Immigrants mourn their 'future,' their son

August 12, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Scott Shane contributed to this article.

Igor Berenshteyn didn't want to come to America.

But in the 18 months since emigrating from Russia with his parents, he had begun to shed some of his boredom and bitterness, while embracing a new life.

The 23-year-old's modest apartment in Northwest Baltimore boasted a large-screen television and VCR. At his dining room table, he'd practice his English, using an electronic dictionary. And to earn money for a new car, he handed out fliers and folded boxes for a take-out shop called Pizza Deal on Park Heights Avenue.

On Tuesday, he wrote in his diary a series of personal admonitions that reflected his changing outlook: Don't overeat, buy some new clothes, drive carefully.

And this: "Don't talk about the past. Only about the future."

A day later, as Igor tried to deliver a pepperoni, sausage and ham pizza in Pimlico, a bullet cut that future off.

He had knocked on the front door of a home Wednesday evening in the 2700 block of Virginia Ave., and when no one answered he started back to his car, police said. Three men, one with a handgun, demanded his money. Igor pulled out a knife to defend himself and was shot at least once in the left side.

L He was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital, at about 7:40 p.m.

Part of his parents died, too.

"They killed my son, but they killed my heart and my husband's heart," said his mother, Faina Vaynerman, 55, yesterday at his apartment on Pinkney Road.

"In my mind, I know he is dead, but in my heart, I cannot believe it," the former Russian journalist said. "Why do they take only the best? He was our future."

She added, "One son, our handsome boy. I'll never, never be a grandmother. Who can understand the deepness . . . "

The family arrived from city of Ulyanovsk in January, 1993, she recalled. "I told him, 'Igor, you have to do it. All our relatives live in the U.S.' I said he could find his future here."

"All my years, I will be guilty," she added, sobbing in a chair in his small living room and holding her head in her hand.

She and her husband Naum Berenshteyn, who speaks no English, live in a nearby senior citizen's apartment building on Park Heights Avenue. Yesterday, they and others recalled Igor's difficult transition in America.

"He couldn't find his place here," said his aunt, Inna Giller. "He left friends and a girl that he loved. He tried hard to adjust to this life in this country. He was trying and trying very hard."

On May 26, he wrote in his journal, "Terribly bored. I don't even know what I'm living for."

But lately, the slender, dark-haired young man had become more optimistic. Tuesday, he called his aunt to ask directions to a concert featuring the Russian comedian Kostya Raikin.

L Usually, he did not have much time for fun, his mother said.

"He worked very hard. He worked like a horse. He didn't have time to meet any friends or a girlfriend," she said.

When Igor wasn't working, he called his girlfriend long-distance in Russia or his grandmother and aunt across town, wishing them luck with the house they had just moved into.

Although he had a degree in photography from a four-year university in Russia, he had found only low-paying jobs in America.

For several months Igor had delivered pizzas at Pizz-A-Boli's on Reisterstown Road for $4.75 an hour. Naeem Chaudhary, the manager there, recalled that he was honest and showed up on time. "He gave no trouble," he said.

In the beginning of July, Igor filled out an application at Pizza Deal, seeking a $5-an-hour job as a driver.

Manager Ansar Iqbal said yesterday that he did not hire Igor for deliveries, because the shop usually trains such employees first. So, for several weeks, Igor delivered fliers and restocked the shop's soda machines.

"He was nice -- he liked to joke around with you," said Theron Janey, 18, a cook at Pizza Deal. But Igor was eager for more opportunity -- a driver's job. "He said, 'Please help me; let me try.' He was shedding tears," Mr. Iqbal recalled.

So he agreed to let Igor try delivering pizzas Wednesday night, just for tips. He also decided he would hire him in one week.

Igor had been robbed before -- of $60 while delivering pizza for Pizz-A-Boli's -- his aunt said. Since then, he had begun to carry a knife for protection.

But protection was not Igor's only consideration Wednesday night when robbers confronted him on his first delivery, Ms. Vaynerman surmised yesterday. "My son was a victim because he wanted to give the money to his boss," she said.

No money was taken from Igor, and the men involved in the attempted robbery were still at large last night, police said.

Mr. Iqbal also was shocked by the tragedy. He learned about the Wednesday evening shooting shortly after it happened and watched a paramedic lift Igor into the ambulance on a stretcher.

"We tell everybody, please, please, if anybody want to rob you, give them [the money]," he said. "Don't worry about the money. Money can be earned, but life, never.

"That's the first thing we teach the people, please be careful, drive safe. If you go there, and nobody is there waiting for you, bring it back. Spoil the food, but don't spoil yourself."

Funeral services will be held today at 1 p.m. at Sol Levinson &

Bros. Inc, at 6010 Reisterstown Rd.

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