It was the worst day of my life. I was 18, a straight-A student, and I’d just been denied access to medical school—something I wanted more than anything in the world.
But in anti-Semitic Soviet Russia, Jews weren’t welcome in prestigious universities.
“I told you so!” My mom can’t hide her frustration. “It would be much easier for you to choose a different profession… maybe an engineer?”
I tense up—I’d rather die than stare at blueprints all day long.
Before I erupt, my grandmother storms into the apartment. She brims with excitement at running into an old friend: “Rakhil Agranovich!” she exclaims.
We shrug. We don’t know her. But when Grandma heard that she had a son, she immediately set us up.
“Nice family…” Grandma mumbles. “Nice Jewish boy—an engineer! He’ll be calling you tomorrow.”
All I hear is “engineer;” I don’t like him already. But looking at Grandma’s glowing face, I fake a smile and squeeze out: “Fine.”
I went along with it strictly out of respect for my grandma.
Three days later, I’m running out of the warm, apple strudel-scented apartment into a crisp September afternoon. Surprisingly, I am excited. From a distance, I see his super-thin silhouette, white raincoat and huge glasses. He is so not my type. My father is an airbase commander, tall and strong, with broad shoulders and an intense gaze, and I am such a daddy’s girl. Felix is his opposite in every way.
And yet, there are butterflies.
“I am Felix,” he says confidently, extending his hand.
“Katya,” I hear myself respond.
As we walk along Lenin Boulevard, chatting, I giggle, remembering Grandma’s axiom: “Buli bu kostu, mayso narastet.” “If a guy has the bones, the meat will grow.”
We stop at a small café for hot cocoa and I tell him my dream of becoming a doctor. He shares his passion for music and explains who Michael Jackson is. As he passes the cinnamon, our hands accidentally touch, and a new strange feeling in me bursts into fireworks of wonder and astonishment, connecting my mind and heart. I know one thing for sure: I want to spend my life with him.
We come to America as Jewish refugees on February 11, 1992. We escape anti-Semitic Soviet Russia for a life of freedom and choice here. There, because religion was forbidden and prosecuted. I was raised as an atheist. In America, I become a spiritual person who loves her Jewish heritage and follows Jewish tradition. We’re grateful that this country accepted us. On Passover, I compare our escape from the Soviet regime of oppression to the escape of slaves from Egypt.
Thirty years and five kids later, we travel back to Minsk, where it all began. As we embrace on the exact spot where we first met, surrounded by a group of cheerful paparazzi (our children), I can’t help but come face to face with the certainty that What’s meant to be will be. Beshert.
Katherine and Felix Agranovich were both born in Minsk, in former Soviet Russia and now live in Orange County, California. Married 31 years, Katherine is a hypnotherapist and holds a Ph.D. in Natural Health Studies. Felix owns F.A. International Stone Company, a marble and granite company. Katherine is a contributor to www.chabad.organd the author of several books, including Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family. They have five children.