The rain is falling a bit harder. I look down at my shoes, realizing how inappropriately I am dressed for the Moscow fall. Water is soaking my shoes. I continue on.
It’s eight p.m. on a Monday evening, the drunken youth groups are not out yet, and people are walking, hidden safely underneath their expensive umbrellas. I squint my eyes in the rain and continue on. I eye the surprisingly empty benches. I observe the usually calm lake being disturbed by the angry rain.
I am staring at the Prud, the lake, and all of a sudden, I am forced to stop in my tracks. I am forced to admit to myself, what I hadn’t for so long. Moscow is beautiful, even in the worst season, worst weather. Despite everything, Chistiye Priudi looks absolutely magnificent to me. I almost say Shehechiyanu for experiencing such a novel feeling. I don’t see the angry graffiti on the benches and pavement; I don’t see wild homeless dogs running around, I don’t see the street drowning in used cigarettes.
My thoughts are so confusing! I grew up in a Moscow where the norm was to own a fancy cell phone in second grade, ride on Bentleys, spend free time at the movies, follow the identical European fashion. I am not of the generation that witnessed a shift from Third World country to one of advanced modernization.
I grew up with the privileges of a Western person. But at the same time I always lived the mentality of a third world country. Perhaps, the technological innovations, restaurants and hair salons were as advanced as Paris and Manhattan. But the mindset of the people was always peasant-like. You don’t question Putin, the corrupt Politsiya, the oligarchs or opponents who are imprisoned for longer than their sentences. You live your life and hope no one interferes. Yet, I look around and realize there has been a change here, while I was studying in the States. There is a difference. This is no longer the Moscow, the amazing city in which I grew up. It has transformed.
The rain is beating down rhythmically, penetrating every part of my body, I don’t feel my toes, but I continue on. I spend my days at the school where I was a student, where my life was dictated by the sounds of the bell, the homework assignments of the physics teacher, the fights between girls in my class. And now I walk through the same corridors as a teacher. The students look up to me and use the respectful term that is used when speaking to a superior. Students ask me, “Where did you just come from?” I proudly answer, “America.” People are impressed. At first suspicious, the snobby girls, in their long Luis Vuitton skirts accept me. I miss Moscow. I laugh at my naiveté of wanting a different childhood.
When I first arrived in the States I tried to integrate as a student from a different school in the neighborhood, rather than a girl from an entirely different culture. But now, I have embraced my differences, and refuse to be intimidated by those who think my upbringing was “weird.” In fact, I miss the familiar walls of school. This is my home, my Rodina, why do I always shy away from it? But at the same time, I feel something calling me back? Ugh… all these feelings… so overwhelming and confounding! Why do I want to come back? Only four years ago, I was excited about not living in Russia, and now I want to come back? What is calling me?
By now my waterproof sweatshirt is soaking. I am losing feeling in my joints. But I continue on. I am trying to be honest with myself and understand, what is calling me back.
I get it, I feel passionate about the well being, growth and success of the school my mother founded. I get it, after living in America; I miss the old history and lack of entitlement of the people. I miss standing in the Moscow Choral Synagogue, where Golda Meir once stood, davening to God from a building that holds so much Jewish pride and history. But I don’t understand what is calling me here?