The Chernobyl Disaster changed the course of Eastern Europe. For many of the Jews in the USSR, it signaled the time to leave.
Ms. Ruderman Clark was born and raised for four years in Rechitsa, a small town outside Minsk, Belarus by her grandparents. At the age of four, she joined her family and started kindergarten in Minsk, her first predominantly non-Jewish experience. The family had never considered seeking asylum, despite the anti-Semitism they experienced, until Chernobyl occurred and Irene became sick for a year as a result. They watched other Jewish families leave one by one and finally sought to move to the United States themselves.
Relocating to the United States was a long journey that lasted for nearly six months and took the family through many European countries under the guidance of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). In the United States, without the structure of Soviet life, the family had to start from scratch, with Irene’s parents taking any jobs they could find, despite their higher Soviet education. For a time, the family lived on welfare as Irene’s parents sought new degrees and careers to fit their new lives. Yet, despite the challenges, their lives here were still a substantial improvement. The biggest challenge was navigating this new, unstructured world.
Ms. Ruderman Clark’s life has since flourished. Through friends, new American family, and many trials and tribulations, she has learned to navigate the vastness of the United States.