That’s the way Irina Kusayev describes her present life with her husband and son in Staten Island. She is a nursing supervisor with Caring Professionals for the past fourteen years.
The story begins in Ukraine in the early 1930s, when her grandparents moved from the south of Ukraine to Donbass. The booming coal business brought many people there. Irina’s parents had no Jewish education, which was typical for their generation; the little she knew about Judaism she gleaned from her grandparents. She ate matzah on Pesach, ate a special kind of fish during the fall, and was given gifts of money during the winter. She didn’t know why but that was what Jews did.
Nursing was Irina’s chosen field. She trained and then developed a career as hospital nurse, rising to the level of a nursing supervisor and working in the emergency room. But she yearned to do more and guide others. She went back to school and earned her education credentials at the local university. Her second career began with teaching chemistry and biology and once again she rose to become a principal.
By the late ‘90s, it was time to move to the United States, as many Jews from the Former Soviet Union did. She was the last of her family to leave. Her aunt, mother, and sister’s family preceded her; her father had already passed on. The plan was to come as a political refugee and work as a nurse. Plans did not work out exactly. She was refused entry as a refugee and had to file as a parolee. By the time she arrived, her mother had passed away from cancer.
She forged ahead, settling in Midwood. In the neighborhood she met Iliyavusavy Kusayev. He, too, was single and a Jew from the former Soviet Union who had come here because of the anti-Semitism in his native Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Comments in the street were nasty and there were even knocks on the door with scary questions. “Why are you Jews still here? Go to Israel.” It felt dangerous so like many Bukharian Jews, the family packed up and left for New York.
Iliyavusavy’s paternal family was Sephardic Bukharian for generations. His mother had been evacuated from the Ukraine to Bukhara during World War II. His father was a fabric salesman and his mother was a bookkeeper. Everyone had a regular Soviet education but no Jewish education. Iliyavusavy worked as a mechanic and when he came to Midwood where his cousins were, that was his first job.
When Irina and Iliyavusavy decided to marry 21 years ago, they were committed to living a full Jewish life. She took lessons in Judaism and studied with a rebbetzin. Her first Chanukah celebration took place when she was a married woman. Lighting the menorah was a very moving experience, as she reclaimed the practices that her grandparents had known. On the final night of Chanukah, as she lit the eighth candle, she asked G-d for a child. She was in her late thirties and although she had been married previously, she had had no children.
It did not take long for her to find out that her prayers were answered. Josef Kusayev is now 20 years old now, a premed student at Lander College and Yeshiva for Men in Queens. He comes home to Staten Island from the dormitory each Shabbos, where he reads the Torah in their synagogue. Their Chanukah miracle is present all year round.
A veteran nonprofit leader, Faigie Horowitz, MS is a columnist, motivational speaker, and active community rebbetzin in Lawrence.