Who We Are – From Repression to American Dream

Village at Willow Crossings resident reflects on life’s adventures

Senior woman posing for photo

Lica Brill and her husband, Liviu, were raised in Soviet Romania where freedom was a dirty word and most aspects of life were controlled by the state.

“Even if you want to visit your brother … 30 or 40 kilometers by train, you have to ask special permission,” she recalls. And when Soviet occupation ended, Romanian leadership continued the repression. So, the couple – then in their early 20s – decided it was time to flee.

Lica, a language expert, and Liviu, a talented architect, managed to make the right contacts and got themselves attached to a diplomatic unit headed for Vienna. They packed their belongings into diplomatic pouches that wouldn’t be searched and planned to break off from the group in Vienna. From there, they would head to Israel; the only country that would give them citizenship.

Everything went smoothly until an agent at the train station searched Lica’s suitcase and found a pair of new white sandals that Lica’s mother had given her.

Lica recalls the agent asking what she needed the sandals for in Vienna during the winter. She didn’t have an answer. Everyone was terrified, including the attachés. But then the agent suggested Lica leave the shoes with her for “safekeeping.”

Lica agreed and quickly boarded the train, holding her breath until the train lurched out of the station.

Senior woman doing funny poseLife in Israel
The couple found Jerusalem too conservative, and Tel-Aviv too wild, Lica says. But Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, was a good fit.

They settled into life in Israel, and in 1967, the first of their two daughters was born. Just three months later, the new parents found themselves involved in the Six Day War, a conflict between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) called upon Liviu’s architectural engineering experience, and he was off to a secret mission in the Golan Heights. Meanwhile, Lica’s driver’s license qualified her for a different assignment: schlepping IDF command staff to wherever they were needed around the country.

Each night, she drove officers between Jerusalem and military outposts. She was proud to contribute to the safety and security of the first place she felt freedom.

Accidental Americans
During the tenuous peace that followed the 1967 war, Lica’s uncle invited them to visit America. While exploring the architecture in Boston, Liviu ran into an old friend who wound up offering him a job. His new employer arranged visas and the like, and Lica and Liviu started a new life in Boston.

Lica, who spoke six languages, found her place in the travel industry, leading trips all over the world. She limited her trips to no more than five days at a time, so she wouldn’t be away from her young daughter too long.

Eventually, she quit the travel business and opened Continental Pastry Boutique in Wellesley, which flourished for a dozen years before she sold it.

“It was a good location,” she said, noting its proximity to Wellesley College and other universities. “I had the town hall in front of me, the library on my right side. We worked very hard.”

Lica sold the bakery when her two daughters were entering college themselves, and spent her retirement traveling, vacationing to Israel, and spending time with her family.

Lica, whose husband passed away after 50 years of marriage, moved to The Village at Willow Crossings in August of 2020.

She continues to be active. Her mornings start at a leisurely 5 a.m., beginning with a three-mile walk, during which she writes down her observations of her neighborhood – a habit from her time during the war. Then it’s breakfast, followed by whatever socializing and storytelling adventures she can arrange for herself.

“Lica is such a dynamic, interesting and energetic member of our community. You could spend hours listening to her amazing stories, filled with such richness and intrigue,” said Anne DeMinico, Executive Director of Willow Crossings. “Lica’s storytelling connects us all to what matters most to her and we are honored that we have the opportunity to share a chapter in her life story.”

Lica fondly recalls her first few days getting to know the community.

“By the second day,” she said, “everyone knew my name.”

Senior woman laughing

The Village at Willow Crossings