Growing Up Jewish in New York

Zakheim talks about his parents' escape from the Ukraine and Lithuania.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Dov Zakheim: Well I’m from Brooklyn, New York. And clearly I was shaped by the fact that I’m a first generation American. My parents were immigrants. My mom and her family . . . my mom came when she was very, very young in 1921, 1922 timeframe – something like that – from the Ukraine. There was a Russian Civil War, the communists against the whites. My parents’ family . . . my mom’s family was caught up in the middle of it. Some of them were killed by the whites. Some of them were killed by the communists and they escaped. My dad, his family, he came from Lithuania. He was a leader of the Jewish community there. He was actually legal counsel. And he was tipped off that when the Soviets moved in – this was before the Nazis attacked Russia in 1941 . . . this was 1940 – that he was on the KGB – or then it was called the NKVD – hit list because he was a leading anti-communist. So he escaped literally one step ahead of the NKVD across the Soviet Union, spent six years at a war in China, and then came in 1947. So . . . and he lost two sisters, and he lost his parents to the Nazis. And so I was fashioned by that . . . the fact that there was just so much blood that had been spilled in my immediate family that both of my parents were immigrants. They worshipped the United States. I was really brought up on God and country. I’m an orthodox Jew. I’m a sixteenth generation rabbi. My son is now the seventeenth generation, one of my sons. None of our family for the last umpty-ump hundred years has practiced as a rabbi. My father was a lawyer as I mention. But we believe in religious values. So on the one hand we have God, and on the other hand we have this wonderful country that had made a home for both of my parents who obviously would probably never have met if it hadn’t been for the United States. Because they met here, which probably meant I wouldn’t have been here.

Recorded on: 7/2/07