“I was seven when Stalin died,” said Oleg, a retired sports trainer. “I was never able to receive a Jewish education, but my mother made sure I knew that I was a Jew.”
Oleg never knew who his father was and didn’t want to ask. When told that he couldn’t open a bank account without his father’s name, he went home and decided to broach the subject with his mother. She began to cry. “That was the last time I ever asked,” he said.
“In the 70’s, my mother took ill, and we came to Rostov to get proper care. When the doctors told her that she’d have to have her leg amputated, my mother called me in. ‘Oleg,’ she said. ‘I want you to cover your head and go to the synagogue. Pray for me.’”
“I did as she asked,” he said, looking up at the Torah ark. “That was the first time I prayed here.”
Oleg had no siblings. He married late and never had children. “I am the end of the line,” he said, holding back tears.
Slowly, Oleg pulls something out of his bag. He unwraps a newspaper to reveal a Chumash. “This is not Tolstoy. You don’t just read it. The Torah must be kept close. You need to live it.”