Did you read the NY Times story about Sergey Brin's $1MM donation to the organization that saved him and other Jews from death at the hands of Russian anti-semites? Maybe the money I sent to Bolislav Vainman, my "Russian Twin," in 1986, did find its way to him, after all. Maybe my mom was wrong, maybe Bolislav, like Sergey, did, as I predicted, use my Bar Mitzvah money to move to Israel, start a tech company, sell it to Sun Microsystems or something, and live happily ever after while I toil in Times Square? Before Sergey Brin co-founded Google, he was a little Jewboy getting beat up in Russia. This is what he looked like... Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is going to use Sergey's donation to digitize their records. That might mean they'll help us in our search for Bolislav Vainman. But as of tonight, when I search for Bolislav, I am left feeling like a hungry Russian dog, cold and alone in the Siberian desert:
She asked that I not reveal her identity because she works for a TV station and is well known in Russia and elsewhere. She's been reading about my search for Bolislav Vainman on SomethingBurning -- how it began when I sent him some money, how my mom weighed in, how Greg Clayman joined the search, and more. Last night, this Russian TV anchor sent me a note, joining the search. She's already begun to research what happened to my "Russian twin," Bolislav, and thousands of other Russian teenagers who, two decades ago, my friends and I sent shitloads of money to. Did they make it out of Russia alive? Where are they now? Was this all a big ponzi scheme? From her email to me: Dear Ross, I don't know if this will help in your search, but I just spoke to a woman familiar with all this stuff. She thinks it wasn't the government who took your money, but a Russian immigrant who came to the US in the 1970s. It had to be someone who was familiar with the concept of a charitable organization here in the US and someone who also knew that American Jews were so sympathetic to all this that they would give money for it. Here's how it worked: Around 1986, people who still had a way to travel to the Soviet Union but were living in the US could come back for some economic opportunity in the Soviet Union...so some guy could have figured all this out in the U.S. and then went to Russia to make this all happen for himself and steal American boys' money. In the Soviet Union, charitable organizations were not trackable. In fact, any documents from the Sov. Union are pretty illegitimate...if they even exist anymore at all, so it would be very difficult to find any traces of such an 'orgnization' there. And a person living in the Soviet Union would not just come up with this...it was someone who had to know the situation here as well and the pressure for American Jews to help and to act on this cause (Frank Lautenberg did a lot for this cause in the Senate...pretty much pushing through legislation that allowed Russian Jews to come here). No one in Russia was giving anyone money or transferring it for that matter, so it all had to have happened from here. Another thing to consider is that there was no way to transfer money over there, especially in 1987 when you sent it. In fact, there was no concept of donation in the Soviet Union. As far as the government stealing it....it's not likely because when people stole money there, they stole big. Billions of dollars, mostly from oil...they didn't care about bar mitzvah money...even Ross Martin's money :-) There were two main organizations helping Jews at the time get out of Russia or live abroad (Italy, Austria, etc.) while they waited to come to the U.S. or Israel: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society). It would be helpful for you to call JDC and HIAS to see if you could track him down that way. There may be a little old lady who's been working there for like thirty years and could remember something or someone like Bolislav Vainman, if he exists at all. I will send you some questions to answer so that I can try to track down more information. Don't give up! And please don't tell anyone my name! - xxx
Last week, my mom tried to convince me that the Russian government took my freakin' Bar Mitzvah money. Today, my friend and colleague Greg Clayman, EVP of Digital Distribution & Business Development at MTV Networks, weighs in on my search for my "Russian twin," Bolislav Vainman. Greg has already begun looking for Bolislav, which I appreciate, given his many responsibilities at work and in life. He is a true friend, and an expert at the interweb and cell phones. Plus, Greg knows everybody, so it's likely he has met Bolislav Vainman at a conference, or been a panelist with him at an industry event, and just forgotten. That's ok. I know, in the end, Greg's thoughtful research will only help bring us closer to the real Bolislav Vainman... From Greg Clayman: "You know, Ross, it's likely that the issue you're having finding him on Google may be the transliteration of his name from Cyrillic into English. There are lots of different ways to spell a name like Bolislav Vainman. And when you take into account diminutives and/or shortening of the name should Bolislav have immigrated somewhere it expands the pool. "This, for example, could be your guy: "Of course if he actually did emigrate to Israel he could be Shmuley Nimrod for all we know." Thank you, Greg. Bolislav? You out there? Hello?
My mother weighs in on the post about my search for the kid I gave half my Bar Mitzvah money to... "Actually, Ross, I don't think Bolislav has any idea who you are or what you did. The Russians intercepted your letters, and he never received anything. It was all in vain. Like his name. You like that rhyme? "Don't you remember we put special stamps on it? They were supposed to tell us when he got the money. We got the return-receipt back, but he hadn't signed it. "The Russians took your money, Ross." I love my mom.
Twenty-two years ago, I gave half my Bar Mitzvah money to a Russian Jew I didn't even know. At the synagogue, I made a poster with his name on it, drew some six-pointed stars with a red sharpie, threw a tallis over the top, and propped up the poster on its own chair on the bima, as I read from the Torah in front of everyone in the congregation. Bolislav Vainman wasn't just a celebrity at the center of my coming-of-age party, he was my very own international call for justice. At the party, when I did the limbo, I pictured Bolislav diving under a barbed wire fence, fleeing brutal Russian tormentors. When my friends made me a "memory glass," filled with whatever glittery stuff they found in the party's catering hall, I dedicated it to Bolislav. When we lit the candles and said the prayers, I said an extra one for Bolislav's safe emigration to Israel. Bolislav Vainman and I are the same age. The non-profit program that paired us up when we were 13, called such a match your "Russian Twin." In the weeks following my Bar Mitzvah, I dreamt nightly of the ways in which my money would save Bolislav's family from the Russian pogroms. Because of me, I told myself, Bolislav Vainman would live freely in Israel, and begin a new life with his parents and his brothers and sisters. He'd go to school, he'd learn to speak English. He'd' meet a woman from the Israeli army, and he'd marry her. His Israeli tech start-up would be funded with my cash and the cash his Russian emigree friends also got from American kids like me. He'd probably find a way to honor us by combining all our names to form the name of their company. They'd sell the company to AOL, probably around 2001. Bolislav would take a few years off, enjoy his wealth. Then he'd get bored and start a night club in Tel Aviv. If Bolislav Vainman used my money wisely, if he avoided the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he's doing pretty well right about now. Here's the thing: I have no idea. And that's annoying. Damn it, Bolislav--how come you haven't even tried to Facebook me? No tweets, no emails, no nothin'. It's like I don't even exist. --Or you don't. Do you? I can't find you. My friends think I should make my search for you into a documentary. Or a book. And when I find you? One of my friends suggests I collect some interest. But that would be an asshole thing to do. I don't want the money back, dude. I just want to make sure it actually got to you, and wasn't intercepted by some bogus charity capitalizing on the early 80's Jewish guilt of families like mine. Maybe I'll post this on my blog. My mom thinks you probably work at Goldman Sachs, or something. So if you are reading this, call me. In the meantime, here's a photo of a Bolislav, but not the Bolislav I am looking for...