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Rafael Genis

Golda married an American Jew called Bromberg, her relative, and bore a child, whom she named Bentsion after Grandfather. I saw both of my aunts in 1989 during perestroika [1], when after a long separation I had a chance to visit them in the USA. My aunts wrote that they wanted to see their nephew, who was the only one to survive the war, and I managed to go see Ella and Golda. The two sisters were still friends - Ella helped out her poorer sister and they started every morning with talking to each other over the phone.
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Alexandra Ribush

My world view changed bit by bit. By the time perestroika started I was almost completely disappointed in everything we had been taught, in every single dogma that had been imposed on us. When the democratic changes began in this country with Gorbachev [18], I was ready to accept the changes and stopped believing in communism being our bright future. After the country fell apart we at first trusted Gaidar's government reforms and believed that he would be able to do something. Later all those political games began to bore us. I ceased paying attention to them. I simply live today, the moment. I see my friends and relatives though our relations develop in different ways.
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Our teacher of history was also an interesting person, his name was Lechter and he was a Jew, too. One could read in his face that he was a Jew, besides, he couldn't pronounce the 'r' properly. He was an old Red Army man. He was all covered with scars, had a wooden leg, and a scar across his face. His understanding of history didn't comply with the views of Mikhail Ilyich, who had graduated from the faculty of history at the Sorbonne. We always eavesdropped on their disputes. They certainly chased us away, but we tried to grasp the core of their disputes pressing our ears to the door. Sometimes we succeeded. We listened to their mutual attacks with great interest. So, when perestroika [13] started I easily freed myself from propaganda phrases and official dogmas. We were very lucky to have such teachers.
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Margarita Kamiyenovskaya

Perestroika [39] commenced in the 1980s. Maybe for the reason that Gorbachev [40] was younger than his predecessors he understood that the previous regime couldn't exist anymore, and the time for change had come. We really noticed daily changes at first and it made us happy. In the end, the USSR got the liberties guaranteed by the constitution, but not enforced in actuality. For the first time in so many years we were able to openly correspond with people living abroad and visit other countries. We gained the freedom of speech, in meetings, the press, and religion. There was much less anti-Semitism after perestroika. It was always been present in everyday life, but now there was no state anti-Semitism. When Gorbachev was in power the Jewish community of Estonia [41] was officially registered. It was the first officially recognized Jewish community on the territory of the USSR. They even approved symbolism: Magen David and hexagram. It wasn't possible before as it was considered propaganda of Zionism.

In the USSR Zionism was a synonym of fascism. The Community was given the building of the former Jewish lyceum [see Tallinn Jewish Gymnasium] [42]. In 1990 the Jewish community revived the ladies' Zionist organization, WIZO. Of course, in Estonia we couldn't collect money for Israel, as we didn't have such money. The women from WIZO helped sick people, visited hospitals, brought food, congratulated people on holidays, brought humanitarian help and gave it to people for free. They did what they could and the WIZO motto in many countries of the world was: if Diaspora is strong, Israel is strong. Unfortunately, mostly elderly people worked in WIZO, but they were very active. Many of them left for America, Israel, some of them went to Germany, unfortunately. I can't understand those Jews who are leaving for Germany. Even now I can't forget those things that happened during the war and I can't forgive the Germans. I realize that those Germans who were involved in the bloodshed of Jews, aren't alive, but I can't take it out of my heart.
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Eva Ryzhevskaya

When in the middle of the 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev [50] declared the new course of the party, perestroika [51], I was delighted by that. I hoped that it would be for the better especially seeing certain changes happening in the country. Freedom of opinion and press appeared. There was no censorship in the mass media. The Iron Curtain [52] fell, after having separated the USSR from the rest of the world for decades. Now we had the opportunity to go abroad, invite foreign guests. During perestroika Jewish life began to revive .Then the pace of perestroika started to decline and life was getting gradually worse. Our skimpy wages were rapidly getting devaluated. The most necessary products were vanishing from stores. Maybe the opponents of perestroika, the former governmental leaders, were doing those things for the people to get perturbed. They succeeded in that. All those things were crowned by the breakup of the USSR. Like many people of my age I regret that. We got used to the fact that all Republics were united and now all of them turned into independent states. [The Soviet Union was made up of 15 Republics (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) up until its disintegration in 1991.]. Economic and spiritual relations were torn. And what did we get in turn? We are separated from each other, and not only by boundaries. Many things had to be changed in the USSR, but there were good things as well. I think I'm not the only one who has such a point of view. Young people are prone to think differently.
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Henrich Kurizkes

I was rather positive about perestroika [55], initiated in the USSR by Mikhail Gorbachev [56] at the beginning. I was hoping that the USSR would become a really free and democratic country, and it looked so at first, but later I realized that these speeches were nothing but the camouflage for lack of action.

During the putsch [57] I followed everything that was going on. An airborne division arrived in Tallinn from Pskov in tanks and Soviet forces filled the town. Only the efforts of our government prevented bloodshed. It was a long trip from Pskov, and the troopers only had rationed food with them. Officers of the division were invited to the restaurant in the TV tower and the waiters were ordered to serve all the food they had available. A government representative went to the dairy where he ordered to deliver yogurts and cheese to the soldiers, and then they couldn't aim their guns at defenseless people. Meanwhile the breakdown of the USSR [in 1991] was announced. The officers of the Pskov division thanked the Estonians for their hospitality and departed to Pskov. Thus, there was no bloodshed.

I was very positive about the independence of Estonia [58]. I remember life in Estonia before it was annexed to the USSR and I knew we would do well. Thank God, my hopes became true. Estonians are very accurate people, and it didn't take long before our life improved. My wife and I were too old to start our own business, but there are good opportunities for younger people.

The Jewish community of Estonia was established during perestroika. This was the first Jewish community in the former Soviet Union. I think our community plays a very important role in the life of Estonian Jews. For eight years, I was Chairman of the Audit Commission of the Jewish community where I put in a lot of effort. At first the Joint [59] assisted us a lot. The Joint resolved all social issues that we faced.

The community provides assistance to the lonely and elderly people. Many of them have lunches in the community, and the community delivers food to those who never leave their homes. Community health workers do cleaning, washing and buy food for these people. These provisions are vitally important to many people.
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Arnold Fabrikant

I was satisfied with the results of perestroika [27]. I personally don't criticize Gorbachev [28]. I liked him. He was the youngest and most cultured and intelligent man of all Soviet leaders. I didn't feel ashamed when he represented our country abroad. His wife, Raisa Maximovna, held herself with dignity. Gorbachev did a great thing. He had the courage to do what nobody would dare to do. It is my opinion that the Soviet Union should have fallen apart a long time before. In my opinion Ukraine has to be independent. This is a rich country and it can manage by itself.
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Isroel Lempertas

I had worked in the university by 1989, before the outbreak of perestroika. I had defended candidate theses [Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees] [31]. When the independence of Lithuania was restored [32] I confirmed my title. Now I am the doctor of History. I should say I did not accept perestroika at once. It was hard for me to object all those ideas I was sincerely devoted to- the ideas of socialism and communism. Being the nee of Lithuania I understood very well that Moscow was alien in our country. Now I completely agree with the term 'soviet occupation, when it goes about soviet regime. I support the independence of my country, its membership in European Union. I hope that Lithuania will overcome temporary obstacles and become a flourishing European country.
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I did not associate state anti-Semitism, commenced with the assassination of the great Jewish actor Mikhoels [26], extermination of Jewish Anti- fascist Committee [27] and ended with the preposterous so-called 'doctors' plot» [28] with Stalin's name. I thought there were the willingness of the local state activists to outdo others in front of all-union dignitaries. I should say that I personally was not touched by anti-Semitistic campaigns. I kept on teaching successfully. Judging by the way tutors and students treated me, I can say I was respected. I took hard Stalin's death in 1953. Gradually I came to understanding his true role and the resolutions adopted at divulging the Party Congress [29] were taken by me as logical and necessary. The truth was revealed. Only now, after perestroika [30] we came to know almost everything about transgressions of the soviet régime and gangster leader Stalin.
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Dina Kuremaa

First I didn't take perestroika seriously. Then I felt how much easier it was for me to live. Maybe it was harder on me from a materialistic point of view, but I felt free. It was officially allowed to go abroad, correspond with people from different countries, to say unfalteringly what you wish in any company. We had feared that for years. We were afraid to tell a joke, speak our minds on the articles we read on events. We have dreaded that since 1940 and it seems to me that we got so used to that we didn't even notice that we were deprived of liberty.

Estonia was revived during Gorbachev [33]. Jewish life flourished. Our Jewish community of Estonia was founded when he was at power. I think perestroika has brought a lot of positive into our lives. I don't regret the breakup of the Soviet Union and Estonia becoming independent. Frankly speaking, I didn't have a bad life during the Soviet regime. I was lucky to have a good job and team, to have money, have enough to eat, friends - in a word - there was nothing I lacked. I have lived 50 out of my 79 years in Soviet times and I am really used to all conventionalisms and restrictions that I could not even picture that it might be different. I was just used to this life. Estonia regained its independence in 1991 [34]. It's a pity it has not happened earlier. I had a happy childhood in independent Estonia, and I am happy that I spend my old years in a free country.
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Bluma Lepiku

In 1985 the Jewish community of Estonia [30] was established. It provides great assistance to all of us. The community supports me. I keep to a strict diet and cannot eat the food they deliver. Therefore, they deliver food rations, and I can cook myself. I try to do everything about the house. The social community staff tell me off for cleaning the windows myself, when I can order this service. What I think is that as long as I can do things myself, why bother people?

I used to visit the community frequently in the past. I attended their events and celebration of holidays. Now walking is difficult for me, and I stay at home most of the time. The community covers some medication costs for me, though I have to spend a lot on medications.
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Boris Dorfman

I am grateful for perestroika. Of course, life is difficult now, but Jewish life has revived. We've come out of the underground. There are synagogues and Jewish organizations. My wife and I have traveled to England, Holland and Germany at the invitation of various Jewish organizations. We spent five days in London. I spoke at a meeting and gave interviews to radio and newspaper reporters. I understand that Yiddish is my main language. One can manage anywhere if there's a Jew who knows Yiddish.
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feiga tregerene

My husband always dreamed of Israel. During the period, when emigration to Israel was no different from a funeral, my husband or I couldn't even dare to think about Israel. Neither of us would have been allowed to move there. We had special permits to access secret documents. When perestroika [20] began and Lithuania regained independence [21], relocation to Israel was made possible, but my husband was severely ill by then. He had stomach cancer, but even in his poor condition he was dreaming of stepping onto the land of Israel, kneeling and kissing it. David's dream was not to come true. My husband died in 1992.
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Alla Kolton

Democratization and perestroika [10] have influenced me as much as other people: it became much easier in this country to obtain Jewish literature and discuss Jewish problems. It became possible to celebrate Jewish holidays. Leonid and Eugenia went to the synagogue to dance on holidays, and I was there too. It was an interesting experience for me. It was in the synagogue on Chanukkah. I just watched, because we hadn't see anything like that before. At home we never observed Sabbath. I would not object if my grandchildren celebrated Sabbath. But Pesach, for example, I do celebrate. My friends come along, but we don't have any special ceremonies. But I would like it if somebody invited me to a religious celebration. However, I am not a frequent visitor of the synagogue.
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Cilja Laud

When I reached the age of 55, the pension age in the USSR, I quit my job. At that time the Jewish community of Estonia was open and its chairman, Gennadiy Gramberg, invited me to work there. My colleagues did not want me to leave, tried to talk me into staying, but my decision was firm. I have always been a true Jew. Blood is thicker than water. I am proud of being a Jew, and do not want to be anything else. I went to work at the community when it was just budding.

The Jewish community of Estonia was the first Jewish community in the Soviet Union. In late 1988, during the Soviet regime, it was open in the form of the Jewish Culture Society. It was founded under permission of the Department of Ancient Historical Memoranda Protection, as during the Soviet times the national minorities were handled by that department. Trime Veliste was the director of Ancient Historical Memoranda Protection. Now he is an ardent nationalist, in the bad sense of the word. Nevertheless, he personally approved of the foundation of the Jewish Culture Community. He gave us underground facilities at Vene Street.

The Tallinn Jews David Slomka, Gidon Paeson, Samuel Lazikin were the founders of the community. It existed until 1990 and since then the Jewish religious community held a meeting at the plant of semiconductor devices, where I had worked for 20 years. There it was decided to rename the Jewish Culture Community into Jewish Community of Estonia. Thus it has existed since 1990. They gave us the old premises of the Jewish lyceum [37]. The community repaired it and since then we have had our own building. Besides, we opened a Jewish school there and in 2000 the synagogue was opened.
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