A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Holidays

Defender of the Fatherland Day

February 23 was a Soviet memorial holiday celebrating those soldiers who fell in World War II defending Russia against the Germans. Today it has become a sort of Men’s Day (to compliment Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8). Although many Ukrainians don’t celebrate this holiday, our office takes it very seriously and prepares an entire spectacle and feast for the men. The women transformed the office into a Ukrainian kolkhoz (a collective farm during Soviet times, basically a Soviet kibbutz).

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Hanukkah

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Hanukkah in Dnepropetrovsk isn’t too different from Hanukkah in the States, really. We light the chanukkiah each night and say the brachot. We eat latkes and suvganiot (although here, suvganiot are much more popular than in the US, since “ponchiki,” as they’re called in Russian, are already a popular fried dessert). We sing songs and spin the dreidle, and although I didn’t see any gelt, I did see some Israeli dreidles that say “A great miracle happened here” instead of there.

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My very own yolka!

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She’s little, but she’s still beautiful. As you can see, she’s a Christmas tree, except for the fact that there is no “Christmas” around here as we think of it in the States. New Year’s is Christmas and New Year’s, all rolled into one, but secular (there’s a religious holiday a week later, but really New Year’s is the big deal). Every family gets a yolka, whether Christian, Jewish, or other. I bought mine on Karl Marx Prospect (the main road of Dnepropetrovsk) off a street vendor for 20 grivnas (about $3). She’s really too small to decorate, but she fits nicely in my apartment, and she’s bringing me New Year’s cheer!

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

Dear Lena,

Your New Year’s plans sound really nice. Family and then friends. What more could you want? Unfortunately, I don’t have any plans yet. New Year’s is a big family holiday here. I thought I was going to go to my friend Lena’s house, since I know her mother and we get along really well, but for various reasons, it seems that I won’t be able to commandeer an invitation. My boss Amir leaves for Israel tomorrow and won’t be back for another few weeks, and although Sharon invited me over to spend New Year’s with her and the kids, she indicated that it won’t be so much fun. Ori is scared of fireworks (and people go crazy lighting their own fireworks here!), so they’ll be hiding indoors all night, and they have to go to sleep early. I’m going to a Shabbaton with Hillel kids this weekend, so we’ll see if any of them are family-less, as well. If not, I’ll think of something fun to do. I’m not the type to sit and mope, and certainly not on the biggest night of the year!

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So much to be thankful for

This Thanksgiving, while I was at home in NY celebrating with all those people who are dearest to me, the lives of my counterparts in Mumbai were drastically changed. The Chabad Rabbi and his wife, central figures in the small Mumbai Jewish community, were among the 188 victims, and the Jewish center was one of the primary targets during the four days of terror.

The following JTA article shares a little about Gavriel and Rifkah Holtzberg and the welcoming community they created.

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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! Read the rest of this entry »

Tashlich in Globa Park

Tashlich is one of the repentance rituals associated with Rosh Hashana. You take some bread and throw it in a body of water– any body will do, including a puddle or even a bathtub. The bread is supposed to represent your sins, and you’re casting them out to start with a clean slate for the new year.

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