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From Russia With Law

May 27, 2010 By:
Aaron Dalton, JE Feature
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Inez Markovich
Newspapers and books typically present history as a story of politicians, generals and revolutions. The 1991 implosion of the Soviet Union thus gets written as the story of Mikhail Gorbachev, of Boris Yeltsin and the Communist putsch.

But that simplistic history glosses over the personal stories of millions of individuals whose lives were turned upside-down by the tides of history, and whose struggles and striving subsequently shaped history's path.

The political turmoil that wracked the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s unleashed open anti-Semitism that prompted many Russian Jews to seek safer and more hospitable places to live, to raise their families and pursue these dreams.

Many of these Russian Jews came to the United States.

Among them was 18-year-old Inez Markovich, whose family immigrated to the Philadelphia region. Trained as a classical pianist at the Volgograd College of Arts, Markovich barely spoke any English when she arrived.

Despite relatively successful lives in the Soviet Union, they were still marked as "Jews."

"The first couple of years were particularly difficult," recalls Markovich. "We all had friends who had been a significant part of our lives. When we came to this country with a few suitcases of clothing, a couple hundred dollars in our pockets and no knowledge of English, we had to start from scratch and create new lives for ourselves."

Fortunately, America has not lost its capacity as a land for just this sort of reinvention and recreation for those with the drive, intelligence and spirit to pursue their dreams. And Markovich possesses large quantities of all three characteristics.

In short order, she learned English while working part-time at a series of odd jobs. She passed the "Test of English as a Foreign Language" and gained admission in 1993 to Arcadia University, at the time known as Beaver College.

Markovich thrived at Arcadia, graduating summa cum laude.

A few years after that, Markovich obtained a law degree cum laude from Temple University and a job with the law firm Duane Morris, LLP.

A New Chapter
While the story may be impressive so far, Markovich was just getting started.

She soon established herself as an expert in Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, helping financing institutions work with their insolvent customers toward acceptable ways to restructure their debts.

Her acumen in this area of law has led prominent national banks within and outside of Philadelphia to seek her counsel.

As her career progressed, Markovich moved to a new firm, becoming a shareholder (aka partner) at Deeb Petrakis Blum & Murphy, P.C., a full-service firm that celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.

As leader of the firm's bankruptcy and reorganization practice, Markovich helps her clients with commercial finance transactions, bankruptcy and debt-restructuring issues.

It all sounds terribly arcane, but Markovich points out that her skills help maintain the stability of the credit market during the current difficult economic times, thereby benefiting the community as a whole.

When economic expansion resumes, Markovich hopes that her advice will play a role in stimulating economic growth by helping banks and other lenders work through lending decisions.

Although Markovich has a thriving career, she says she consciously makes time to give back to the community. Given her musical background, Markovich says that she feels a special connection with the low-income artists and arts organizations, to which she provides pro- bono legal services through the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts program.

Most recently, the Philadelphia Business Journal named Markovich as one of the brightest young professionals in the city in its 20th annual "40 Under 40" competition.

The award recognizes accomplishments in the workplace and in the community.

As a member of the board of directors on RIGHT Bank (now in organization), Markovich is playing an instrumental role in developing a commercial bank that could offer culturally appropriate banking services to the underserved Russian-speaking community

"This would be the first bank not just in the Greater Philadelphia region, but in the entire United States, to serve the Russian-American community," attests Markovich.

While the bank would welcome all customers, Markovich says that RIGHT would have the knowledge and expertise to provide appropriate lending and banking products to immigrants from what was the former Soviet Union and parts of Eastern Europe.

"It's not just a question of language, but of understanding and educating customers about the difference between the European and American banking systems, and offering banking products tailored to meet the needs of the community," she explains.

RIGHT has already received approval from Pennsylvania regulatory authorities, but Markovich says that the bank is still waiting on approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation before it can begin operations.

Amid all her successes, Markovich says that she still loves Russia and misses it sometimes -- the music, the literature, the museums and theaters, the Russian hospitality, and the friends she left behind.

Of course, the Internet has helped her to maintain a bridge to the world of her youth. She has also made trips back to Russia, and says that she has plans to make more in the years ahead.

A Maturing Community
But her life is here in America now -- a life shared with a husband of 12 years and a 6-year-old daughter who learned Russian and English at a private preschool, and who takes ballet lessons at the Klein JCC in the Northeast from a Russian-émigré teacher.

Markovich and her family are emblematic of the booming and maturing Russian immigrant community here in the region. As it has swelled with arrivals from the 1990s and 2000s, it has also grown more sophisticated and educated, and many of the children of those generations have moved on to bright futures, personally and professionally.

Many of its members have been educated at the top universities and then gone on to work for some of the most prominent Philadelphia area companies.

And Markovich sees many benefits in this regard.

"We want the community to grow" she explains with gusto, "not just in terms of its size, but also in terms of the role it plays in the mosaic of Greater Philadelphia and American society at large." 

 

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