Navigating the in-between space


Marc Chagall, Interior with flowers

By Mila

Before coming to this country, we spent all the money recouped from selling our meager belongings on books and brought them with us. I still have a bookcase full of carefully organized colorful spines which I moved across the ocean, between apartments, houses, and state lines. Almost twenty-eight years later, I am yet to rip off that band-aid and begin re-reading without a fear of nostalgia. I know, that’s idiosyncratic, many “Russians” read Russian books and enjoy them.

When I first came here and people smiled at me on the streets, I would anxiously rack my brain – should I know her? Soviets didn’t smile at strangers.

I craved a community to belong to, but it just didn’t happen for me. There is much more to a true friendship than speaking a common language or going through a common experience. I also quit trying to join the American Jewish community – I didn’t feel enough in common with American Jews, either. So I am stuck in my “in-between” space.

As someone who grew up in an atheistic society, I craved religion and the sense of belonging. I love our rituals and traditions, but I couldn’t reconcile my rational thinking with my need for spiritual meaning. I envy religious people.  I wish I could believe that my mom is somewhere out there, in some form, wherever that “somewhere” is, but I can’t.  

Yet, I am fiercely Jewish and would never want to be anyone else. I dutifully fast on Yom Kipur not out of fear (G-d, if he exists, cannot be petty), but out of solidarity with my people – if all of us around the world are hungry on that day, then so must I. And I am very proud of my people. I love the talented, the neurotic, the entrepreneurial, the opinionated, the hopelessly idealistic – the whole lot. They are my people, and what an honor to belong to our tribe!

I navigate a space between two languages. I used to take great care to abstain from code-switching. But who is to say that code-switching is bad? There are some things that are better said in Russian, some in English, and some depend on the context of the conversation. You gain colorful, intangible and satisfying understanding in conversations with other in-between souls. And if you think that mixing languages up is bad, if you are concerned with “ruining” a language, just think of Yiddish.

I love living in my in-between space – I am who I am, with all of my sensibilities and prejudices of a Russian-Soviet Jew and my Americanized ways. I never aspired to be greater royalist than the king – I am a confident hybrid, a human equivalent of Yiddish, and we, humans, get to evolve and mold our identities because of our experiences. So living in my in-between space is interesting and feels like home. It makes me – me.

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