BORIS / 314 Ridge Street
I was born and grew up in Kiev when it was still part of the USSR and was the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. My parents worked as engineers and we did not have a lot - the family shared a 170 square feet room in a communal apartment and I slept on a folding bed at night. Nevertheless, it was a loving family, we had many family celebrations and we spent many happy days vacationing on the Dnieper river, the Black Sea and Carpathian mountains.
As a Jew I had experienced antisemitism and discrimination as early as I can remember. My mother had survived two-and-a-half years in a ghetto under Nazi occupation, her stories had also shaped my worldview.
I did not believe Communist propaganda, refused the hypocrisy of the Soviet regime, and in 1978 my family choosed a dangerous path requesting permission to leave the Soviet Union - "the evil empire".
I consider it a personal miracle that after some excruciating wait this permission was granted. It was not unlike a biblical story of ancient Hebrews escaping from Egypt - thus, the holiday of Passover has a special meaning to me.
Jewish culture was suppressed in the Soviet Union. That's why now, despite being an atheist, I observe Yom Kippur to feel connected to the Jewish nation.
After leaving the USSR I and my parents decided to come to the United States as this is the country of immigrants and the land of opportunity. It was not always easy, but there was not a moment when we were sorry for that decision.
Recently, I have learned to play guitar to annoy my friends with my rendition of Russian and Ukrainian songs. One of my favorites is a Ukrainian song about a man singing about his shirt which his mother beautified with red and black threads. His life - the man notes - is like this shirt with red for love and black for sorrow. So, I like to fill my house in Forest Hill with red - the happy things - like the food that I cook, bread that I bake, the K'nex BigBall Factory that my kids had built for me a long time ago, and Puch mopeds that I had restored.
I am also happy about the fig tree that grows on my property. The figs remind me of my favorite paisley pattern, they have a bit of green, blue and brown on the outside and some red - my favorite color - on the inside. I also grow grapes and - as a reminder of Ukraine - a sour cherry.
I believe that the best path to liberation is education. One day it occurred to me that my mailing address could serve to promote STEM education to our community. Thus, I had painted the Greek letter Pi on the front of the house. Everybody who studied trigonometry knows the significance of this symbol, I had already explained this to some passing kids, and I hope that would trigger their interest in math. Needless to say, I am very happy that the "Original π House" - 314 Ridge Street - is located in Newark, NJ.