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2-TIME IMMIGRANTS START OVER

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The stocking apparently once belonged to someone named Earl, back when names like Earl were more fashionable, back when a stocking like this - with the name inscribed in glittery cursive - did not yet look both dowdy and touching.

Jenia Tchernik bought the stocking at a thrift store this year and hung it on her mantel in Murray, in celebration of her family's first Christmas in the United States. "Earl," she assumed, was another name for our Santa Claus.These are the things about your new language you learn by trial and error when you are starting over again in a new country. These are the Christmas decorations you buy when you have left most of what you own a half a world away.

Tchernik and her husband, Sergey Krasovskiy, moved to Utah last April, lured by the prospect of a job with a Salt Lake import company. It was a way to get to the United States, where they hoped they would prosper. A month after their arrival, however, the company went broke.

"After we came to this situation, we thought about not waste our time," Tchernik explains, draping the words she knows over the thoughts she is eager to convey. The fit isn't perfect yet, which is why she and Krasovskiy study English every day now. More than most immigrants, language is crucial to her success in her new country, because Tchernik is an actress.

"Both of us, I'm sorry, on top of our career in Ukraine," she says, not wanting to sound boastful but wanting to present the truth: that in her country, not too long ago, she was somebody.

When she and Krasovskiy left Ukraine almost five years ago they left behind everything except a few paintings, their favorite books and a few reminders of their success. Tchernik brings out a Ukrainian theater magazine and puts it on the coffee table. She herself is on the cover, a tribute after receiving an award for her work.

In Hharkov, Ukraine's second-largest city, she played Chekhov heroines. She played Edith Piaf. "And Eliza Doolittle, if you know this," she adds.

Although they were at the top of their careers in Ukraine, Tchernik and Krasovskiy were worried about the future of their country and what kind of life lay ahead for their two daughters, Tatiana and Olga, then 5 and 15. This was in 1990, the year before Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union. They applied for visas, hoping to move to the United States. They were told they would be allowed to emigrate to Israel. Israel or nothing.

"When we left Ukraine, we say goodbye to our careers," remembers Tchernik, who had not yet learned about her own resourcefulness.

Although she knew no Hebrew when she arrived in Haifa, she studied hard and soon got a job in a puppet theater. She and Krasovskiy also performed as a duo, singing Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish songs at nightclubs and concert halls.

Last winter she got a leading role - the part of a Russian immigrant - in an Israeli film. "The Distance" went on to win first prize at the 1994 Jerusalem Film Festival.

Now she was somebody in Israel, too. But when she and Krasovskiy finally got their chance to move to the United States - where daughter Olga had already moved with her American husband - they grabbed the chance.

So now Tchernik must start over all over again. Sitting in her house in Murray, in her third country, she will once again study verbs and try to get the hang of idioms and learn that Earl is not a Christmas icon. She will send Tatiana off to school each morning, happy that she is in America at last. And, far from the footlights and the spotlight, she will try to become somebody again.