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At Passover, Recalling an Exodus from Siberia

Posted: April 4, 2013

Passover, the celebration of liberation, took on a new meaning at this year's model Seder at Coleman House.

The Haggadah (Seder prayer and guide book) asks all participants to imagine that they too had once been slaves in the land of Egypt. Coleman residents Khaim and Yevgenia Kushkuley did not need to rely on their imaginations to make this connection. During the Seder, as Khaim retold his story of spending 16 years in Siberia, he transported this ancient tale of religious intolerance into the 20th century.

Both Khaim and Yevgenia experienced an occurrence that was familiar to many Jews in the former Soviet Union. ALong with their families, they were taken from their homes and forced to live in Siberia. They were young children when they first arrived and adults before they were able to leave.

In Siberia, Khaim, Yevgenia and their families were subjected to years of poverty. Because they were Jewish, the opportunities for education and employment were sparse. But they persevered. The couple married in Siberia in 1954. They were able to leave the region two years later but it would be decades before they could leave the USSR. Branded as Refusniks for their interest in moving to America, their lives were very difficult. After much help from family and the US Jewish community, the Kushkuley's finally came to the US and moved into Coleman House in 2000.

At many Seders, participants bring modern day examples of persecution to the table bit they are often someone else's tale. It's different at JCHE. Many residents could stand up and share the story of their own exodus from hatred and humiliation. But like the Kushkuley's, most do not dwell on the past. Passover is a celebratory holiday. Khain expressed that sentiment as he thanked JCHE for enabling them to share their story rather than continue to live it. 


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