My Emi-immigration Story

Passport/visa photo

In 2012, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) published a book of 30 selected stories of Jewish refugees from Russia whom they had assisted. Here is an excerpt from my story selected for the book.

(Some of the contributors to the book were up-and-coming  New Yorker stars brought to the States as children. Thanks to being co-published with me, they now have an Erdős number of 4 🙂 ; see more on Erdős number here

P.S. My story was called “Begunok, A Travel Guide for Refugees.” “Begunok” was the word we used for handwritten notes with tips on how to go about various chores needed to be done to be able to emigrate. They ranged from the type of windup toys to sell on the streets of Rome to how to write an effective complaint letter to Comrade Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party (I did both). 45 years later history is on the next, lower coil of Hegel’s spiral when an internet equivalent of Begunok assembles tips for those, who want to flee Putin’s empire. No letters to Putin or windup chickens are covered this time. Rather it’s how to survive when you suddenly end up in Kazakhstan, for example. The Second Evil Empire may be even more grim than the first.

Here is the advice site with a generic name, but a very specific flavor:

My piece was not selected from about a thousand entries right off. When my son got an email that his piece was in, while I didn’t, a friend, who used to work for HIAS, said I should just be happy for my son. My answer was not mellow: “I am not dead yet,” I said. However, thanks to the combative nature of my son, who was having an argument with the chief editor about the details of editing his piece, the editor searched for “Somin” and discovered there were two pieces under that name. She ended up giving a stiff dressing down to the junior screeners for missing my piece.

Panel discussion on Soviet Jewry at the HIAS book introduction event moderated by Gal Beckerman, author of “When They Come for US We’ll Be Gone”, a history of Soviet Jewish emigration

(with Irina Klionsky, wife of artist Marc Klionsky)


Inside cover of the book in the background: my son Ilya, also a contributor, above Gal’s head, I with the violin, top left


With Gal Beckerman

Here is the full story on the site of HIAS


* HIAS is in the process of refurbishing its web site, hence the above link currently leads to a temporary MyStory page. Instead, the story can be read on Begunok page.

Via Torre Perla, 55, Ladispoli, Lazio, Italia 

Our refugee home March – June 1979 (2nd floor window on the left)

Via Crucis, procession of the cross on Good Friday, in front of the Colosseum. Everyone entering the piazza got this illuminated guide to vocally participate in the stations of the cross, with Pope John Paul II carrying the same. April 1979

25 years later he no longer could (he died the following year, in 2005)

All the toys for a 5-year old fit into this bag for the travel to the New World
June 6, 1979

Westport. CT, the hometown of Paul Newman and “Lipton Tea” heirs, June 1979

Refugee sponsorship agreement

At a party with our sponsors. (No need for me to slim down after a refugee stay in Italy 🙂 )


27 Danbury Ave, Westport, CT, 1979

At Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, Sudbury, MA, 1981

A refugee paper trail from Vienna to Burlington, MA