Nekhama (Nina) Skotkova


Interviewed by Carol Zuckert (with interpreter)
April 15, 1999

CZ  Today is April the 15th, 1999 and I'm interviewing Nina Skotkova in her home. So, tell me something please, when did you come to the United States? 

NS  I came in 1992. 

CZ  Oh, you've been here a long time. 

NS  Yes. I am a citizen. 

CZ  Wonderful. Why did you come? 

NS  Because in my country was anti-Semitism. 

CZ  Which country did you come from? 

NS  Ukraine. 

CZ  From which city? 

NS  Donyetsk. Close to Charkov. South. 

CZ  Very good. Did you come by yourself? 

NS  No. With my family. My daughter, son-in-law and grandson. My husband died in Tucson. 

CZ  How long ago was that? 

NS  In 1993. 

CZ  Oh, soon after you came. Does your daughter still live here? 

NS  Yes. With her family, her one child and husband. 

CZ  Tell me, what did you do in the Ukraine. 

NS  I was a teacher of history. 

CZ  At what level? 

NS  In high school. In high school and university, both. 

CZ  Did you have a history specialty or was it all history? 

NS  Russian history. Before 1917 and after. 

CZ  What did your husband do? What was his job? 

NS  My husband was a teacher of history also. 

CZ  He was a history teacher also? 

NS  Yes. In high school and university. 

CZ  And you were born in the Ukraine. 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Was he born in the Ukraine? 

NS  I was born in Ukraine and he was born in Belorussia. 

CZ  Your family, your parents, were they born in the Ukraine. 

NS  Yes. City Uman. Historical city. Big city. 

CZ  OK, I will look at the map. 

NS  It was a residency of Count Pototzky. 

CZ  Title? A royal place? I see, very good. And so you have graduated from college with a masters level or a bachelors level? Or what degree did you get? 

NS  From the university. 

CZ  For teaching or for general. 

NS  For teaching. 

CZ  Was it difficult to go to the university? 

NS  No. 

CZ  So when you went to the university what year was that about, what year? 

NS  1948. 

INT  She graduated in 1948. 

CZ  From college, from university. 

INT  From university. And she entered the university in 1942-43. 

CZ  When were you born, what day and month you were born? 

NS  September 8, 1924. I am very old. I am 74 years old. 

CZ  Wonderful. How did you decide to come to the United States? What made you decide? 

NS  Because it was anti-Semitism in Ukraine. 

CZ  Did your family practice Judaism or did communism get in your way? 

NS  I was a communist. 

CZ  So you couldn't be a Jew. Was your family Jewish? 

NS  Yes. Mother, father. 

CZ  What did they do? Did they pray? 

NS  No, no, no. 

CZ  They go to schul? 

NS  No. 

CZ  Your parents now. They read Hebrew? 

NS  No. 

CZ  Do you know why? 

NS  The communists closed the synagogue. 

CZ  But they could still...did they do anything like Shabat dinner, Sabbath dinner? 

NS  No, no. My father was a professor. 

CZ  Your father was a professor? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Of what? 

NS  Finances. He wrote books. 

CZ  On finances. That wasn't so good. 

INT  She want to show you the books. 

CZ  Of course. See in front of me I have two Russian books, in Russian indeed, that were authored by Nina's father. Printed in 1965, one of them anyway. OK. So they weren't religious. They didn't have do you know you were Jewish? 

NS  I know. I like Jewish. I know Jewish history. I have very interesting books about Jewish history. I brought them to Tucson. 

CZ  It was important to you to have it with you. 

NS  Yes, yes. I have Jewish encyclopedia. It was printed in 1916. 

INT  In 1916 the Jewish encyclopedia it was the first encyclopedia of Jewish people. 

CZ  Third edition? 

INT  Yes, but wrote in Russian. It was issued in Russia. 

CZ  This book was published in 1916, the year before the Russian Revolution. It's a very large book and it's aged and it's in Russian of course and it has many nice plates in them. Interesting plates. 

NS  Another Jewish encyclopedia. 

CZ  Published in 1916 also. Also leather bound, tattered. 

INT  She cannot take it from Russia to America this book. It was forbidden and she hide it. 

CZ  So she hid the books, both these two books? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  And why. If your family, your father and mother didn't practice any Judaism, did you have Passover? 

NS  My father very good spoke Hebrew, my father and my mother. 

CZ  Both Hebrew and Yiddish? 

NS  Yes. My father went to the Yeshiva. 

CZ  Do you have any brothers? 

NS  No, I haven't. 

CZ  Any sisters? 

NS  No. 

CZ  So you didn't go to the Yeshiva. It's mostly for the boys. 

NS  Yes. 

INT  They cannot practice there. Jewish service, because it was forbidden. 

CZ  But it wasn't until later that it was forbidden, right? It wasn't forbidden like when she was born? 

INT  He was a professor and he was a chief, her father. He could not practice Yiddish service because he worked in the University. If he would practice Yiddish service, he could be dismissed from the job. 

CZ  Curious, fine. Because he was a teacher he couldn't be Jewish. He couldn't practice his Judaism. 

INT  Yes. And Nekhama also. She was a teacher and she was a member of the communist party, it had to be communist... 

CZ  Forced to be a communist. To be a teacher you had to be a communist? 

INT  Yes. Especially the teacher of history. 

CZ  Because, why? 

INT  Because she teach the children, she teach children about the history and she must give the history so that the government like. 

CZ  Revisionism. You know the word revisionism? We make the history to fit our needs. 

INT  Yes. 

CZ  It's not real, it's made up. We revise it. 

INT  Yes. 

CZ  How interesting. So what years was this? When was this when you were teaching and you had to be a communist? Which years? Which years? What time? What years? 1950? When Stalin was, uh huh, ok. And then after Stalin you didn't have to do that? 

NS  I have to do that before he died and after. 

INT  She graduated in 1948, at that time she began to teach in school and sometimes in the university. 

CZ  And to teach the party line. 

NS  Yes. Stalin died in 1953. 

CZ  And then what happened after Stalin? Did you still have to do? You still had to do it? 

NS  Yes. 

INT  Only in 1990, after perestroika and then we began to feel some freedom. Before 1990 she cannot go away from the party. She has to stay in the party. 

CZ  I understand. So when was your son born, what year was he born? Your son? 

NS  No son, daughter. 

CZ  Oh, daughter and son-in-law. Excuse me. When was your daughter born? 

NS  In 1954. 

CZ  And is she a university teacher? 

NS  No, now here she teach English in prison. 

CZ  She lives in Tucson? 

INT  And she knows English very well. 

CZ  And you're getting very good. How interesting. 

INT  She study in special school in Russia in English school so she knows English good. 

CZ  Very good. 

INT  And now this her occupation, English. 

CZ  That's interesting. Yes. And your son-in-law? 

INT  Son-in-law is an engineer. 

CZ  And here? 

INT  He works with computers. And she has a very nice grandson. 

CZ  How old is he? How old is your grandson? 

NS  22. 

INT  He graduated from University of Arizona and now he is making... 

NS  Masters degree here. 

INT  He makes the course of masters degree and he works. 

CZ  So, did your daughter, when you came to Tucson what did you think of how people greeted you? What did you think of your first year or so or how you were in the community? 

NS  Jewish community is very good. 

CZ  You had a nice sponsor, Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS). 

NS  Yes, very good. 

INT  And the JFCS met her family, very nice. 

CZ  At the airplane? At the airplane when they met initially? At the beginning? 

INT  From the beginning the JFCS pay a lot of attention to our family. 

CZ  And what did they do? 

NS  They give money, they give ... 

CZ  Home furnishings. 

INT  They rent their apartment, yes? They give all that they need for the first time. 

CZ  For how long? For a year? For two months? How long did they help? 

NS  One year. My daughter and son-in-law go. 

CZ  To their own apartment. 

NS  Yes, they go to find a job. 

INT  They begin to work soon after we get here. After six months her daughter and son-in-law they go found a job. 

CZ  And does your son-in-law speak English? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Did they take you to services, to Jewish things? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Do you have any connection to your Judaism now? Do you feel at all connected to Judaism? It's alright, just curious. 

NS  We go to Anshai Israel. 

CZ  And do you go to Anshai 

INT  Yes, Anshai Israel, and on the holidays. 

NS  Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanna, Passover. 

CZ  Does your daughter do anything? Is she at all Jewish, your daughter? 

NS  Yes, she go to synagogue. 

CZ  And her husband? Was he Jewish? 

NS  Yes, yes. All family. 

CZ  The whole family goes. 

NS  Whole family goes. 

CZ  And your grandson? 

NS  My grandson? 

INT  Every Friday her grandson go to the University to ... 

CZ  Hillel 

INT  The University, for the Jewish students 

CZ  Yes, Hillel 

NS  He go every Friday. 

CZ  I see. Are his girlfriends Jewish? His women friends? 

NS  No, no. He has not a girlfriend. 

CZ  Why? 

INT  He cannot find. 

CZ  He cannot find them. Oh. Hillel? No, that's why he goes. 

NS  You can help! 

CZ  You want to find a girl for him? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  That's very cute. Not really for me to do. Sorry, I'd like to. She's going to get me a photo, huh? She's brought me a photo of her grandson and he's a handsome fellow indeed. Is this Hillel where he was? Nina? Yes? 

NS  My daughter, my son-in-law and my grandson. 

CZ  How nice. 

NS  He is better in the light. 

CZ  These are nice. And this is the University. And he can't find a Jewish girl. Now that's an interesting thought. One of the things I want to see, one of the things I'm doing research is to find out what could make you connect even better with the Jewish community. 

NS  Four years I was a President of Russian Club for residents of Council House, Covenant House and for other new Americans from Tucson. 

INT  And she organize activities, different activities, and what's some lectures about ... 

NS  Holocaust. 

CZ  Learning about Holocaust. 

NS  About Hanukkah, about Purim. 

INT  About the victory over the fascism. And she gave different people the possibility to communicate with each other. 

CZ  Very nice. How do you get to Anshai? Does somebody drive you there? 

NS  No. 

CZ  So you can't get there unless somebody takes you? 

INT  Now Raisa Moroz help us. 

CZ  She helps? 

INT  She helps to pick up us to the synagogue. 

NS  Her brothers pick us up also. 

INT  Her brother and father have a car and she gives these cars for our people so they pick up to Anshai. And sometimes it was Jewish Family and Children Services. They give transportation. And Fred. 

CZ  Wonderful Fred. What would you do different? What would you do, how would you help new Americans, former Soviet Union people, be better connected to the general community and to the Jewish community both? What would you do? If you could do something what would you do? 

INT  The New Americans Club perform many events for better communications between Jewish people from former Soviet Union. 

CZ  Nina still does? No, Raisa does. Well, I've been, I went to the Purim party. I was at the Purim party at Tucson Hebrew Academy and I talked, were you there? You look familiar to me, she looks familiar. I spoke to the group. Were you at the Purim party? 

NS  Yes, she remember. 

CZ  So, would you like more of those, more parties? Do you have to pay to go to synagogue? 

NS  No, no. 

CZ  You can go the high holidays. For Rosh Hashanna, for Yom Kippur you go. What did you do for Pesa? 

NS  We eat matzoh, and participate in the Passover Seder. 

INT  6. But we don't know the prayers. 

CZ  Oh, the prayers. Oh, oh. Because it's not in Russian. Hagaddah is not in Russian. 

INT  Yes. If we have the book in Russian it will be very good for us. 

CZ  We've talked about that. Good. That's good for me to know. 

INT  And when I go to synagogue I read the prayer in English but I don't understand what it means. I can understand, rabbi said this page and this page, I open and I follow and I read in English only in English but I don't understand. 

CZ  OK interesting. That's good to know. So, was he Bar Mitzvah your grandson? 

NS  No. He came here at 15 years. 

CZ  Was he circumcised? 

NS  No. 

CZ  Bris? 

NS  No, no, no bris. 

CZ  It's still probably possible. Does he go to schul? Does he go to services with you? 

NS  Yes, yes. 

CZ  So, what have you done since you've lived here? What have you done in America? You didn't work, you never worked in Tucson? 

NS  No. 

CZ  And your husband didn't. 

NS  No. He was very sick. He had stroke. 

CZ  After he got here? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Did you live with your daughter then? Did you live alone with your husband then when he has his stroke? He had his stroke here? In Council House? 

NS  No, no. He had stroke in Ukraine and he came here after the stroke. 

INT  After the stroke? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Is there anything you want to tell me? 

NS  No. 

CZ  Are you happy here? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  How come you didn't go to Israel? Why didn't you choose to go to Israel? 

NS  My children came in America. 

CZ  Did you come after they did? Not at the same time? 

NS  Yes, we came together. 

CZ  You all came together, that's what I thought you said. Yeah. 

NS  I have niece in New York and she invited us to come to America. 

CZ  And she invited you to come. Do you get to see her? Do you see your niece? 

NS  Yes. 

CZ  Is it your husband's sister? 

NS  No. My sister's daughter. 

CZ  Oh, you had a sister. 

NS  Cousin sister. 

CZ  A female cousin. 

NS  Yes. 

INT  No. I saw people who went to Israel and came back to Russia. 

CZ  Because? 

INT  Because it was difficult in Israel. 

CZ  Difficult. 

INT  Difficult. They cannot find jobs. 

CZ  And speaking Hebrew, you have to speak Hebrew, of course you have to speak English. 

INT  Yes, the people in Israel don't like Russian Jewish. 

CZ  Prejudiced? Prejudiced against. 

INT  Yes, yes. 

CZ  Pre judge. To judge before. To have a feeling about something that's negative, that's not nice, that's not good. 

INT  Yes, many people were afraid to go to Israel. 

CZ  Because? 

INT  Because of that situation. 

CZ  OK, well I think we're concluded the interview. Is there anything else. 

NS  No. 

CZ  Very good. Thank you very much. 

NS  Thank you very much America. 

CZ  Say that again please! 

NS  Thank you very much America. Thank you very much Jewish Family and Children Services and American Jewish people. 

CZ  You are welcome. Ok, very good.