Irina Perlman-Russia

Irina arrived in America in 1989. She left Russia with her mother and daughter, and one suitcase which contained a pillow, a blanket, books for her daughter, and a change of clothing.  On the journey to America, she spent 10 days in Austria and 3-l/2 months in Italy waiting for a visa. The Youngstown Jewish Federation offered to pay travel expenses to Youngstown for Irina and her family and agreed to provide food and shelter for several months.

Youngstown was where Irina began to feel her Jewishness, to feel she belonged somewhere. Because of the anti-Semitism in Russia, she could not practice her religion nor talk about being Jewish, and Israel was a forbidden subject. Attendance at the one synagogue in St. Petersburg could result in losing your job or being expelled from the university. The Jewish community in Youngstown welcomed her and took her to the synagogue where she learned about her religion. Since then, Irina has taken lessons in Hebrew and went to Israel on a mission. Also, her husband is very active in Jewish life and through him, she has had opportunities to continue learning.

Today, Irina speaks fluent English.  In Russia, however, she only learned the English alphabet. During the months waiting in Italy for a visa, she began to study the English language and continued that process when she arrived in Youngstown.  In Russia, she majored in literature and arts, reading both Russian and French authors. Her job in Russia provided her with opportunities to share her love of the arts and music with others. Irina was responsible for promoting events at theaters and concert halls and bringing people to these events. She still speaks of the beauty of Russia that she experienced every day while walking in her city – the beautiful buildings with the great facades, sculptures, the history, and the concerts and theater.

Irina plays piano every day and is devoted to learning as much as possible. For her, playing and listening to piano is like being in a different world.

Irina speaks very lovingly about her daughter, and in that conversation she expresses her own love of freedom and opportunity.  She says…”When my daughter came here,… she was afraid to open her mouth, and now she has grown into a wonderful lady and will get a PhD in neuroscience….She is not afraid to speak her mind and be who she is….I admire that, and I like looking at little kids and how they are able to say what they want and they are entitled to that…it is a wonderful thing for a human being to experience.”

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