Family to Family

ina giller

– By Pamela Pipkin

Ina Giller immigrated to Baltimore in 1979 from Kiev with her husband, small daughter and in-laws.  She was blessed to have a cousin in Baltimore who sponsored her family, a relative who was able to embrace and help guide them.

An English teacher by trade, Inna soon began a critical role in smoothing the way for other Russian families.  Arriving in May, she laughs at how her “British English” didn’t always translate into easily speaking the language. The vocabulary was in her head, but conversation initially was more of a challenge, at times with humorous results. Her then 5-year-old daughter quickly adjusted and soaked up the English language, no doubt helped by attending Camp Milldale during the first summer they arrived.

Thankfully the family received a lot of help from HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Jewish Family Services (now Jewish Community Services) and social workers specifically helping with Russian re-settlement – all funded by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

A number of Baltimore synagogues and lay leaders helped new families in all aspects of re-settlement, both practical and religious in nature. For those who were interested, this included both “Brit Milah” and “bar/bat mitzvah” practices that had been abandoned under Communist rule. Inna quickly realized her English skills could play a large part in facilitating transitions for new families and began interpreting for people to help determine what was needed. She later taught conversational English classes at Har Sinai Congregation.

In 1992, with a huge influx of new Russian immigrant families Inna became involved with the JCC “Family to Family” program which matched Baltimore families to newly arriving Russian families. Coordinating lists, she really made the effort to match families with similar traits such as children’s ages or professions. Whether offering job advice or business connections, she used any success tool available. Many of these new immigrants were here without any extended family. Acclimating to a new country, new language and new community could be a very lonely endeavor which made these “family to family” connections incredibly valuable. Inna felt compelled to put pieces together for people, to create a network that would be helpful and practical. Certainly every family has a unique path, but there is a common thread to the immigrant experience.

Inna has spent years giving back to the very system that was in place when she and her family arrived over 30 years ago. There is a profound sense of pride and joy in her voice when re-telling the memories of that time. Between the help she received and the help she offered to those who came after, many friends were made along the way. Today, Inna is helping develop The Journey, Together – 25 Years After Operation Exodus – a weeklong celebration recognizing the efforts of the Baltimore Jewish community in freeing Soviet Jewry and the accomplishments of the Russian emigres to date.

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Filed under Families, Israel & Overseas, Jewish Learning, Philanthropy, Seniors, Social Services, Volunteering & Advocacy, Women, Young Adults

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