November 30, 2010 | 7:09 pm
Posted by Julia Bendis
I was born in Ukraine, in the former USSR, and grew up in Riga, Latvia which is on the Baltic Sea. My family and I immigrated to the United States in 1989, right before the fall of Communism. I believe that many Russian immigrants have used humor as a way to cope with the conditions of life in the former Soviet Union. I am definitely one of them. Have you ever seen photographs of Russians during Communism? Or better yet Russian Jews? Nobody smiled in pictures, ever. It wasn’t allowed. If you smiled, that meant that you were happy about something, and THAT meant that you had something that others didn’t. That was definitely not allowed in Socialism, and would be reported to the proper officials! Everyone was supposed to be equal, and have the same amount of everything from money to food to shelter. We all know how untrue that was, and how well that turned out in the end…
But when you were behind closed doors, closed windows and curtains you felt the need to enjoy yourself, laugh and make fun of the government. Of course it had to be done very quietly, and only behind blaring Communist music. But it was a necessity due to such terrible conditions as lack of food, money, clothing and everything else that people need and deserve.
I started writing in high school, not only as comedy relief for myself to get through school, but also as a way to deal with being the new kid, being the only Russian, Jewish kid in the entire school, and city. I believe there was only a handful of Russian/Jewish families living in Orange County at that time.
Most kids didn’t even know how to talk to me, or my younger brother. We didn’t speak a word of English, we didn’t understand a word of English, we looked funny, and I am pretty sure smelled funny since bathing is optional in Europe, and typically a once a week kind of deal. It took us a few months to figure out that we needed to take more showers, wear the same outfit only once, and invest in anti-perspirants. Once we got that down, my brother and I had a daunting task of trying to make friends which was a daily battle. How do you make friends when all you know how to say is: “Hello, my name is Julia.” And my parents had a difficult task looking for work. Not many places wanted to hire a Mechanical Engineer that used such proper English that no American could ever understand him. That was the way English was taught in Russia, the British-English. He uses such words as: “Pipeline, Propulsion, and Pressure Transient Analysis”, all in the same sentence…
And my Mom the Microbiologist, well… I got a whole page devoted just to her, and will be posted soon. As an example, she once wrote a note to the Lab Assistant that started like this: “Dear Lab Ass…” Apparently, she was in a rush and decided to abbreviate. When the Supervisor came to ask her why she is so angry and what the problem is with the Lab Assistant, she still had no idea what they were talking about.
I love my parents, and would never have gotten the opportunity to write for the Jewish Journal if they hadn’t moved us to the U.S. for a better life! But, unfortunately for them, much of my material is based on their imperfect English. Among other things, I write about family, kids, the funny and inappropriate things they say, being Jewish, being a Russian Jew, living in California, current events, politics, celebrities and how little their lives matter to the rest of us, and much, much more…
I still reside in Orange County along with my husband Scott, sons Tyler and Nikolas and a dog named Sadie.
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