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Ukrainian immigrants find new home and old faith in U.S.

menorah December 6, 1996
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Peg Tyre

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Two young musicians, Serge and Yanna Abramov, are celebrating their first Hanukkah. They emigrated to the United States four weeks ago from Ukraine, where Jewish culture has long been discouraged.

For the first time, they eat traditional Hanukkah food -- potato pancakes called latkes and chocolate wrapped to resemble gold coins. They also have treats from Ukraine to remind them of the place they once called home, a place they left because Jews were not welcome.

Since the Abramovs arrived, they have been learning English, looking for jobs and learning how to express the cultural heritage they lost.

"To celebrate or to even learn about Hanukkah in an environment where you feel safe, where not only is it acceptable but it's almost expected that you do know more about your ethnic and religious heritage, ... it's a much more joyous relationship to the roots," said Alexander Kopelman, of the New York Association for New Americans.

Serge

In Kiev, Serge said, Jews were afraid to acknowledge their religion.

"To be Jewish it's a real problem. Many people had problems with job, study, education."

It's a far cry from Midwood in Brooklyn, the largely Jewish neighborhood where Serge and Yanna have settled.

"It's like a fairy tale. It's very good. I'm ... shocked. It's very good," said Serge.

The last people to celebrate Hanukkah in the Abramov family were Yanna's great- great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather.

Great-great-grandparents

"My mother, learned to celebrate Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays, but she forgot," Yanna said.

Yanna

Now, like millions of families before them, it is the Abromovs' turn to light the candles on the menorah -- one for every night of Hanukka. Then they follow an age old tradition, new to them this night: They place the menorah in their window for all to see.

"I feel connected wtih my great great-grandmother. It's a good day for me," an emotional Yanna said.

The Festival of Lights marks a new beginning for the Abromovs -- a new home in the United States and a rediscovery of their Jewish identity.

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