NEW YORK—Nowadays, having lived in exile for many years, we all go to the store on the eve of Jewish holidays and easily, without any problem, buy what we need in order to celebrate this or that holiday.
But on the eve of any Jewish holiday, I plunge into my childhood, remembering not only the actions of my parents, but also uncovering answers to questions that I did not attach due importance to in my youth. Our participation was subconscious and mechanical.
I’ll tell you frankly: I grew up in what seemed at first glance to be a non-religious family, where there was no obvious presence of the Almighty. At the same time, my mother, a teacher at a Soviet school in Samarkand’s Jewish quarter «Vostok», knew not only our rituals and traditions, but also religious laws.
I remember a lot. But the holiday of Tu Bi Shevat, like Easter and Purim, has special meaning for me.
While there was no religious participation and perception in my consciousness — I did not realize and did not ask myself questions: what is this? Why is this? — I apparently had some kind of perception at the genetic level and a love for everything that was marked with the stamp of Jewry.
I would like to tell my children, grandchildren, and my readers how many years ago we prepared for this holiday.
We lived in a country where every family at the end of autumn stocked up on food for winter and spring. This supply consisted of potatoes, carrots, cabbage for sauerkraut, and onions. But the most pleasant memory was preparing the fruits that we began to eat on the holiday of Tu Bishvat.
Mom bought green apples, each of which I helped wrap in paper or newspaper and put in a wooden box.
In the basement we hung bunches of grapes, a huge green quince that turned yellow over time, winter melons, and a lot of dried vegetables and fruits. With my participation, she prepared homemade dry wine while squeezing grapes.
My bedroom was located right above the basement and the smell of all the fruits and especially apples reigned in my room forever. It was cooler in winter, but the smell of the apple trees was worth the chill.
And on the eve of Tu Bi Shevat, my mother came with me into the basement where we prepared the festive table.
But before that, she bought dried apricots, dried melon, dried fruits and made sure to prepare dumplings that evening.
Mom had special candles. She poured oil into enamel dishes and made candles from cotton wool and read some prayers. At the same time, she looked at me hopelessly and realized that all this was unknown and far away to me: mentally and historically.
She came to terms with the fact that she tried several times to give me at least some kind of Jewish education, teaching me to read prayers and learn the alphabet. It all ended once it reached the ears of the KGB, giving my father problems. There has never been a shortage of sex products among the people…
But I thank my beloved mother who easily molded me, a giraffe, into a Jew. It dawned on me many years later: why did she do all this?
I had some kind of subconscious struggle with the Soviet system—internal dissidence.
In the 9th grade, there were problems with the KGB, then interrogations in 1978 and 1985, during which time often thought about my own identity.
The basis of my Jewish identity was that my great-great-grandfather Ilevu Abulkhair ben Kalta, in refusing to convert to Islam, gave his life, leaving behind three children Benjamin, Moshe and Lei, from whom the Normatov, Kalontarov, and Kandhorov genealogies subsequently descended. And later, especially in America, I began to understand more clearly my voice of blood and inner purpose of being not only a Jew, but also a Jew. And to pass on all your family heritage to your descendants, like a mission.
This was the Torah and the weapon of my parents, which resembled our belonging.
That Tu Bishvat evening there was a feast. We were all waiting for father at the table, which was set beautifully. Mother had blessings (brakha) written in Cyrillic by hand, and father read them out loud with us in front of each of the seven fruits.
Haft mewa khuri!
Already in the early ‘80s, a Russian version of the Torah appeared in my house, followed by more forbidden books. During this time, I started becoming more thoroughly and consciously acquainted with my religion and history.
And I thank fate that I emigrated and understood something in my life.
But there is a lot that I need to learn.