital of Ukraine, known as school of Extensive English learning, where the English Language, British and American Literature, Military and Technical Translation, and also elements of History and Geography were taught in English. As a rule, a teacher of English taught a group of eight or ten students with one or two other colleagues splitting the class of 30 or 35 students in three sections of 8 to 12 students in each section. When a teacher who taught this class was absent, the other teachers had to teach either two sections or the whole class, which happened to me more often than to any other of the ten teachers who worked in the English language department of the school. At that time in Kiev there were 324 secondary schools, and there were just several Jewish teachers who were hired to teach a foreign language whether it was English or Spanish or French or German. I would teach not only the English language, but also British and American Literature, and Technical and Military Translation/Interpretation. Every day I had to report to school at 7:30 in the morning although the classes would start at 8:30 and leave the school building at 8:00 in the evening. The school taught six days a week from Monday through Saturday, and because the school worked in two shifts this was my schedule. At the school where I taught were more than two thousand five hundred students from the first grade through the tenth grade at that time. Also, I had to teach extra curricula classes for which I was not paid, but I had a real passion for teaching, and I enjoyed interacting with students and I inspired them learn and know more and more every hour I was with them. These extra curricula classes were the International Language Club and Learning Foreign Languages Club. Suddenly everything familiar and more or less stable has been changing. Honestly, it was crashing and seemed being demolished. A new School Superintendent of the Department of Education came to our school district. His name was Yuri Ivanovich Yelenko, and was a political appointee and had no clue about teaching or educational system. As I remember it was Monday in the beginning of June. Yuri Ivanovich called the school secretary where I was employed and asked her to let me know that he wanted to see me immediately, or before the end of the week on Friday. The next day I was in his office. Yuriy Ivanovich told me that when the new school year was going to begin on September 1, 1980, I would no longer be employed at the school where I worked. My seven years of the teaching career I have built at the school of Extensive Learning was abruptly coming to an end. And it was done without any explanations or any details from him. I was stunned. Not upset, but truly shocked. I was leaving his office and I had to look for any kind of employment. Being hired as a teacher might be out of question. Jewish people after waiting several years for their exit visas to Israel were invited to the OVIR and allowed by the Soviet government to leave. Among them were many foreign language teachers. The Department of Education issued a secret order not to hire any teachers who were Jewish to avoid future problems for the school system, although there was a tremendous shortage in mathematics, physics and chemistry teachers at that period of time. Also, I had to remember that the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was the most anti-Semitic of all the fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics. Any private businesses including tutoring or teaching were banned by the Soviet government and those who did it secretly and unlawfully were punished by inprisonment.

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