A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Chessed

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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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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Volunteering in Donetsk as we open DGU

Be sure to check out the official Do Good, Ukraine! articles about these events!!

10:45 I arrived at the Workers’ Cultural Hospital 15 minutes later than planned, since Seriozha (my driver) and I got a little lost in the big city of Donetsk. Dasha, organized as ever and arranging twelve things at once on her two cell phones, was waiting for me outside the entrance. We tell Seriozha that we’ll be back in less than an hour, and then rush up the stiars to the children’s oncology ward.

10:50 We had to put blue plastic slippers over our feet before entering the floor. I could see as soon as I walked through the double doors from the stairs that the performance had already begun. Standing outside the doorframe of one of the rooms are five young students about my age, dressed as a cat, a crow, a little girl with pigtails, an old man with a straw hat and a handlebar mustache, an old woman with a cane, and a princess, all in gold. Another student, dressed as a young boy, runs out of the room and frantically changed into a new costume, while happy children’s music is playing “onstage.” He buckles new pants over his shorts, throws on a fur vest, a fake beard and mustache, and a Russian fur hat, before hunching over on a cane. Just in time for his cue, he walks back into the room where the performance is taking place. I move over to stand with a few parents and volunteers outside the door to get a better view. There must be twenty children there, plus at least one parent for each child. It’s a good crowd, stuffed in a fairly small room. Most kids are sitting on their parents’ laps. Some, not many, are on the floor. There are a few really little ones, maybe 2 or 3 years old, quite a few 4-9 year olds, and one or two 10-12 year olds. Some are wearing sanitary masks over their mouths. About half are bald. All of them look like they were enjoying the performance.

hospital 27

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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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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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Zaporozhe and Donetsk

The story: over the past week and a half, I went on two excursions, to Zaporozhe and to Donetsk.

When: I went to Zaporozhe last Thursday. Amir and I left at 3 pm and got back at 9 pm. Amir, Karima (another JDC employee) and I left this Monday at 2 pm, Karina and I arrived in Donetsk at 7 pm, Amir continued to Ludonsk for the night, and we all left Donetsk the next day at 3 pm and arrived in Dnepropetrovsk at 7:30 pm.

The location: Zaporozhe is about one hour south of Dnepropetrovsk, and Donetsk is about four and a half hours west.

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