Last day…

I am going to assume all of you read my previous blog. Or at least
pretend to. So here’s number two. Our final day. 🙁

It is lovely sitting here on the floor of the Kiev airport waiting for
airfrance staff to arrive to check us in …yes we prefer the
sprawling on the ground to sitting in chairs.

Lets recap our last day. Saturday. Which only ended a few hours ago.
Going along with Fridays theme of randomness. We began with Hillel
Odessa. Anna misiuk, Igor oks,( no worries, ill explain who they are)
more shopping, debriefing, opera, Purim, more Purim, posozhek ( ask
matt or ira to translate) 2 hour nap.

We arrived at Hillel in the morning and our first meeting was with
Anna misiuk, who significantly influenced the awareness of Jewish
culture and heritage. We can add her to our list of amazing, honest,
and personable speakers. The room we sat in was actually the first
office of JDC in Odessa…the starting point for the rebirth of Jewish
life in Odessa. Talk about full circle between past and present.
Anna is the essence of jewish culture and the arts . As she tells her
story, we all come to truly realize how deeply hidden Jewish culture
was by soviet authorities. Majority of Jews lived in fear in the time
of Gorbachev. Most were so unfamiliar with the jewish landscape. Anna
was one of the few who was familiar with JDC. During the days of
Stalin, you were shot for connections to the JDC. But after the
collapse of the Soviet Union and the rapid impoverishment that
immediately followed, JDC became the only thread of help and people
overcame their fear. We speak about the current generation, the youth.
They are the first generation to lives in an open society. They are
not locked in Ukraine, and to build community and engagement here they
need to believe in a future here..and now we come to the question.
STAY or GO? And we encountered this question throughout our trip, with
all the generations. Those who grappled with this question decades
ago. Those who ponder on this very topic today. And the crucial theme
of choice arises. We live in an era where we decide who we are, how
and where we choose to express ourselves. We encountered choice when
we visited two JCCs in Odessa, how do you decide where to go? What
community do you belong to? do we make the choice or are we chosen?
Our grandparents and great grandparents fought for the choice and now
it is our responsibility to make them.

Melissa made a great point during our debriefing. Sometimes too many
choices are overwhelming and perhaps it is easier to “be Jewish” when
fewer options are available.We have noticed patterns that in the FSU
the cultural/secular Jews
tend to go while the more traditional/religious stay. Quite the
opposite of North America.

We have immersed ourselves over the week on the historic and current
context in which these and other critical life choices are made. We
have experienced the fragility of our community, the important of
holocaust legacy, and learned about the critical roles many ,
especially non jews, have played in shaping the community here. My
most meaningful conversation was with Nastya, a nonJewish 18 year old
girl who is active in the Beit  Grand youth club, about prejudice, and
the relationships between different groups of people. To see her so
active and so connected to the Jewish community gave me hope that we
do not have to live within boundaries…and it also makes me think
about the types of programs we have, the types of environments we
create for our youth, and the way in which we educate and engage.

How can we incorporate this experience in the ukraine to the way in
which we think about organizations in the states? What works where and
why?

How do we foster connections with our past and the current generation?
Anna speaks about the tool of performance and art to create bridges.
We cannot live without artists, without really creative people.
Reminiscent of Amy’s capstone, no?

Remember to widen the perspective in which you view and understand the world.
Immerse yourself in experiences that allow you to do so. Don’t be
frightened to take the risk. Our families experienced the true fear
and danger of being Jewish. We are now reaping their benefits.

Now that I have put in my few words of wisdom..lets move on to our
next speaker, igor oks, precisely the creative artistic personage that
Anna was describing. Igor, a former beitar activist, creative director
at an event management company, in his early thirties spoke to us
about his Jewish story. Which I might add is quite an interesting one.
To avoid making you read another three pages and having me type for
another hour in my sleep deprived, extremely caffeinated state…lets
just say this..early childhood. All he knew about Jewish culture came
from babushka. Wore a cross for a half a day. 1996. Camp. Jafi.
Chabad.beitar. Kazala mazala. Tfillin in the morning. Works on
Shabbat. Want to see how this all connects? Want analyze the trend?
Talking to the Ukraine group I recommend. (Yes, I had to put a rhyme
in there, couldn’t help myself I swear).

Continue the day…shopping. I won’t bore you ..well the boys
mostly..with the details. But you can take note of the new outfits to
come. And yes, I do expect you to notice.

Our Hillel students were sad to see us go. As was I. But the bridges
have been created. Now it’s up to us to cross them.

Opera time. Lalalaaaa…ready, set..10 minutes to get ready. We arrive
to the majestic opera theater.  That was built in only three years
might I add. Impressive, I know. We continue our cultural tradition
opera theaters in the Ukraine and intermission wine and caviar.
Classy, I know :). Stay tuned for pictures. After almost three hours
of singing and attempting to understand Ukrainian subtitles we
transition to PURIM. Chag sameach, everyone! And we walk over to
Bristol hotel for a chabad Purim party where our new friend Igor oks
is the host. After once again eating many potatoes some of us return
to the Moshe house to party with our fellow Russians, or Ukrainians,
or Jews..(see how complicated identity here can be 🙂

If Moshe house got us to come twice. They must be doing something
right. It felt like coming home, a real Purim celebration, and real
friends to celebrate with. Leaving that house was one of the hardest
things for me to do on this trip. We danced. We drank. We laughed. We
smiled.

So, no witty or funny last words from me. But I can say that we are
all beyond excited to share our experiences with all of you. From the
emotional, hilarious, educational and entertaining points of view, we
will take you through our journey in Ukraine. And trust me, you’ll
enjoy the ride!


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