I was born in Leningrad in 1981. I’ve recetly published some photos from my family’s archives here on Bored Panda, including background stories, but here’s an anecdote that deserves a “special”.

At parent’s wedding. Can you see the joy in the guests’ eyes?

Basically, it happened thusly: grandpa died in 1979, a month and a half shy of his 70th birthday. It happened in the early hours of the morning, and mum was the only family member who was with him at that time. Once he passed away, the first person she called was her brother David. He immediately took a taxi and came.

Grandpa

When they left the hospital and headed home, David told mum: “Now that dad is gone, there is nothing for me left here.” Meaning: he was firmly intending to immigrate to Israel with his wife and son. That was quite a common thing to do it you were a Russian Jew. You would fly to Rome, and from there, you would take a plane to your end destination. For a while, most Jewish expats would fly to Rome but then go to the United States instead – until Israel complained to the US government. The latter, not wishing to provoke a conflict, ultimately stopped letting in people from the USSR, but for a while that really was a thing.

David, however, was firmly intending to actually fly to Israel. But if you actually managed to escape the Union, that normally meant some sort of repercussions for the relatives you’d be leaving behind. Now, shortly before that, my dad got the position of a chief power engineer at a factory, vacated by my retiring grandpa (my other grandpa), and mum’s brother leaving the country for good meant he was pretty likely to lose his job. That was one of the ways to deter people from immigrating. When you applied for a position, the question whether you had any relatives abroad was a standard thing to be asked. The only solution to the problem was: he had to stop being an (official) member of mum’s family.

The look of horror has never left my face since then

Divorce was easy and cheap back then. If you wanted to get your marriage dissolved, it would only set you back 30 rubles. (A black and white TV set was 300 rubles – about two months’ salary. I don’t have the statistics, but I suppose trying out new partners must have been much more popular in terms of entertainment than watching telly, as more affordable.)

P.S. Now, the reason my grandma kept her surname was an altogether different one – when she got married, it simply wasn’t a common thing for a woman to take her husband’s name. “Emancipation” was the keyword. Women had the same rights as men, including the right to vote (granted to them in March 1917).

Grandparents, grandma’s mum, mum & David

P.P.S. Anyway, David really did move to Israel – but only eleven years later. His son Alyosha got busted and did a time for trying to steal a motorcycle and also for breaking a beer bottle (he used someone’s head for that). Finally, when the time came, they didn’t fly to Rome, but instead took a ferry to Helsinki, where they were supposed to board a plane to Tel Aviv. In Helsinki, he had a heart attack and spent two weeks in hospital. He later said Finland was so mind-bogglingly awesome, they felt disappointed when they finally arrived in Ashdod, their end destination.

P.P.P.S. That wouldn’t remain the only time Alyosha had trouble with the law. Not so long ago, he went to prison one more time, this time for fraud. But then again, his dad David wasn’t exactly pure innocence, either. For example, he once spent seven or eight days behind bars for being drunk and disorderly on the underground when he was 30. He put his foot between a carriage’s doors, preventing the train from leaving. When an employee approached him, he pushed her away. He was kicked out of the university, but grandpa literally begged the dean on his knees to give him another chance. Seeing that granddad was a lecturer there, the dean showed mercy.