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Bella Poleschuk flanked by her daughter, Anna Starikov, and granddaughter, Zoe Starikov. 

Image: Joshua Huston

Bella Poleschuk

When I was 13 I was in Latvia, Soviet Union, in a very small place named Jekabpils. I was born before World War II, and we moved to Russia because it was the only place to be safe at that time. Six years later we came back to Jekabpils. It was completely destroyed, but we survived.

Anna Starikov

I had little Jewish education, because my parents were just trying to survive [in the US]. When I was 13 I was going to Bush School and attending other people’s bat mitzvahs, and we weren’t affiliated with a synagogue per se, even though it was important for us to be Jewish. But what was interesting, I was always drawn to the spiritual side of Judaism. I went to UW, and [Hillel’s] Rabbi Dan Bridge just grabbed me and said, “You’re coming here.” It was my first connection to Judaism.

Zoe Starikov

A lot has changed between our generations. My grandmother was basically fighting for her survival. I’m here and I had a bat mitzvah and I have all these tools and people helping me. All I could talk about for months was my bat mitzvah. Both of my parents are so emotional. I was standing in the middle of them [at the ceremony] with a box of tissues. My dad said three words and started bawling.

Bella

I’m very happy that we are here. That’s all I can say. It was a long way from where we were born to now. It was a long, long way. It was a life.

Anna

It’s not lost on me the sacrifice my mom and her family gave for us to have this opportunity. I’m in that sandwich generation. My kids lead a charmed life. They don’t worry about where their meals will come from. Yesterday, they got an Alexa. Growing up, my grandmother didn’t know where her next meal would come from or if a German soldier would open the door and eliminate her family. I know the value of money. I know the value of effort. I went back to Russia and I saw what my life would have been like. Not to be all Fiddler on the Roof, but it is all about tradition. I feel grateful for what we’ve been given, and I feel really proud that my kids are taking that path.  

 

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