A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Amir

Passover highlights

First night, first seder: There were several seders happening in the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community, including at the JCC, at Hesed, at the Yeshiva, one prominent private seder for parents of children in the kindergarten (ages 2-5), and the VIP seder in the synagogue, which I attended as a guest of the Ben-Zvi clan. Amir, Sharon, Ori, Ido, and I sat at a table near the bimah and the Kaminetzky table (“It must be nice to have your immediate family fill an entire table,” I commented to Sharon) at this most massive seder. You have to see the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish Community website pictures to understand the scope of this monster. It was not only the largest seder I’ve attended, it was also the fastest. It was so noisy in the cavernous synagogue, with every whisper echoing off its accoustically sound walls, and even next to the rabbi and Yan, who was leading the seder, I could barely hear a thing. Given the wide scope of participants, the goal was apparently to give everyone a small taste of a seder and then get them the food. It’s a shame it went by so quickly, because I know how much preparation went into it. Yan brought in the Jewish singers from the Dnepropetrovsk opera, and the Hillel kids were recruited to serve as helpers throughout the service. They stood in strategic locations and indicated which page we were on and which vegetable was being dipped at any given time. Believe it or not, they rehearsed for this several days in a row, for hours at a time. In any event, the seder meal was absolutely spectacular. There were five or six courses, featuring herring and salmon at each course, brought out by professional (goyishe) waiters and somehow served piping hot to all 200 or 300 guests. It was quite impressive.

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A look back at Hanukkah

New s*** has come to light, man.

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We began with Amir lighting the candles. Ina, standing next to him, is the most religious amongst us in the office, other than Amir and Sharon, that is.

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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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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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DGU kickoff event in Zaporozhe

December 17, 2008. 11 am. “Cultural Palace,” Zaporozhe.

Press conference

The morning began with a press conference, to which the major television channels, newspapers, and young volunteers of Zaporozhe were invited. I was very excited by the turnout– nearly 40 young people were there, which is quite astonishing, considering how little is known about voluntarism here in Ukraine. The conference lasted a little over an hour, after all was said and done. Inessa, the energetic director of JCC Zaporozhe, who organized most of this event, was our emcee for the morning. We opened with speeches. Anatoli, director of Chessed Zaporozhe, and Amir spoke, among others. Then it was time to unveil the site itself.

Inessa, Sabina, and I explain the site

Above (left to right): Inessa, me, Sabina

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Back in the USSR

The Soviet Union is missed more dearly in Ukraine than one would expect.

USSR Casino

“Things were better during the USSR,” Sveta, my Russian teacher, has told me many a time. “Education was so much better than it is today. The streets were clean. Everyone could get healthcare. People were more respectful.”

More respectful? How do you figure?

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