Lisa Hollander – West Ukraine

Lisa and her husband arrived in this country on February 22, 1976.  They were among the first Russian refugees to come to Youngstown where her husband’s uncle owned a meat company.   In the beginning, Lisa remembers it was very tough – the culture was different, language was different, and the food was very different.  Her son was born in October, l976,and she remembers her husband saying to her….we are here and you give me a beautiful baby boy and I don’t have anybody to have a drink with.” Several years later, other Russian families came to Youngstown, and they gathered together for parties, dancing, and singing.

When living in Russia, Lisa went to a teacher’s college and taught Russian language and literature in a Ukraine high school.   Although she welcomes opportunities to speak Russian with a few friends, she says that when you start dreaming in English, you know that is your language now.

But Lisa knows that you never forget your language.  She remembers a Russian woman who was an Alzheimer’s patient in a local nursing home where Lisa works.  The woman had forgotten the English she had learned, but remembered her Russian language.

Describing her first holiday celebration in this country, Lisa said “In Russia, we had to celebrate Jewish Passover very quietly, only family, hiding so neighbors could not see us doing that.  Here our uncle opened the house for the whole family, 40 – 60 people, and it was absolutely beautiful.  We didn’t have to hide, did not have to be afraid.  It was really a celebration of freedom and that is what Passover is.  Lisa’s father in-law lost his family in a concentration camp and, as Lisa says, “His dream was for his sons and grandchildren to not be afraid that you were a Jew, and it came true here in America.”

For Lisa, “living in two cultures makes you more tolerant toward others and makes your life richer. Reflecting on her life in Russia, Lisa is proud that she was born in Russia.  She was educated there, had a happy childhood, liked to dance, and teach and loved Russian literature. But she knows that 25 years is a long time to be away.  When she went back to Russia, things had changed a lot and she didn’t recognize her city, didn’t recognize the people. didn’t recognize the country and she didn’t feel at home. She now says, “I think this country is beautiful and I just enjoy it and I’m home, I’m home.”

Leave a Comment