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Jewish refugees' stories fill new anthology

Emilya Naymark, a Mineola resident, is one of

Emilya Naymark, a Mineola resident, is one of two Long Island residents among 31 refugees from Russia and the other former republics of the Soviet Union whose stories were compiled for a book commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. (April 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Emilya Naymark started putting down the words as part of a writers workshop assignment to describe a place where she grew up.

She recounted memories of a road trip three decades ago with her parents -- then recent refugees from the former Soviet Union -- to rural Maine in their new American car, "a sky-blue Mercury" that was a symbol of newfound abundance in the United States.

"It didn't matter if you were a refugee, spoke rudimentary English, had terrible eyesight, and were a Jew to boot," she wrote of her father. "If you worked hard and saved, you could have a car."

Naymark, a Mineola resident, is one of two Long Island residents among 31 refugees from Russia and the other former republics of the Soviet Union whose stories were compiled for a book commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The organization, which helps Jewish refugees and other immigrants from troubled lands, is to release the book Sunday.

The New York City-based group known as HIAS estimates it has brought about 450,000 people to the United States since the late 1960s. Nearly half of them made New York, New Jersey or Connecticut their home, agency officials said.

The anthology, "1+30, the Best of myStory," includes one poem and 30 stories of immigration selected from among more than 700 stories submitted in Russian and English. Many are the tales of refugees in the New York metropolitan area.

Rebecca Katz, a Baldwin resident who is the child of refugees, wrote about memories of the Hasidic village where her family originated in Russia and of her identity as a Jewish-American.

"The reason I was born in America is that my family had no choice but to flee," she wrote. "One day I will go to Auschwitz and pay my respects to the family I never knew."

Recording those immigrants' stories helps sustain the legacy of refugees that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society brought to the United States, said Roberta Elliott, a HIAS vice president.

"We made history and now we feel that we need to record it," she said.

The stories, she said, speak "in the voices of refugees themselves" and convey how "it's never easy to leave everything that you know behind and start brand-new in another country."

Naymark, a Web designer and developer who aspires to become a published novelist, said the stories also hold value for Americans who are not close to the immigrant experience.

"This country gave all of us, especially the young people, the opportunity to have a life that we could never have had," said Naymark, 43.

The stories could be "a fresh way to see how good America is" as a place where people from all over the world can still flourish, she said.

The book will be sold through HIAS' website, hias.org.

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