A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Yom Kippur

This was one of the best Yom Kippurs I’ve experienced. I spent most of it with my Dnepropetrovsk family (ie: Sharon, Amir, Ido, and Ori Ben-Zvi). Last night, before erev Yom Kippur, I dined with the Ben-Zvis. It was a lot of fun. I showed up at 4:30 pm and played with Ido and Ori for a while. Then we attacked the perfect meal Sharon made us. Sharon’s family has observed the fast forever (whereas this is only Amir’s fourth year), so she has all these tricks to make it easier. Drink a lot, eat a lot of carbs, very little salt, and finish up with a special recipe. We had chicken noodle soup, noodle kugle, and challah with water to drink (usually you drink juice with meals here). To finish it all off, Sharon broke out this special drink: soak bread in water overnight and then sieve the bread out. This bread-water supposedly keeps you from getting thirsty all the next day. For all I know it worked– this was the easiest fast I’ve ever had!

I walked to synagogue alone afterwards and sat through Kol Nidre and Maariv. It lasted from 6:30 until around 8 pm. It was pretty unfamiliar, actually. From the crowded (but certainly not stuffed) women’s section, I couldn’t hear or see much, and what I did hear was somewhat unfamiliar. The tunes were different, except for a few (like Avinu Malkeinu), although some important ones (like the Al Cheit, for instance) were different, surprisingly. The service went quickly, however, and then I went home, where I passed out on the couch pretty quickly while reading my book.

This morning I decided not to arrive for Shacharit, which I had considered. I don’t get much out of services, truthfully. I had thought that I would observe how Ukrainians pray, but I only see a bunch of Lubavich men from afar and listen to Russian kibbutzing in the women’s section, where I can’t sit and I can’t understand much of anything. Instead, I decided to spend the day in meditative reflection. I’ll spare you my personal conclusions, but it was very satisfying to reflect upon the past year and set concrete goals for the coming one.

I woke up without an alarm clock (what a pleasure!) at 10:30 am (so late!). I messed around online for a little bit and then engaged in my own yoga routine for a full two hours. It was wonderful, and I wasn’t even really thirsty at the end of it. My body felt great, and the fast actually helped, believe it or not. I felt very clean, very pure, and very connected. I read for a little bit, and then went for a walk. The main road here, Karl Marx Prospect, has a giant foresty walkway in the center, which makes for such a lovely stroll right through the center of the city. I walked aimlessly, allowing my thoughts to wander for a while, and then made my way to synagogue for Neilah at 5 pm. I found Sharon there with Ido and Ori (Amir was downstairs with the men, but most children stay with their mothers upstairs. It adds to the general noise and confusion up there, because kids are constantly screaming and laughing and crying, running all around and playing hide-and-seek in between the people and the seats. It’s lively and fun, but it doesn’t help one concentrate on the service). Neilah lasted until 8, when Rabbi Kaminetzky blew the shofar. Everyone in the synagogue, interestingly enough, applauded. Sharon and I half laughed, half stared in shock. Neither of us had ever heard of a congregating a Yom Kippur service. It was kind of funny, though. They closed the ark, which has doors and then a small curtain. As the curtain shut, the audience remained standing and applauded the performance. And, truly, Yom Kippur is the most theatrical service of the year. I thought it somewhat appropriate, in a very non-religious way.

The whole Ben-Zvi clan and I went to their apartment to break the fast. While Sharon prepared, I played with Ido and Ori (those boys are quite a handfull, but so much fun). We all then partook of tea with honey and challah with pesto spread. It was a light dinner, but probably more satisfying than any other break fast I’ve had. You don’t realize how little food you need unless you give it a chance. Usually I stuff my face with bagels and end up really full and sometimes a little nauseous at the end of it. This time I maybe had three pieces of challah and a lot of tea, and I felt quite full and very content. I really enjoy spending time in the Ben-Zvi home. Sharon and Amir are so friendly and we have good conversations, and the boys are a lot of fun, although they don’t give you a break! The time pleasantly flew by, and finally I left, very satisfied with the beginning to the new year.


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