Yefim Kogan

 

Me’ah Student, Class of 2000

MJLS Student, Class of  2012

yefimk@verizon.net

 

                                                                                      

          My family and I emigrated from the Soviet Union in the beginning of 1989. After arriving in Vienna, Austria, and later in Rome,Italy, we still did not know where we would end up living.  In our refugee camp in Ladispoly,Italy, we were among ten thousand Jews from the then Soviet Union and two thousand Jews from Iran. We could not converse with the Iranian Jews, but we knew that these refugees had escaped from an oppressive regime. 

         My compatriots came from so many regions of the Soviet Union that in some cases I could not understand their language, especially Bukharian Jews speaking Judeo-Tadzhik or Judeo-Persian, or others speaking languages such as Estonian and Georgian. What united most of us at this place in Italy was that we were Jewish, and we wanted to leave as soon as we could.  People lived in crowded apartments in Ladispoly from three months to a year or more. 

          The United States government did not allow some of us to enter, again refusing visas for Jews. This time we all had a choice, thank G-d – to go to Israel! 

          I remember a Jewish delegation from Boston coming to Ladispoly in February of 1989. They tried to help us remain calm, to well answer questions at the US embassy. They also taught us what to do if our interviewer was a particular person who refused most of the applicants!  Was that person an anti-Semite? Pages of these historical events have not yet been written.

         My family was lucky – that particular interviewer, for some reason, liked our answers. After our three month “Italian vacation” we arrived in Boston, two days prior to Passover.  Every family in Ladispoly received packages of matzah; we brought ours to Boston, just in case.

         Right after coming to Boston my wife and I began taking classes in English.  That same year, before getting a job, I found myself in a class for Jewish newcomers. The topic was “Songs of Shabbat.” Cantor Charles Osborn prepared for us a transliterated version of the Shabbat songs, prayers, and a tape with songs.  This is how it started. At the time I did not understand what Jewish Studies was, and certainly did not realize that Jewish Studies is not for a semester or a year, but for the rest of your life!

        My Me’ah application asked why I was applying to the program. The short answer: I did not have any Jewish education and felt a real need to fill that void.  Fourteen years ago I wrote that I want to learn about the intellectual and philosophical tradition of my people; in the face of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments, I wanted to know what “Jewish” and “Israel” meant.  I did not want to be “beaten” for nothing, as was the case back in the old country.

        I remember very vividly Me’ah classes with eye-opening discussions; we covered hard topics on Torah with Prof. Everett Fox, and heard terrific Talmudic tales from Prof. Solomon Schimmel.

        In my essay for admission to HebrewCollege’s Master of Jewish Liberal Studies program I wrote about my passion for the history of the Jewish people, and also Jewish onomastics. I wanted to continue to study these subjects as well as to learn more Torah, which is so beautiful and deep, on many occasions hard to understand, sometimes magnetic, and at other times calming.

        My masters program was rich and incredibly diverse. I took classes on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Modern time Rabbinical Responses, Jewish Literature, Yiddish and Yiddish Literature, Jewish Philosophy, even Introduction to Islam, and of course classes on Bible and Jewish history.

        Now, I am at the end of this program, but definitely not at the end of my Jewish Studies.  I wish for all future Me’ah and Hebrew College students challenging courses, participation in enlightening discussions, not to be afraid of having a different opinion, the ability to ask many questions and the finding of some answers.

        My interest now lies in historical and genealogical research in Eastern Europe and in particular the region of Bessarabia, former province of the Russian Empire and now divided by Moldova Republic and Ukraine. I was born in Kishinev, Moldova, my parents and grandparents lived in Bessarabia for more than 200 years. The title of my thesis is Jewish life in Bessarabia through the lens of the shtetl Kaushany. The shtetl Kaushany is where my parents grew up and my work is a tribute to their lives and memories of Jewish communities in Kaushany and in Bessarabia. I have also organized in 2011 Bessarabia Special Interest Group at JewishGen, the main source of Jewish Genealogical information (www.jewishgen.org/Bessarabia/).