My mother’s family traces its roots to Belarus,  Mogilev Region. But in the middle of the 20th century  her father moved to Smolensk province. My mother’s  family has ancestral information going back about  seven generations, with classic “shtetelish” Jewish  names like Leib, Nokhum, and Moishe. Their last  name was Zofnes. In Smolensk province the Arons clan joined the family.  My grandfather, Zinovy Fishel Arons, was an accountant, which indicated  a high level of education. Together with his wife, my grandmother, Sofia  Razgon, a music teacher, my grandfather Zyama moved to Moscow. Baba  Sonya helped her parents raise me, and she taught me music. Realizing  that I was one of the only Jewish boys at a school where most of the  children were from working families, Baba Sonya tried to prepare me for  manifestations of anti-Semitism.

My father’s family comes from the town of Modelev, Zhytomyr province.  The family moved to the small Jewish town of Chernikhov, next to the city  of Korosten in Ukraine. It was an ordinary poor Jewish family, with a lot of  children, very G‑d-fearing. They observed all Jewish traditions and laws,  and the family lived a truly Jewish life. I was able to trace the genealogy  back four generations my great-great-grandfather Nukhim Modylevsky. He  was considered a wealthy Jew, as he stood out against the background of  the terrible common poor: He even had a horse! 

His children — my great-grandfather, Moishe (whose name I bear), with his  wife Sosy, and their children and relatives — along with all who lived there  were killed in 1941 by local Ukrainian marauders. Fourteen people from  one big friendly family perished! Even today, so many year later, I cannot  recall the story without tears. One of Moishe’s sons, Lazar, died at Kursk.  Another son, Shlomo, my grandfather, and his wife Perla left for Moscow in  1931. Grandmother Perla came from a family that was poor even by Jewish  standards. The young couple embarked on a new life, moved away from the  traditions, though they always emphasized that they are Jews.

They entered into the BUND union, the General Jewish Workers Union in  Lithuania, Poland and Russia, a Jewish socialist party that operated in  Eastern Europe from the 1890’s until the middle of the 20th Century. The  Bund considered itself the sole representative of the interests of the fairly  numerous Jewish working class in the region. 

It is thanks to my grandmother Perla that I know a few phrases in Yiddish.  And it is from them, who came to Moscow, our family continued, because  everyone who remained in Ukraine died. By the way, I discovered a branch  of the family in the USA; someone from the Modilovsky family emigrated  there in 1919.

And so it happened that the grandparents of both sides of my family  found themselves in Moscow, where I was born into an ordinary Soviet,  but distinctly Jewish family. We knew about the holiday of Passover and  secretly celebrated it. Baba Sonya prepared gefilte fish according to family  recipes, and went to the synagogue to get specially baked matzah.


I will not bother mentioning the minor manifestations of anti-Semitism I  experienced in school. But I received my first painful slap in the face when  I tried to enter the Faculty of Geology at Moscow State University. I was  well prepared, and passed the written exam perfectly. But on the oral exam,  I was given a task that even students of the famous Moscow Physical  and Mathematics School did not cope with later. After this “failure”, I  easily entered the Oil Institute, where Jews were accepted, and we had a  wonderful large Jewish contingency. 


In 1990, we moved to Israel. It was there that real Jewish life began for us:  We celebrated all the holidays, which we do until today. We attended Torah  study classes as a family, and it was great!

After moving to Israel, I successfully defended a doctorate at the  University of Tel Aviv on the economics of the oil industry. The knowledge  of economics helped me a lot when, after moving to Canada in 2001, I  became an expert in personal finance. I am currently engaged in personal  insurance, savings and children's educational plans. Of course, knowledge  of three languages – Russian, English and Hebrew – helps a lot.

I grew up in a Jewish family in which it was customary to help people. And  now I continue this tradition. I am glad to be useful to those who are trying  to solve their financial problems and my clients often recommend me to  their friends and acquaintances.