Meet the Leybengrub Family

"Here I no longer feel like an outsider. I can be proud of who I am."

Growing up in Ukraine, when we were little, our parents didn’t tell us we were Jewish because they thought we wouldn’t know how to handle it. Being Jewish meant you were treated as second class citizens. We ended up finding out at school and then facing anti-Semitism from our schoolmates.

Regina: Growing up, I didn’t know I was Jewish. I knew my grandmother would make special things at certain times of year, but we had no name for the holidays. My parents never told me I was Jewish – I think they thought that I wouldn’t know what to do with the information. I didn’t find out until kids at school let me know.

I remember I faced anti-Semitism. I had a good friend and I went to her house one day. Her mother told her that she couldn’t be friends with me because I was Jewish.

Feliks: In school there was a book and each student was listed. It included the parents’ names, what they did for a living and their nationality. There were Russians, Ukrainians and then Jews. I remember peeking at the book and finding out I was Jewish. I didn’t know what the difference was. I asked my Dad – what does it mean to be Jewish. He told me being Jewish made you different. My father always told me if you were Jewish you had to work twice as hard.

Being Jewish followed you everywhere. You stood out. When you went for university or for a job, it was noted that you were Jewish. I remember Russia formed an alliance with the Arab countries and there was a constant barrage of anti-Israel information.

Regina: After the Iron Curtain fell, we met on the way to shul. We met March 26, he proposed May 8 and we married on August 1. When I was pregnant with my first child, I immigrated to Baltimore because my father and sister lived here. Feliks followed two months later.

Feliks: When we were first here HIAS (an international aid organization for immigrants that was under The Associated) helped us with financial assistance and worked with us to enroll in English courses.

Regina: Coming to this country made me realize I wasn’t an outsider any more. I am proud of who I am. I can raise kids to know about their Jewish heritage, understand their history and learn about the land of Israel. I feel a knot in my throat when I see Jewish people under one roof, praying and not afraid.

I began to volunteer with The Associated and this year I will chair a Russian Family Fun Day at Pearlstone Center. I love that Pearlstone is an environmental organization and connects Jewish people to the land. In fact, look what Israel did with the land – turning it from desert to a beautiful country.

Feliks: I first got involved with The Associated when Natan Sharansky came for the Russian gala celebrating 25 years after Operation Exodus. I think it’s important for the second generation to become part of the Jewish community now. It’s important to feel Jewish.

Regina: We were helped and supported by the community. I want my kids to know this and get involved and give back.

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