Chava Boroda lives in Los Angeles, her family was among thousands of Jewish people from the USSR, whose story of moving to the United States as political refugees is truly inspiring.
Chava’s family was among those “Refuseniks”¹ who proved to the world just how much a strong power of will can be stronger amidst the strictest regime in the world.
The world has slowly forgotten the emotional and powerful stories of “Refuseniks”. In the 1970/80s a large number of brave people marched to foreign Embassies located in the Soviet Union requesting permission to emigrate.
The vast majority of these citizens were refused or denied permission from the Brezhnev Government, hence they received a status of “Refusenik”
Chava came from a highly educated family with long-standing ties in various areas of education and science. Her grandmother spoke Yiddish and worked at the Yiddish school in the town of Birobidzhan, located in the administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Russia.
Birobidzhan still remains a unique place, which has state-run schools that teach Yiddish.
Her parents were hard-working people with their souls filled with optimism of the future and their upcoming journeys.
Upon emigrating from the USSR to the United States, the family left many peculiar memories behind. Memories of struggle and striving for making their lives interesting and enlightening for other people.
Chava remembers how her father tried to set up a theater in their own home to encourage Jewish families to practice art, music and creativity in the times when freedom of speech or thought had been severely oppressed by the Soviet regime.
Despite of the fact that USSR attracted high volume of debate among the Western scholars, Russian dissidents or even the general public – the attention to the essence beyond “Refuseniks” significantly dropped down as the Soviet Union ceased to exist. However, personal stories such as Chava’s is a reminder to us on how power of will amidst fear to the System can overcome even the most challenging obstacles. Especially the younger generation of Jews or non-Jews who are taught about the legacy, inspiration and courage that “Refuseniks” have left for the freedom fighters worldwide.
The process of emigration and hardships started when they approached the Embassy in Kiev for exit permission. Chava was only 5 years old, but her family always taught her to never forget that feeling of observing the chaos filled with people not getting where they want to be, when they want to be there.
That day, Chava’s family was among those people frantically ensuring that they would receive permit, however, the line was closed right in front of them. Her family spent nine long years waiting for an exit visa. Nine years, which resulted into pushing little Chava against the terrible antisemitism that had occupied many angles of life. At school, pupils often teased her and called “zhidovka”, which was used as an insulting word for Jews.
A very large number of refuseniks faced terrible government oppression, such as being expelled from universities, physically insulted and jailed on fabricated charges; the vast majority of them lost their jobs and had to even forcibly relocate to labor camps.
Upon arrival in the United States, Chava met people from various religious or ethnic communities, who had also made their ways to the country through emigration.
She learned that freedom is of utmost importance for each and every human being regardless of their heritage. While remaining a devout Jewish woman, she has formed friendships and cooperation with non-Jews.
Most importantly, being a “Refusenik” has shaped Chava’s personality with a firm belief that discrimination has no race, religion or language. And those who have experienced hardships for their cultural identity have a greater mission to accomplish, which means standing up for others.
While the “Refuseniks” can be referred to as “Jewish renaissance flourishing like mushrooms in Soviet darkness” – their legacy deserves more attention and inclusion into educational systems.
¹ Refusenik was an unofficial term for individuals—typically, but not exclusively, Soviet Jews—who were denied permission to emigrate, primarily to Israel, by the authorities of the Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc.
Written by a PhD student in Jewish studies and frequently conducts interviews with “Refuseniks” who she regards as “Jewish renaissance flourishing like spring flowers in Soviet darkness”.