It was as if some crazed speed reader simultaneously zoomed through "Roots," "Dr. Zhivago" and "Romeo and Juliet" while sitting in a theater watching "Fiddler on the Roof."
There he was last June, an American boy (albeit a boy of 38), just out of the shower in the Moscow apartment of a distant cousin, a nationally renowned Russian comedian whom he had tracked down in a search for his family's past. The door opened. A woman from Leningrad entered. Two sets of eyes met. Lightning struck, the earth moved, the music swelled, etc.
The wedding is in October.
"It was so romantic," says Steven Raikin, staff director of the American Bar Association's Individual Rights and Responsibilities section. "There was a sense of inevitability to it -- not only was I being reunited with my ancestors, but I felt I had known her all my life."
Last night, Raikin's great-great-grandfather's brother's grandson Arkady Raikin, the Jewish comedian who has managed to jape the Soviet bureaucracy for almost 50 years and still remain a favorite of the power elite, began his first U.S. tour with a performance at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall. His son Konstantin and daughter Ekaterina, both popular performers in Moscow, appeared with him.
And of course Steven Raikin was there, as he will be in all seven cities on the tour, an enthusiastic member of the audience even though he doesn't understand the fine points of the Russian in which his cousins perform.
"I've learned the essentials," Steven Raikin says of his Russian, as the frail, 75-year-old Arkady stands beside him, smiling and touching his hand lightly. " 'I love you very much,' which I and my family say very often. 'How beautiful you look.' 'How handsome you look today.' 'I'm so happy to have you here in the United States.' "
Arkady's English is about as sophisticated. No, he says, he was not surprised by his cousin's speedy romance. "I think they are very, very happy, Steven and his wife -- I hope."
Since he first realized he was related to the comedian, the Washington lawyer has become a devoted fan and promoter of all things Arkady. His answering machine announces that through him callers can reach "the great Soviet actors and social satirists Arkady, Kostya and Katya Raikin ... " And now he is engaged to Arkady's wife's niece.
"My ancestors on my father's side are from Riga in Latvia, and I had always grown up as a little boy in suburban Buffalo, hearing about vague rumors to the effect that we had relatives who were in show business in the Soviet Union, but I never knew who," he says. But it wasn't until he was hugged by a Russian that he decided to pursue the rumors.
Raikin was attending a Soviet cocktail party during a conference in Caracas, Venezuela, when a member of the embassy, noticing his name tag, "got all excited and just regaled me with all these tales about Arkady Raikin -- 'He is so important! He is a great teller of the truth! He is one of the great social satirists and you must be related because Raikin is a very rare name!'
"That," Raikin continues, "was the first time I'd ever met a Russian. He was effusive in his praise -- he was giving me Russian bear hugs and I was as much put off as anything, but it did click with my memories from my childhood."
Soon after, the complicated (so complicated Raikin keeps a family tree handy for when he is required to explain the connection) relationship was established, and Raikin went to Russia to visit in the summer of 1985. Then, while Steven was in Moscow this summer, relatives conducted a little subtle matchmaking under the guise of finding a translator to help the various Raikins communicate and 28-year-old Nadia Samuilovna Werner was brought to Moscow.
Within two days, Raikin and Werner were talking marriage.
Both are avid musicians (she plays the piano, he, jazz trumpet), and he says, "When Nadia started sight-reading Quincy Jones, that's when I knew I had made the right decision."
Steven Raikin says American officials have told him that because of glasnost, Nadia should not have a problem emigrating to the United States, where her musician brother already lives. A State Department official here confirms that "there has been in the last year a certain slight easing by the Soviets" in such matters.
Steven Raikin expects Nadia to arrive in the United States by the end of the year. "Since my mother and siblings are in California," he says, "we will probably do ceremonies and/or receptions here and in San Francisco.