Where are you from?

I was born in a town called Bender (pronounced Been-dair), which is in the country of Moldova, which borders Russia, Romania, Ukraine and the Black Sea.

What was it like growing up?

Tough to assimilate. Tried hard to. Hated being different.

What brought you to Cleveland?

I came over with my family in 1979 at the age of 4, settled in Cleveland along with thousands of other Soviet Jews who immigrated to Cleveland that year as part of a Soviet program that opened the gates for a limited period of time, and eventually and slowly (like most of my fellow immigrants) made the trek eastward from inner city East Cleveland to Cleveland Heights to South Euclid to Lyndhurst and then eventually Chagrin Falls (hard to go further east than that…).

What were your first thoughts about coming to America?

Did those change? Since I was only 4, all I could think about was fitting in. I recently wrote about it in a book I’ve been chipping away at for a few years: “That feeling of being different and being judged, meanwhile, would follow me for years. Most immigrants have felt it, and if you’re a kid, all you ever want to do is fit in, so you feel different and like a total idiot for years. And after awhile, after you’ve mimicked your friends well enough and watched enough tv and feel finally assimilated, and after you think your friends finally see you as one of them, as no different than them, and as you finally start getting into their stupid little made-up clubs and start getting invited to places, your parents show up. And they open their mouths and talk. And instantly everyone knows they’re immigrants, and they automatically know that you’re an immigrant, too. And there’s nothing in the world that will prevent you from feeling different because you are different and you’ll always be different. You’re certain you’ll never be one of them. You’ll never really be accepted. You’ll always be different. You’ll never really be in the club. And then after that tidal wave of shame washes over you for being different, a second, even greater tsunami of shame knocks you down for being ashamed of your parents, because deep down inside, although you hate them for sticking out like a sore thumb and outing you in front of your friends, you know they’re the greatest people in the world and would cut off their own arms and legs for you if that would make you feel more accepted.”

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

Again, as a kid, it was all about assimilation. I learned the language pretty quickly. Our family had little money, though, so we went without the finer things for awhile. That was also a plus, though, as we learned growing up that you could survive just fine without those things.

What is your occupation?

I am a business lawyer and owner of the Gertsburg Law Firm. For more information visit: https://www.gertsburglaw.com 

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

Not sure. It’s been so long… I’m sure everyone was helpful though.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

We drink vodka! Seriously, though, we go to the various Russian restaurants in town pretty frequently. We stay close with other Russian friends that we’ve been friends with my whole life. We go to bar mitzvahs and weddings and funerals, all of which have their own Jewish and Russian rituals associated with them. My own family – my wife and 3 children – are not very religious and don’t maintain a lot of Russian traditions. My wife does more than I do anyway.

What do you love about Cleveland?

It’s growth in recent years. It’s “comeback” story. It’s lakeshore. It’s communities – Chagrin Falls, Tremont, Waterloo, downtown.

Why is Global Cleveland a great resource?

Networking and job listings are key for immigrants coming to the US. There is no question that making a living and feeding your family are top of mind for newcomers.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Diversity, definitely. We live in a bubble. The best minds are those that expand their perspectives and apply different experiences. There is a reason why so many entrepreneurs are foreign-born, and why so many employers benefit from foreign-born employees.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

I would create a board made up entirely of business owners who immigrated here from abroad, have them meet once a month or once a quarter to brainstorm the answer to that question, then create specific action items and a 1-, 2- and 5-year strategic plan.