Stella Inger believes in the American dream. Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Inger was 6 years old when her family immigrated to the United States in 1989, following the fall of Soviet communism. “We came as refugees,” says Inger, in her office at KGUN9 television, where she’s a news anchor. “We lived for six months in Italy waiting to be ‘adopted’ by a Chabad rabbi who brought us to Sioux City, Iowa.”
Living there, she says, “was a culture shock for my parents,” a Russian stay-at-home mom and a businessman. The family stayed in Sioux City for about a year before moving to Los Angeles, where relatives emigrated from Russia. “They told my parents to move there, that there was more opportunity for work in L.A.,” says Inger. “I remember first going to school there. I had a hard time communicating. It took about six months to speak English well enough to make friends.”
She recalls her family’s newfound openness in America about being Jewish. “In Russia, you had to hide it. I was told that my grandfather had to sneak matzah. It was like buying it on the black market. We secretly celebrated [Passover] inside our homes. Both sets of my grandparents spoke Yiddish.”
Inger’s mother told her daughter she first realized people didn’t like Jews when she was a child in Ukraine. Playing at other children’s homes, her mother heard, “Tell this Jew to go home. I’m not feeding her.”
Even as a child, says Inger, “being in America, I realized there was a difference between being Jewish here and in Tashkent,” which she later had to explain to American Jews. “We became very involved in the L.A. Jewish community. Our culture, our heritage is very important to us.”
Inger has asked her father how he felt about life when her parents arrived in Iowa in their 30s. “‘I wasn’t too proud to take any job I could find,’ he told me. In Iowa he drove a truck. He did factory work. He cleaned limousines. My mother had me when she was 21. She went back to school and became an X-ray technician” in Los Angeles, says Inger. “I’m following my parents’ work ethic.”
Inger graduated from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles in 2004, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Her first job was in Montana. Next she was an anchor/reporter for “Good Morning, Arizona,” in Phoenix, until coming to Tucson at the end of October. She has hosted the Chabad Telethon, which airs all over the United States, for the past three years.
Journalism fits well with Inger’s outgoing personality. “I’m very inquisitive. I want to know more. Everyone has a story,” she says, which reminds her of her family’s experience. “My dad was a cab driver in L.A. He has an interesting story but I don’t know if anyone has ever asked him about it. I always have conversations with cab drivers.”
Inger’s family’s story — similar to thousands of Russian Jews who left home for religious freedom — has stayed with her. “My parents sacrificed everything. I’m going to do everything I can to make them proud,” she told the AJP. No doubt she already has.