“Итак, она звалась Татьяной”.
– A.С. Пушкин
Perhaps I’ll begin with “Tatyana,” in short Tanya, a very popular and beautiful Russian name, given to me at birth by my loving parents, inspired by Alexander S. Pushkin’s famous book Eugene Onegin.
Tatyana Iskhakbayeva (mainden name), was born on 9/1/1983, in the Former Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, the city of Tashkent. Growing up in a secular Russian speaking home, filled with verse, poetry and music, I had not yet a clue about my Jewish identity, who I was, or where I belonged. I knew nothing about Judaism, Torah or Hashem and His ways. Maybe back then I still didn’t need to know all that much. I was only told that I was different, but what type of different, I will start learning right before suddenly moving to America.
I recall my younger self a very dreamy girl, drifting away into thoughts where I would dwell in my own magical world, where song and poetry carried me away into La-la Land, where I would find peace and comfort. I always felt in sync and very connected to nature, trees, animals, poetry, books, art and most of all, “Music.” It was music, my air, my escape and food for my soul. In one of my journals, I write later in my life, “If not music that kept me alive and going, saving me so many times, I wouldn’t be here today.”
I remember dancing around the trees in my backyard back in Tashkent, composing my own melodies and songs, pretending to be a famous singer on stage. My passion for music and the arts continued to grow stronger by the day. The stage kept calling my name over and over, again and again. I knew that one day, somehow, somewhere, I’ll be singing my own songs and will be acting in movies. I would scribble away and write songs since very young age; with many mistakes you can imagine a second and third grader capable of making. My parents still laugh that I would demand for pen and paper in a very funny way saying, “быстро, быстро, дайте мне ручку и карандаш, нет..нет… листочек и бумажку”. “Fast, fast, give me a pen and a pencil! No, no, a sheet and a paper!”
In 1993, and only 2 weeks before my 10th birthday, my family and I moved to New York with a status of refugees. However, right before leaving Tashkent my dad had a heart-to-heart conversation with me, and told me that we might be moving really quickly and suddenly and that I needed to know something very important. He told me that I am Jewish and that means that I’m very special. “Never be ashamed of who you are because we are the chosen nation. We are the people of the book.” My dad was not an Orthodox or a Religious man back then, but he was always very spiritual more or less, and with some basic Jewish traditions. He’s one of my main and greatest teachers in life. During that very important conversation he told me that there is G-d who sees and hears everyone and everything, nothing is hidden from Him, and that I can pray and speak with Him at all times. I was blown away because for the first time I finally heard something so deep my soul yearned to hear.
Here in America, (Queens, New York), I saw a Rabbi for the very first time. He reminded me of Dedushka Moroz at first, and I was thinking that dreams do come true… Only this black and white looking Dedushka with a long beard had a greater gift for me, he gave me a book with some mysterious looking Hebrew letters, and gifted me one of the most important gifts of life, my very magical Hebrew name, “Tzivia.”
I learned more about Judaism and who I was. I learned that I am a Bukharian Jew, and I also learned that my mom’s mom is fully Ashkenaz, which also makes me partially Ashkenaz . Grandma is like my second mom and one of my greatest role models in life. I always felt very connected to her. In fact, it was she who predicted and said to me so often, “You are my little actress and singer. One day I’ll see you on a big TV screen!”
Days passed by extra slowly here in New York, and mixed with all kinds of feelings, I kept singing and reciting verses of poetry somewhere at the corner of our new bedroom apartment. I grew extremely nostalgic for my former country and friends. I then promised myself to continue to learn and write in my native Russian language in order not to forget it, and promised to one day also master English. I wrote my first song in Russian on a sheet of paper and repeatedly sang it over. I called my friends and shared it with them. To my surprise it was a big hit in my neighborhood. I was motivated to continue to write poems and songs. At around age 14, I felt comfortable enough to start writing my poetry and songs in English as well. They were all secular songs about love & breakup of course back then and my dream was to sing them on a big stage. I was going to go to Hollywood, that was my biggest dream ever and nothing was going to stop me.
Nonetheless, my Yidden / Jewish soul was thirsty for Emet/Truth. I needed to learn more about who I am and where I came from. My soul was screaming and seeking for Hashem and His Torah. In my 9th grade I was super lucky to be accepted to Beis Yaakov Ohel Simcha, which was a new Yeshiva and based in Queens. G-d bless Rabbi Kugelman, at Nechamos Yisroel, for taking me under his wing when he saw me crying and saw that I really want to learn. For the very first time I felt completely connected and my soul felt happy at home and at peace, surrounded by the Torah light, my sisters, and my Angelic morah/teacher, whose beautiful voice rings in my ears till today. Although I didn’t yet understand the songs she sang in Hebrew, they were everything for my neshama.
It happens to be that in my family I got to be the pioneer who was chosen to bring back the Torah and Yiddeshkeit. I would throw out all non kosher food out the kitchen window, brought in Shabbat and candle lighting, and wore black skirts to the floor. Public school friends made fun of me saying I’m acting like an old “babushka.” My parents, relatives and friends were shocked that I drastically changed 180° and became a fanatic. I kept writing songs and poems for the drawer and would share it with friends here and there, still dreaming to go on a big stage one day. Going through ups and downs, twists and turns and all the drama life has to offer… Going back and forth, I finally decided hardcore for myself, for my soul alone, that even if I have to lose all my best friends, jobs and my Hollywood dream, I can’t afford to lose my neshama. I sat in my room on my knees just 2 days before my 21st birthday and promised to Hashem that I will walk with Him forever, Glorifying and praising His name for showing me the way and for saving my Soul.
I decided that instead of majoring in Music, I will major both in English and Russian Literature and Poetry and minor in Secondary Education. Being a teacher in front of a class, I found my little fun stage. Nonetheless, I continued taking music classes here and there, just because I couldn’t live without music. A year later after giving up my big dream, and praying so hard for my soulmate with all the tears I had left, Hashem Himself made the most beautiful Shidduch for me with my beloved husband, Albert. We were blessed with four beautiful kids back-to-back in five years and I found my biggest fans of all times. Other than my loving mom and dad, they were my husband and our precious little Angels. This was a dream come true, a real Jewish way and I didn’t even dream of anything greater than that. I was forever blessed and thankful to Hashem for everything.
Only Hashem decided to reward me when I least expected it! I met my dear soul sister, Miriam Ilyaev at one of our community Chanukah events at shul where she sang an original A Capella song. I shared with her that I also write original songs, only for the drawer. We made a meeting in my house and Miriam’s mouth dropped open when she heard some of my songs, “Hashem gives you such beautiful messages and you’re not sharing it with all of us? These messages are not meant to sit in your drawer. They belong to people. Why don’t you record them?! You must share your talent! There is a whole kol isha stage for women! Record for women!” she demanded.
I was completely shocked to what I heard for the very first time. There is a stage for women only? Am I dreaming? Working with Erik Ilyaev back in the day, writing songs in his studio, it was only a dream to meet a female Ilyaev version. Hashem surely has a sense of humor. It was Hashem sending me His Angels. Miriam was Shaliyach to open up a whole new world for me.
A few days later, my husband came home with a piece of paper and put it on the table for me. He said, “call this studio! I can’t wait to hear your hits professionally recorded and fully mixed.”
I recorded my very first original song in a professional studio at 27, titled “Angel,” and released my 1st CD Album, “Tell Me Why?” in 2014.
This Chanukah 2021 / 5782, my long awaited and 2nd CD Album, titled “Hold On Tight,” was finally released along with my new and 5th music video.
All Glory always goes to Hashem alone! It is G-d, Music and Prayer that guided me all along and brought Tzivia Kay to all of you. Miracles go on every second of the day! Never forget that you are one of them.