Posts tagged Fourth of July

“Why We LOVE the U.S.” – Happy Fourth of July!!!

My economist husband reads a great deal of different material on-line and he sent me the link below. He knew I would appreciate it. He does that often and I benefit while I, in turn, send him links that I know he is tracking with and he has MANY interests.

The other night I watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  I believe this is a classic that should be viewed yearly, right around Fourth of July.  Frank Capra masterfully directed this B&W movie in 1939 starring Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart and other characters found in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It gives me a fresh perspective about our American democracy and just how fragile it really is.  For many who have lived in the former Soviet Union, they know what it is like to NOT have our cherished freedoms.

Read the following and if you are a westerner, especially an American – BE VERY THANKFUL FOR THE FREEDOMS YOU ENJOY!!!

Independence Day in Siberia

From a former Soviet Army truck driver, I learned the blessings of being an American.


My “there but for the grace of God” moment came on March 30, 2005. On that day, I found myself in the musty, bare apartment of 75-year-old Josef Katz, a former Soviet army truck driver who lived in the industrial wasteland of Achinsk, Siberia.

I had come to learn about the Jewish aid organization that provided him basic necessities each week, but what touched me most wasn’t his present poverty. It was the story he told me about his past, of the steps that carried him to a cramped and crumbling apartment with a vista limited to the concrete courtyard separating his warehouse of a building from the others just like it—and how it could have been my own family’s.

Like the many political prisoners who made Siberia synonymous with exile, Katz was born elsewhere. In his case, it was Ukraine, where he lived in a small town until World War II. Then, in 1944, he was packed onto a train, sent to a concentration camp and separated from his family. He managed to hang on until the next year when, at the age of 15, he was liberated by American soldiers.

Being just a boy, when the GIs—”angels” he called them—offered to take him to the United States, he thought only of finding his parents. So he turned down the soldiers’ offer. Half-starved and penniless, Katz could barely walk. Yet he made it back home, where he discovered that he alone from his family had survived.

There was a neighbor who recognized him and took him in. She spent a year nursing him back to health, and he in turn spent two years after that working to repay her. By then he was old enough to realize what he had lost by not going to America. But it was too late. He entered his mandatory military service in the Soviet army and was sent to a base in Siberia.

After his release Katz found work as a driver in Achinsk, where the grayness of the buildings, streets and perpetual slush penetrates the bones more deeply than the chill. It was in Achinsk that he, as he put it, “lived, worked and grew old.”

Katz’s decision was long made by the time I met him in his apartment five years ago. But that didn’t mean the wound of a life that might have been wasn’t fresh. When I asked him whether he regretted his choice, tears welled up.

“It was the biggest mistake I ever made,” he answered. “Many times I was crying in my heart that I missed that chance.”

My eyes weren’t dry, either. But I can’t claim it was solely compassion that moved me. It was also deep gratitude.

My own family lived in parts of Eastern Europe that later came under Soviet control. And they, too, were buffeted by historic forces of tragedy and opportunity.

The discrimination and hardship visited on Jews in the Czarist army caused my great-grandfather’s parents to have him smuggled out of Russia at the age of 14 before he could be conscripted. Against a backdrop of anti-Jewish pogroms, the prospect of building a better life convinced my great-great-grandmother to sell her home so that she, her husband and their 10 children could join the huddled masses reaching the New York shore in 1895.

Had they wavered, they and their offspring would also have grown up to face the ravages of World War II and—had any survived—a life of stifled hopes under Soviet Communism.

As their descendant, I would not have had the superlative public education where even as a student journalist I was able to test the bounds of free speech. I would not have gained the entrée and financial aid at Cornell, one of the country’s finest universities, that opened the door to the career of my choice. I would not have been able to worship freely as a Jew, to recite the Passover declaration loudly and publicly that “on this festival of freedom we pray that liberty will come to all.”

On Independence Day, I am acutely aware of the remarkable gifts I have been given because of decisions my forebears made, risks they took because of their conviction that America would receive and favor them. Because they were able to seize opportunity rather than let it slip away.

In a godforsaken apartment in Achinsk, I understood the blessings of being an American.

Ms. Krieger is the Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.

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Kazakhstan: A Country of Immense Consequence!

yurt entranceyurtAstana Memorial


A complimentary response from one of my blog readers in the U.S. made my day yesterday:

Kazakhstan was a so-what name till I read your posts here. Whether you stay or not, know that your fine hand brought it alive for me, with real people and their superstitions, Kim, boulders, wildflowers and pine-scented towels.”


Yes, it is a real privilege to be a part of a maturing country, such as Kazakhstan, which simultaneously has a very old history.  To put past and present together with three languages involved (English, Kazakh and Russian) is the challenge of all educators and administrators in Kazakhstan. I believe that Kazakhstan is a well kept secret and it would flourish as a stronger economy if tourism were promoted more.  I believe Kazakhstan should open it’s door more for the rest of the world to know about its hidden wonders along the Silk Road route.  Better yet, I need to encourage my writing students to write about their fine country in English for others to learn just what a GREAT land this really is!!!!

My husband and I were planning on celebrating our own important holiday of Fourth of July by flying up to the new capital of Astana as of 10 years ago. (Since I have to remain in Almaty anyway for my summer session one grades to sink in for my masters students in the six-week reading and writing course I’m teaching.)  It WAS a good plan until my husband read in the Russian newspaper (my Cyrillic reading isn’t so good) “Delovaya Kazakhstan” No. 23 (120) June 13, that very weekend is the 10 year anniversary of Astana being a capital.  The photo is one of the new memorials in Astana to commemorate those who died under the Soviet “repressions.”


Scratch those plans of our intended Astana visit, it will be far too busy at the newly built up capital to the north on OUR Fourth of July weekend.  Maybe instead we will travel with my colleague friend Yelena and explore what life was like in a yurt out in the countryside instead to help celebrate our Independence Day. We hope to go to Astana next fall upon our return from Minnesota after visiting our family and friends for a month. 

No, Kazakhstan is NOT a “so what?” country, but one of immense consequence if only people knew more about it.  Thank you, dear reader, for your kind input.

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“Pursuit of Happiness” in Kazakhstan


The question has been raised something to the effect, “Is there a Kazakh law in place to remember the victims of the evilness of the Soviet empire?” This was printed in the “Metalis” No. 22(387) newspaper published out of Karaganda dated June 9, 2008. It was an article about the Soviet government imposed famines in Kazakhstan in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s.  A week earlier in another publication was an earlier article Metalis No. 21(386) reporting similar facts.   My husband regularly reads through Russian newspapers and he came across this article which I’ll bring to my Russian reading colleagues and ask more about what the author, Serik Maleev, was reviewing of current literature concerning the famines in Kazakhstan.


One of our American founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, believed in a Creator God and Jefferson thereby also believed in life and liberty.  That is why our Fourth of July celebration is so very important to TRUE Americans in order to remember what these brave men, who were forming a nation, believed.  Jefferson wrote to Monroe in 1782 “The Giver of life gave it for happiness and not for wretchedness.”  Unfortunately, there has been a LOT of wretched things that have happened in this land of Kazakhstan that has so much beauty, so much hope, so much potential. 


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” –Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776.


Thomas Jefferson also wrote the following to Thaddeus Kasciusko in 1810 “The freedom and happiness of men [are] the sole objects of all legitimate government.” I pray for the future leaders of Kazakhstan in not only their “pursuit of happiness” but also of life and liberty.  I pray that the leaders would not become future oppressers, recognizing what the earlier Kazakh citizens suffered under the tsars of Russian and later under the communist system.  Education about this terrible era and also laws in place to remember those who just wanted to live and be free in this beautiful country would stop such evil leaders short of doing more damage. 


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“Dandy-Lions” are NOT missed, others are!!!

pine treesiriseskilldeer eggs

My Mom is doing a GREAT job in getting me to pine for things at home with her photos she just took of our farmyard.  Such as the discovery made by my Dad of Killdeer eggs right in our gravel driveway by the yardlight.  Or seeing the irises spearing through the black, fertile soil in our garden between the lilacs and pine trees. Or even the fresh limegreen shoots of the pine growth and witnessing the weeping willow tree growing ever taller at our “dacha” back home in flat, northwestern Minnesota. 

If you are a foreigner in a foreign land you long for all those things that are familiar to you while the natives of Kazakhstan can enjoy both job security and seeing their family AND enjoying their own national holidays.  I already missed going to the graveyard(s) with my Mom and Dad to honor our ancestors this past Memorial Day weekend.  Looks like I’ll be absent for our national day of independence (Fourth of July).  Largely due to the fact that I have the privilege of teaching Summer Session One to privileged and wealthy students (Dandy-Lions) of Kazakhstan on how to read and write in English at an academic level.  I don’t miss the dandelions back home but I miss others!

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