Goodbye Russia: Hello America Janet Kleinman
Coming to America Ida’s sons assimilate into the culture much too fast for their mother. Dealing with the mores of the times, forgetting their Jewish background and not always there for Sabbath observance, her young sons enter a world of fast women, burlesque and parties. Goodbye Russia is a heartfelt, heartbreaking story of a family torn apart by war, custom and two young men who fled tradition, broke off their ties with their family, and where a mother refused to accept the choices of her sons. Louis falling in love with Esther who Ida found unacceptable and even though he married her she wanted no part of this young woman. Wanting someone else for her son, she pushes aside her daughter in law, insults her son Nathan’s wife and might find herself living in a world all alone.
The Sidowitz family needs to adjust to living on Brook Street into the Bronx in a fourth floor walkup. Living in this small apartment this family who has just come to America arrives only to face adversities of a different kind. Imagine driving home for the first time and finding themselves fearing for their lives as gunshots ring out in a gas station where they wanted to fill up their car. Jack and Rubin or formerly Jacov and Reuven, with their mother Ida, move into the apartment with the help of her son Nathan, Lable now Louis getting steady works in a shoe factory. Learning what bagels are was a cute scene at the start of the book and finding out her sons were into burlesque and women made Ida more than just hard to live with and hoping that her sons would be safe. But, life in the East Bronx was explosive in many ways and leaving Russia behind quite easy.
Mama Ida was relentless in many ways and when dealing with Bela and Lota she was not always kind or understanding. As the years went on the family developed a business of their own in dressmaking, belts, clothes, tailoring and shoes. Their entrepreneur brothers Nathan and Louis provided the funds and the family flourished as Mama Ida created baked goods and other foods that so many loved. Just smelling the soups, the piroshkies, the matzo balls and more brings back memories of my grandmother’s kitchen. You can smell the tantalizing yeast cakes, the baked breads and the amazing dishes that Mama Ida made.
But, Jack was restless and even though he was doing well he decided to enlist where his brother’s age prevented him from the army. Drafted, dealing with many hardships Jack was trained to be an interpreter and was sent to Europe. With the Depression at their front door, money tight and many businesses failing, Jack sought this as a refuge and hope to finding his missing brother who did not join them in America. The search is paramount and the promise to his mother to find Yehuda always in his mind. The author describes in vivid detail his time in the army, the camps, the survivors and what happens when he finally realizes the war is over and helps a young survivor named Vladimir and a young girl named Masha that would drastically change his life forever. Finding his way to correspond with his family and realizing that there are many survivors that needed help, visiting the camps with this young man, translating for the brass and hoping to find peace within himself and the will to want to return home to his family.
The war might have ended but Jack’s quest to find his brother’s family was not over and the reunion with his family did not leave him fulfilled. Two children, a great business and a tightly knit family and a mother who just wanted closure to know what happened to her son. Joining the Jewish fleet after returning home, learning more about the business his wife and sister-in-law started, the way they all banned together is truly heartfelt. But, the sadness in the letters,, the sorrow each time he leaves and the emptiness that his wife felt is sad. His goal was to become a lawyer and go to college but his desire to keep his promise to his mother came first as he goes to Palestine, smuggles survivors and helps the immigrants to freedom. Learning more about Moshe, meeting her and finally reconnecting what happens provides a sudden twist as he is now a Lieutenant, has privileges and wants to bring her to America but her goal is to find Vladimir and hopefully find him alive.
Author Janet Kleinman describes the camps, the survivors, their turmoil, the crematoriums, the death sentences, the stench and the struggle that so many faced at the hands of not only the Germans but the Russians too. As the author tells of the many experiments done on women to find just how much poison was needed to kill them and the other atrocities that so many endured, it brought back what my grandmother told me was done to her by these very same hands. The anger, frustration, the fear and Sidowitz family never giving up on their dream and the American way, loyal to our land and our country, what will the final outcome be? Is serving in the army the only way to payback for all the good they received? Jack translates the German Instrument of Surrender for the Allies but does not find Yehuda. Why can’t he embrace his family and stay home? Take the journey with the Jewish Fleet, meet the crews of the Alpha and Bet, and understand all about HIAS and the Jewish National Fund, the leaders in the fight for an “independent Jewish Nation.” Bela and Jack, Ruby and Lota, Louis, Nathan and a family that every reader will embrace, as Jack and the Sidowitz family search their hearts, souls and minds to find a better life and finally say a permanent good bye to Russia. An ending that will bring tears to your eyes. A promise that Jack wanted to fulfill to his mother. A country that went through economic struggles and a family that would do everything to survive. Will Jack ever keep his promise to his mother? This is a story that everyone needs to read to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, the tortures so many endured and the realities that many still do not want to face. Added in are the Jewish expressions and words that bring back so many memories of my grandparents. The tailoring, handbags, the magazine, the belts, their work with the army and the many ways that provided help for others, his is one family that never gave up on life no matter what happened. Meet them, take the journey back in time, listen as Mama Ida’s ways are firm, solid and at times you just might want to hug her, as this steadfast family takes on the government, the army, the Russians, the Germans and one young man fights not only for his country, freedom, his people and to find himself. A story of love, romance, loyalties, family relationships, hope, trust and beliefs as author Janet Kleinman pens a novel for all ages.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine