The Baal Teshuva and the Atheist: Part I

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By: Rochel Alkhazova

*Based on a true story.



Lina remembers walking the not-so-narrow sidewalk with her grandmother, on a not-so-cold, bright, sunny morning. Hand in hand, they made their morning stroll for her school drop off. She remembers her neighborhood in Moscow as if it was yesterday. The nine-story apartment building stood amidst a few other buildings, a playground across the street.

In the late 1980’s, her parents, grandmother, sister and twin brothers lived in that building, on the ninth-floor, the penthouse apartment, only a fifteen-minute drive from the red square. It was a comfortable place; four rooms, two bathrooms, and large balcony. Nowadays, worth way over a million US dollars. When her family immigrated to the U.S. in the 90’s, they sold it for ten thousand.

As they walked to school that morning, Lina wasn’t thinking about her second-grade class, or the horrible French lessons she so despised; she was innocently looking at the morning sun, which played with her hazel eyes as if smiling with her.

“Babushka, where does the sun come from?”

“G-d created it,” Babushka said after a long pause.

“And the trees?”

“G-d also created the trees.”

“And the grass, and flowers and rivers?”

“G-d created those too.”

“Where is G-d?”

“He’s everywhere…in the sun, in the trees, the grass, flowers and rivers—everywhere!”


The rest of the way to school, Lina thought about the amazing G-d.  Excited to share this news with other kids in her class, she walked with a big smile, waiting to unleash her new discovery.

“There is a G-d!” she told one of the students from her class.

“Are you serious? Who told you such a silly fable?” the student mocked her.

“My Babushka.”

That day, the entire school, including the teachers, found out about Lina’s big discovery.  Her school years then morphed into lonely school days. The school was meant for the ultra-privileged and wealthy, with extra-curriculum activities and a second language program, which Lina absolutely hated…Arrrgh, French! Despite all the money parents threw at the school, despite it all…. money could not buy freedom, and Lina’s Babushka was called into the school’s office, strictly scolded, and warned that if the word “G-d” ever escape Lina’s lips again, Lina would be expelled, and the authorities would get involved.

That was the day that everything changed. Lina’s family became furious at Babushka, and commanded Lina to forget the word “G-d”. Students and teachers quit on Lina. Lina always got bad grades in French, and the French teacher disliked Lina anyway, but this time, she called Lina to her desk and said, “You see this zero?” She made a circle with her fingers.

“Yes,” Lina replied, waiting to hear an uplifting lesson from her teacher.

“It’s a zero, just like the zero on your report card. In fact…this zero is you—you will always be a zero, all your life.” She threw the report card toward Lina and turned away.

The other students told Lina that she was a dirty Jew, a black witch. Lina looked at her own black curly hair—they had beautiful, straight, blond, shiny hair, and almost all of them had blue eyes—and she realized that they were just so perfect, and she was a Jew. 

When Lina was writing her class assignment and the letter ‘A’ did not have a straight line, Lina was dragged by the ear throughout the classroom by the teacher...row by row.

“You see how straight the other students A’s are? And your letters? Crooked!”

And they all made fun of her.

When the students took their coats off after recess, Lina said to her classmates, “You’ll see—I will leave this place. I will move to America, and you will stay here, and G-d will punish you for making fun of me!”

“Yeah, right! Move to America!!! Ha! You can only dream of moving there!” They laughed in unison and mocked her even more.  She had no one to talk to in school and no friends.

But Lina didn’t care, because she knew she would be emigrating soon—she had heard her grandparents and parents talk about it. She didn’t know when, but she knew she wanted to get out!


Lina’s family had lived just as the other Russians in Moscow—celebrating holidays, like New Years, eating bologna and kielbasa with cheese.  New Years, the only holiday Lina remembers celebrating, was festive.

Lina and her sister got tons of presents and had Santa and Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden) visit. Snegurochka always looked gorgeous, with a long, blond braid and long, silver dress. The beautifully decorated pine tree made the penthouse smell like a magical forest. Mountains of delicious salads and foods the grownups cooked were always a delight. They sat through December 31st to January 1st, ate, drank and watched a program counting down to the New Year.

Life in Moscow was strict, yet outside of school, Lina and her sister had an amazing childhood. They were never deprived of anything, like most others who had little money, even for food. They feasted on red and black caviar, bananas and other scarce treats. 

During the summer, the sisters would visit their other grandmother in the Nalchik-Caucasus Mountains. She was a wealthy business woman who owned a textile factory. Lina and her sister always chose to stay in one of the five houses their grandma owned. Two gardens and a small farm kept them busy.

They ran after chickens, picked apples from trees, and enjoyed the live bands their grandma hired when she invited guests. Before grandma’s parties, special butchers came to the house to cut sheep and chickens for shish kabob. Lina never knew why they cut the animal at the throat, but her parents told her not to watch.


And then it finally came…the time…to move to America.


Stay tuned for part II...

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Rochel Alkhazova

enjoys learning about anything and everything. Spending time with her family is one of her favorite pastimes. Running a daycare keeps her motivated and busy, but she always finds time for an ice cream break! Rochel holds a degree in journalism and absolutely loves writing fiction and stories for children.

Rochel Lazar