A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Hanukkah

Purim

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Purim is pretty much the same in Ukraine as in America, with one important distinction: whereas in America Hanukkah is the major Jewish fun holiday, here that award is split between Hanukkah and Purim. In other words, Purim is a very big deal. Just like they did for Hanukkah, each Jewish organization has their own big celebration. The staff of the JCC, for example, put on a large Purimspiel play the Sunday after the holiday, replete with Hamentashen and other treats, which the entire community was invited to. At Sunday School we made a silent Purimspiel film, which was shown at the school’s Purim celebration and at the JCC play (more about the film itself in the next post). Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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So what exactly am I doing here?

I work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee– otherwise known as “JDC” in America and “the Joint” everywhere else in the world. Technically, my title is “volunteer,” although I am paid a modest monthly salary, have an apartment with all expenses paid, and have health insurance coverage. I live far better than the average Ukrainian (I live pretty well by any standards), and yet I am considered to be a volunteer. I, therefore, consider myself a paid employee and, as such, take my work very seriously.

My first week was devoted to getting to know the Jewish community here in Dnepropetrovsk. I visited the JDC office, the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Chessed (a center which runs programs for the elderly Jews in the community), the new synagogue, the Jewish school (actually, there are three schools in the same facility– one religious one for boys, one religious one for girls, and one not-quite-secular-but-far-less-religious one that is co-ed), Beit-Chana (the university for women studying to become Jewish teachers), and Beit-Baruch (the nursing home for 60 elderly Jews erected by the Boston JCRC). I met the main characters in each location, and I especially devoted my time to auditing the various programs the JCC offers to the community. My boss Amir told me right off the bat that I should take a few weeks to get my bearings and figure the place out before I get involved in any one project. JDC is very much about understanding what the community wants, based on how it already functions. It would be pretty useless and maybe even detrimental for me to enter into an already high functioning organization and create a new program that just won’t work with the system in place. After I understand Dnepropetrovsk and fully grok the people in the Jewish community, then I can go about changing it.

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