Dear Diary,

The train’s whistle exhales every time I let out my shaky, sucked- in breath. As the train travels from Russia to some unknown destination, my thoughts go back to the fateful moment that happened a mere few hours ago.  

“Mama”. My voice is urgent and hysterical. I point to a yellowed paper peeking out of an official- looking envelope. Her eyes dart to the text, and her face pales. “I- I don’t believe this. We must escape NOW!” I could hear Mama’s and my heartbeat pound faster than ever. She shakily grabbed my arm and ran to our house to take my household to flee. To where? Barely gathering any belongings, it was urgent that we get onto the next train leaving Kostroma or else… 

I think back to my early childhood when all was paradise. I can see myself tumbling on the lush, green grass, laughing. Oh, if only I could hear my father and brother’s sweet voices learning Torah on the wooden benches outside while I was playing! When I turned ten, the accursed Russian Revolution happened, and my days became night. All religious observance became the crime of crimes, and, if anyone did, they would do it with utmost secrecy. “What will be the future of the next generation of Jewish girls? Who will educate them in our heritage in this dark time?” Mama looked at me solemnly, and I knew, at the mere age of fourteen, the responsibility was mine. In a cellar, I taught 25 girls our heritage, while knowing the danger I was in. Because the Judaism I was preserving, was priceless and was worth the risk. 

Today I found a paper that had the names of people with prison sentences. I was one of them, because of my ‘crime’ of spreading Judaism. I am now fleeing for my life with my family, to anywhere but Russia where they’re searching for me. Uncertainty plagues me with questions of what the future will bring, since we’re going to an unknown destination and we barely have any money with us, but one thing I’m certain about:  It was worth everything to sacrifice so much for my Judaism and what I passed on to my students. No matter what will be, I will be strong, I will stay true to my heritage. 

Esther Ryzunye