A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for photos

The Center of the Universe

Not 30 minutes outside of Dnepropetrovsk, past the giant factory that used to employ over 1/5 of the city to make ballistic missiles, there is a large village called Krasnopolye. There you will find a church, a store that carries meat and liquor, a lake, and many small houses with their own farms.

Twice in June I had the pleasure of traveling there, of walking past the cows and the goats, of picking strawberries and grilling shishkebab over an open fire, and of breathing air the fresh air I didn’t realize I missed until I left the city. The people who live there say, laughing, that Krasnopolye is the center of the universe. For a few hours, it was for me, as well.

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May travels: Den’ Pobedy in Odessa

I left Metsudah early to do some touring of Odessa proper. I stayed with Sol and Dina, the JDC volunteers in Odessa, for four days, hanging out with them and seeing the Jewish and touristy parts of the city. They then left for Metsudah, and my friend and colleague Yulia came in to spent the last day with me in Odessa before taking the overnight train with me back to Dnepropetrovsk.

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May travels: Metsudah

The second installment of the four-week leadership conference, Metsudah. This session was held the first week of May in a city not an hour from Odessa, by the Black Sea. The hotel, as you can see, was China themed (even though the main courtyard had Ukrainian khatas, or huts, in it), and so the madrichim, or counsellors, took that theme and ran with it.

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International Worker’s Day, or May Day

May 1. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. It’s the celebration of the worker. Only you can imagine that in the Former Soviet Union it’s even more of a big deal. I was on my way to the synagogue to catch the mashrutka (bus… sort of. Like a van) to the Shabbaton, and I caught the end of the parade along Karl Marx Prospect to Lenin Square, where a big rally was being held with flags and balloons and speeches. You can see for yourself:

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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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 »

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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