object lessons

What did you bring with you and what did you leave behind?

Visitor Voices

  1. Even though I was born in Utah, I didn’t really arrive in the United States until my family returned from living for two years in the Dominican Republic.

    For the first time, I had witnessed what it meant to have no home–people living in lean-to bits of space with a piece of corregated aluminum for a roof, perhaps also as walls–and a dirt floor. When we drove into Santo Domingo, we passed miles and miles of these ghettos–the places where the maids and chauffers lived who worked for the rich city dwellers.

    We arrived in the D.R. when I was 14 and left before my 16th birthday. I returned to the United States understanding that I had been blessed beyond my comprehension to be part of a place where, yes, there was poverty–but there was also hope.

    “Today I am becoming just who I want to be,
    At six or sixteen, fifty-one, or even eighty-three.”

    The day we returned to the United States from the Dominican Republic, I became aware that I was a citizen of the United States.

    For me, that moment of arrival marked a vivid change in how I saw my country, and myself.


  2. I came to America when I was five years old from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. We came as refugees. We weren’t welcome there because we were Jewish and America took us in. I still remember that bright sunny day. It’s one I’ll likely never forget. I don’t remember much from my first few months in America, but I definitely remember the first thing I ate here…vanilla ice cream. My grandfather put me on his lap in the cab and gave me a giant vanilla ice cream cone. That was the moment I knew I would love America!


  3. I am an American! I was born in a small town in western PA. I went to public school. Every day I heard the Lord’s Prayer and a portion of the New Testament. In first grade the teacher suggested I go to a Christmas pagent across the street from the school. I wasn’t to tell my father (he would have been upset because we were Jewish and didn’t celebrate non-Jewish holidays)!

    LibbyLee Forman

  4. My parents came from France, and met in NYC. My father was from the south of France, and my mother from the north. My mother came to NY to fullfil her dream of becoming a profesional actress. My father came to the U. S. He was tired of his life in his home town, he wanted adventure. My parents met at a resturant that they both served, my father, the chef, my mother the waitress. My parents are 10 years apart in age and have 4 children, me, my older brother, and my two younger sisters. My father now owns 5 resturants and has a bakery company. My mother never truly fullfiled her dream, she was in the acting business for only a couple years, and she also sang jazz at resturants. But now my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are in France. Both my grandfathers served in the French Army for WWII.

    Nina Forgeois

  5. I came from Iran in 1976 to NY and left the most precious thing behind…my family. I was 13, all alone in a strange place.

    Dalia Mairzadeh, Iran

  6. My mom, Berdie Feuer, at the age of twenty-two, arrived in the US in 1928 with her younger sister and brother. Her parents and three other siblings had come about two years earlier. My mother had left a boyfriend, Aaron Spielman, behind in her small town in Poland. Aaron was a successful businessman and about ten years older than her. Their plan was for my mom to move first, get a job and her citizenship and then go back to Poland and bring Aaron to America.

    Six years had passed and they continued to communicate with each other. (Although I don’t have those letters, I do have an autograph album, written in Yiddish, with Aaron’s farewell message.) My mom, as promised, returned to Poland in 1934, a proud American citizen. It was a rather daunting decision for a young single woman to do alone at the time. (I have accessed the ship’s manifest online.) On her first night’s visit with him and his family at their summer dacha, Aaron told my mom that he could not leave Poland, his family, business and homeland.

    My mom told me that the next morning she packed her bags and was prepared to go to the train station for a return trip to America. Aaron and his family begged her to stay but she adamantly refused. She had told me that after a taste of America, the land of freedom, she could never return to live in Poland. Besides as she said, she was an American citizen.

    Strong willed and independent, she arrived back in the states in less than a month. Upon arriving, by taxi from the port, at her family’s Williamsburg apartment, she was greeted by an assortment of friends, neighbors and relatives. All were anxious to hear about her voyage. The first question asked by everyone was, “Bayla di bist ah kallah?” (”Berdie, are you a bride?”) She responded, “Aus kallah.”,(”No more bride.”), confidently aware that she had made the correct decision.

    My grandparents, her parents, were upset and disappointed. They now had a twenty-eight year-old old maid on their hands who had wasted so many years waiting for one guy. With persistence they found a shidduch (match) for my mom, my dad, Morris Schiffenbauer. They were married in June 1936 and remained a happy and beloved couple for 66 years. They both passed away, six months apart, in 2002.


    Aaron Spielman never married. He survived the war and remained in Poland. He then moved to Sweden with his nephew. Following the war, my mom tracked down where he was living and sent him clothing and food packages as well as money, regularly. She kept in touch with his surviving family, living in Israel, for many years.

    My mom had expressed her mixed feelings regarding her life altering decision. Naturally, she was overjoyed to have not become another one of the six million Jews to have perished. Of course she knew that there was no way for her to predict the events of the Holocaust, but nonetheless verbalized guilt that she had not convinced others to join her in America.

    The fact that I married a man named Aaron always brought a smile to my mom’s face.


    Susan Fruchter, United States

  7. Among other things, I brought with me clothes, a laptop, German toothpaste, a dictionary, and presents for the person that I stayed with for a month in the US – that is how long it took me to find an apartment.

    I.M., Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Arrived US 2005

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