The time was 1987, the place Moscow. Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union was at a near-standstill. In 1986, out of the roughly 1.5 million Jews remaining in the USSR, only about 900 were allowed to leave. Tens of thousands of refuseniks—Jews who had applied for permission to emigrate, been denied or placed on hold, and were meanwhile punished for their effrontery and persecuted—were left in what seemed like an interminable state of limbo. Among them were my father, my mother, and I, then close to my twentieth birthday.
A teacher of Hebrew at the Moscow Synagogue in 1990. Steven L. Raymer/National Geographic/Getty Images.