A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for JDC

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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Metsudah

This post dates back to the 17th of November; I just now realized that I never published it! Enjoy this blast from the past…

I had heard so much about the Metsudah program in my short time here, but couldn’t really understand what made it so special. This weekend I had the chance to experience it firsthand.

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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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Limmud FSU 2008

Swallow's Nest, as photographed by Lena

The beautiful Swallow’s Nest in Yalta, as photographed by Lena.

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Hotel Yalta, the site of Limmud FSU 2008

For the second time in the history of the Former Soviet Union, Jews from all over the world—from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, America, Israel, Britain, and more—gathered for a three day conference all about being Jewish, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it.

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A virtual tour of my apartment

I apologize for the long delay. Finally, I can welcome you into my Dnepropetrovsk home! First, I have to let you into the building itself.

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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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Rosh Hashana

Friday, September 26

3 days until erev Rosh Hashana

Since the entire Joint office would have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, and since not everyone works on Sunday, the office Rosh Hashana celebration was set for the Friday before the holiday. Someone had heard Sharon talk about making sushi for her family, and soon all the women were asking her to teach them (there are quite a few sushi restaurants in the city, but at least in the office, only Lena really goes to any of them. Many people had never tried Japanese food, in fact). Well, one thing led to another, and Friday’s Rosh Hashana lunch was a homemade sushi feast! We all helped prepare, rolling the maki, preparing the sumka (a type of salmon, I don’t know what it’s called in English), setting up the ginger and wasabi, making a platter of all the Rosh Hashana foods– apples, honey, pomegranate, and challah (the sushi was the fish)– and of course, since this is Ukraine after all, setting up platters of pickles, pickled mushrooms, and olives.

It was a wonderful lunch! Everyone had filled out small cards for at least five other staff members, and we all exchanged these. Drinks were poured, and toasts were made. Wine abounded. Everyone was in good spirits, and lunch lasted quite a few hours (as meals here tend to do). Read the rest of this entry »

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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