New York City at night. From here.

Eighteen years ago today, my family landed in the JFK airport in New York, stepping on the American soil for the first time. It was a long journey, and I don't mean just the fourteen hour flight. The immigration process had started years earlier, with applications and interviews, stolen documents and pointless blackmail. But on November 21st, 1994, our bags were packed and we were ready to leave our lives behind and fly to the land of opportunity.

For breakfast, I had cottage cheese and cold cuts. I remember that meal so well because I spent the next fourteen hours throwing it all up. At least a decade passed by before I touched cottage cheese again. The vomiting was particularly bad on takeoffs and landings, and our layover in Helsinki did not help the matters. We arrived in New York amid darkness and downpour. Our plane attempted to land three times. To my stomach, that was three additional landings and takeoffs.

Mercifully, the plane finally landed, and we slowly made our way to the overcrowded Immigration and Naturalization Services room. The collective breath of immigrants-to-be sucked up the oxygen, and I was ready to faint. Eventually, we were called to the desk upfront, some questions were asked and answered, some papers were exchanged, and we were out of there.

One of our relatives picked us up in a van, which only had one passenger seat, and there were five of us. We sat in the back of the van on top of our falling-apart paper-thin plaid luggage as we made our way into Brooklyn. When we finally got to the apartment, we were greeted with brightly lit rooms and a table set with an enormous amount of food. Wow, they must be rich, I thought. (Turns out, I was wrong. Food and electricity were a given in this country, apparently.) Despite not having eaten anything for at least eighteen hours at that point, all I wanted to do was sleep. My sister and I headed to the bedroom and fell asleep in our new country.

Welcome to America.

Thank you for electricity and running water. Thank you for the abundance of food and food choices. Thank you for not discriminating against me because I'm Jewish. Thank you for the opportunity to attend the college of my choice. Thank you for giving my family the chance to live a better life.

Thank you.


  1. Thanks for sharing. It must have been hard. Hugs to you and your family.

    1. Thanks, Amanda. I suspect that the immigrant experience is universally difficult, even if it is different for everyone. But it was all worth it.


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