I’m nervously looking at the clock; this class will never end. I’ve already put my books away and now I’m in start mode, ready to hit the road at the sound of the bell. I’ve already planned all the details in my mind—from the fastest route home to what I am going to wear tonight.

Over the phone last night, he described himself: big glasses, long, black ponytail, thin and tall. I don’t know if he’s my type yet, but I am excited to find out.

It all started last week when my mom decided to get her physical exam at a local clinic. We had just returned to our hometown, Minsk, Belarus, after living up north for eight years. My dad is a pilot, and he was sent there as a commander of the airbase.

He is my first blind date; my first date, to be exact So while waiting in line to see her doctor, my mom sees a familiar face: Rachel. Even though Minsk is the capital, with more than a million-and-a-half people living there, most of the Jews know each other or at least know someone who knows them. Rachel’s family and our family used to live on the same street. After hugging and exchanging "Oh, my, it’s been a long time" Rachel and my mom sat next to each other, chatting.

“You have a daughter, right?” Rachel asks.

“Yes, she is 18 now and a medical student,” my mom replies.

“Time really flies,” Rachel sighs.

“I believe you have a son,” my mom recalls.

“Felix is already 24, he graduated from university and is working at an engineering firm,” Rachel says proudly.

The nurse comes out to the waiting room: “Rachel, please come with me.”

Later that evening, my mom shared her afternoon experience at the clinic with my grandma, Asya. When Mom started talking about Rachael’s son, Grandma perked up: “So, when do they meet?” She put her fork down, giving it all of her attention.

“Which they?” My mom looked surprised.

“Katherine and Felix, of course!” Grandma exclaimed.

“But Katherine is so young, and busy studying and working.”

As my mom continued making her case of all the “whys” I was not ready for a relationship, my grandma was already on the phone with her friend, Elizabeth (Rachel’s neighbor). She wanted to make sure that Felix is a “nice Jewish boy,” qualified to meet with the love of her life, her oldest granddaughter: me. Satisfied, she dialed Rachel’s home: “How are you my dear ... ?”

So today is the day that we meet, and even though I have final exams next week, anatomy and biology are not on my mind. He is my first blind date; my first date, to be exact. My dad had always told me that because I am Jewish I have to marry a Jew. I did not know any Jews in the small village where we lived on the airbase. I don’t even know what being Jewish means, except that it’s my nationality, written in the fifth line of my passport. All I know is that because I am Jewish, I have had fingers pointed at me, been called rude names and don’t have many friends. I was even given a very Russian name, Katya, to conceal my Judaism.

I don’t even know what being Jewish means So finally, today, I am meeting one of my kind. My grandma puts a string of her pearls around my neck, kissing me on my agezuntein cop, my forehead. As I walk out of the house to meet with my date, I turn back and see her glowing face in the window.

From the distance, I already spot his white rain coat and feel butterflies in my stomach.

“Hello, I am Katya ... ”

For the next two months, every day we meet after my classes and walk along Lenin’s Boulevard. Midway, we make a stop in the little café and over a cup of hot coco with thick whip cream, I tell Felix of my passion to one day become a doctor. He shares with me his hobby—playing in a band with his friends. I love listening to his stories about musicians and different bands. There are so many things he knows about life that I don’t know. But as I sit here, looking at him, I know one thing—I want to spend my life with him.

In late October of 1988, as I wake up in the morning, my mom comes into my room. Her eyes are puffy and she looks scared. “Stay home today,” she says, sitting on my bed. She takes my hand and says that she has heard on the radio that there might be pogroms in the city. I don’t know what she means—living up north I’'d experienced hatred towards Jews, but not pogroms. Mama explains that a pogrom is a wave of anti-Semitism, when hungry and angry people blame Jews for their unhappiness; they may attack Jews on the street, or break into their homes.

“But why?” I am shocked. “What did we ever do to any of these people?”

“People don’t understand those who are different; they tend to be afraid of them and do things that are wrong. Jews are special.”

The door bell rings, and we both jump. My mom tip-toes to the door: “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Felix. I have heard about the pogroms, and want to make sure you are safe. Is Katya still home?” he asks, coming in.

“Hello,” I wave from my room, covering my nightgown with a blanket.

“Katya, I would like to speak to your mother privately,” he says.

As they go to the kitchen, my heart races—I think I know what they are talking about.

Thirty minutes later, Felix and I are speaking. He looks straight into my eyes: “Would you be my wife?”

My face flushes as my lips whisper “Yes,” and I can hear my mom and grandma crying in the kitchen.

In a few days, the rumors about pogroms quiet down. Life goes on, but the fear stays.

For the next couple of months, we are busy planning the wedding. I try on my dress every day, swirling it in front of the mirror.

The morning of the wedding, my friend Olga asks: “Aren’t you scared? How do you know that he is the one?”

I pause and look at her: “Because it feels right in my heart, and my mind agrees.”

Jan. 5, 1989, its official: We are husband and wife. We move into a little apartment to start our life together.

Life goes on, but the fear still stays One night, as I come home from school, I open the front door and hear strange noises coming from the living room, a mixture of radio static and foreign language speaking. My husband catches my confused look: “I am listening to the news from Voice of America.”

“Well, keep it down, so the neighbors will not hear,” I drop my voice, “and what is this all about anyways?”

“You know, I have been thinking about moving,” says Felix.

“Moving where?" I need to confirm my suspicions.

“Moving to America.” He sounds determined, and it scares me.

“I don’t want to move, we have a life here: family, friends, my school, work. If we leave, we have to leave it all!”

“We have a life, but no future. I don’t want to live in fear, to hide that we are Jewish, to prove that we are worthy by working twice as hard.”

“But this is our country, we were born here. How can we flee it like cowards?”

“We are not fleeing; we are escaping into freedom. I want my future children to have choices in life—from the food they eat to the schools and universities they will attend—and not to be suppressed because they are Jews. I don’t want them to suffer the rigid, bureaucratic nonsense that we did.”

His words hit me like bullets. I am stunned, not knowing what to say. So, I just blab out the news I’ve been waiting to share with him all day: “By the way, about your future children, I saw the doctor this morning . . . I am pregnant.”

Eight months later, we name our son Edik, the combination of my grandparents’ little boys’ names, Adik and Emil, who were killed in a concentration camp by the Nazis.

We are able to begin the immigration process since Michael Gorbachov decided in the mid 1980s to allow Jews to leave the country, opening the “Iron Curtain.” We apply to the Russian Immigration Agency and to the American Embassy to get permission to leave Russia and enter America as Jewish refugees. And off we go, both extremely nervous and excited, with six suitcases, a two-and-a-half-year-old son, my parents and elderly grandparents.

During the plane ride on American Airlines, the flight attendant offers baby food to my son in flavors he had never tried before. This simple act of kindness brings tears to my eyes. Back in Minsk, we had to go through an ordeal of challenges just to provide our family with basic foods. Baby food was a luxury not everyone could afford.

But now, it’s over and done with, and eighteen hours later, it’s “California, here we come!” As I feel the wheels of the plane touch down on American soil, everybody on the plane, mostly Russian refugees, begins to clap, cheer, cry and laugh at the same time!

We are greeted by the smiling faces of the members of Jewish Community Center of Orange County. They have an apartment and basic furniture ready, welcoming us into the community. California is our new home.

Fifteen years later, during our family vacation in Hawaii, we are sightseeing in a bus packed with tourists. As we are passing church after church, my 6-year-old son, Zachary, breaks the silence, asking the driver loud and clear: “Do you have any synagogues here? I am Jewish!”

My daughter, Jessica, gives me a hug, asking: “Mom, why are you crying?”

“Because this is the reason that Papa and I moved to America, so you can announce proudly and freely: I am Jewish!”

It all still seems like a dream: holding hands, singing together with our children during Shabbat services at their day school; taking them to Sunday school at our local Chabad house; celebrating our son Edik and our daughter Jessica’s bar and bat mitzvahs.

My heart fills with joy when I see my boys wearing yarmulkes and my daughter wearing her Star of David necklace. How much we look forward to attending Kabbalah classes and passionately discussing the writings of the Torah with our rabbi, and how my husband and I have decided to start learning our language, Hebrew. How much I treasure the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and how I carry a book of his teachings with me at all times.

From the moment I met my husband in Minsk, and we began our long and sometimes hard journey, I feel as though G‑d had taken us by the hand and gently brought our lost souls home to Judaism.