Jewish Tourism and Personal Place
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 11:25:57 am | Comments (3)
First off, spelling Kyiv is the Ukranian way of spelling the city and Kiev is the Russian way. I'll probably end up referring to both throughout my time here. Either way, there are only so many times you can make the joke about asking if the chicken at the meal is chicken Kiev. :)
Our guide for the tour portion of the trip was Jeremy Leigh who has written extensively on the topic of wandering Jewishly and what it means to visit a place as a Jew and seeking the Jewishness inherent in a place. You can read a great article of his in PresentTense. We started our tour just outside the hotel across from the circus.
What is interesting is that this picture of Yelena Azriyel and Biana Lupa from two nights ago in front of the circus...
became transformed into something new as we found out that the circus used to be known as the Jewish market of Kyiv. Jeremy then asked us to consider who actually owned the memory of a place. Was it more likely to be the current residents? Historians or tourists? Or is it something that is navigated through all this varied ownership....
We moved from there to the central train station as pictured here.
As a daily commuter through Grand Central, I am quite familiar with the experience of train stations, particularly major hubs. This experience however was different for me, but I did not realize it at the time. I was taking pictures as a tourist, as someone far removed from the actual experience of being in this place.
When Jeremy asked us if we had any connection to this train station, it dawned on me. That old cassette recording of my grandfather speaking with his father contained a story of this exact train station. The story goes that my great grandfather met my great grandmother on the train leaving Kiev to come to the United States. She was traveling in first class and he had snuck up from his position in coach. They met, connected, but did not see each other again until later years when they were both in New York.
Seeing this train, suddenly connected me deeply to the personal experience of this train station. To know that years ago, a part of my family had started here gave me chills.
It brings me back to Jeremy's question of who owns the memory of a place. I felt connected to this place through a personal story, much more so than the connection I had as a commuter. I feel it is critical in my work with Hillel that one must be fully present. We must bring ourselves to our work to enable others to connect with their self in a personal and hopefully deeply meaningful way.
I'll finish this post a with two videos of Jeremy from our YouTube page...
More Songs About Buildings and Food
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 4:55:18 am | Comments (1)
Some random pictures based on a wonderful Talking Heads song...
Pickles at every meal!!!!!
Mikado cake, after I was cautioned away from the Bales cake....long story for another post.
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 8:41:11 pm | Comments (2)
As I started on the walk to Babi Yar today, I didn't know what I should be feeling. I know that my family history from my mother's side comes from Ukraine, specifically Kiev, but I didn't quite know how to approach this site of so much suffering and murder. I understood what I should feel at Sachsenhausen during last year's trip to Germany. There was a museum and pictures and artifacts and tangible memory, but this was different.
This small memorial was all that stood to represent the memory of over 100,000 people who were slaughtered by the Nazis in a pit behind the stone menorah.
After placing a small stone on the steps of the memorial, I slowly made my way over to the pit, to look into the abyss of where a part of my family was killed.
I stood, silently reflecting for some time. Torn between seeing nature and life in the context of so much death. I was really struggling to recall the faces of my family and I was troubled that I did not have a face to connect with for this place. I had seen pictures of my great-grandfather, the one who had escaped Ukraine before this and after so many of the pogroms. I recalled his voice on the cassette tape that my grandfather had recorded as a conversation about his life, the sole remaining memory of his voice. And yet, I still could not see the faces of my family. I thought of my mother, my grandfather and his father and tried to compile their faces into something approximating a memory but I could not.
I backed away from the site, unsure of what to think without a tangible connection.
It was then that I saw the lilac bush, standing after it had bloomed.
I didn't need to smell the fragrance, I didn't need to see the blossoms, but I had a distinct memory and a relation to all the beautiful lilacs I have seen in my life. Somehow, that was enough. Somehow it connected to my work in this conference to understand more about Jewish Peoplehood and Jewish Peoplehood in relation to the world around us.
In that moment of recalling the lilacs, I became at peace with the memory of a family I had not known. I didn't need to see their faces, but I could recall their life, their memory, their connection to me through the chain of history through my memory of the lilac.
Like the one that had bloomed so beautifully in my backyard this year.
In memory of Abraham Rudman, all of his family, and all whose lives were unjustly taken from them in senseless violence.
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 7:40:36 pm | Comments (0)
Wow, that was a couple of intense days! I'll add more pictures and stories tomorrow.
Plus, an update from Biana!
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:18:15 pm | Comments (5)
After a minor flight delay, Biana and I took off from JFK for our 10 hour flight to Kiev. Hard to recall most of the flight but I got the whole plot of Leap Year without listening to a word and fell asleep trying to watch Crazy Heart.
We landed this morning. Funny thing, when we were on the plane we were wondering about how we would find our driver. I said, "Oh, there's probably a sign that says 'Jewish Peoplehood'." What do you know, a Ukranian man with a sign that says "Jewish Peoplehood" was waiting for us. "Sochnut?" That's it. Good thing we've had an Israel Fellow at Baruch for the past few years so I knew what Sochnut meant, despite my limited Hebrew. Sochnut means Jewish Agency for Israel, FYI.
Borispol International Airport
Welcome to Kyiv!
We got settled in the hotel pictured below (what a view!)...
Then I took Biana's lead for lunch choices. It didn't take much effort to pass up StarDogs (at least that's what it supposedly is translated to mean).
This looked like a nice place to sit and enjoy the flowers and the shedding cottonwood trees.
Borscht was recommended but my eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach as I ended up with herring, potatoes, and pickled veggies.
It's funny, no matter where I am, no matter what cuisine, I can't pass up the pickled vegetable plate.
I recognized Yonatan Ariel and a few others who came into the same restaurant after our lunch so we sat with them and chatted. Thank fully Biana helped us with the menu ordering! :)
We are now off to have dinner with Baruch alumni and current JDC Jewish Service Corps Volunteer, Yelena Azriyel!!!
Here are my plans for later tonight, catching up with the rest of the world. :)
Baruch Goes to Ukraine!
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 6:38:22 pm | Comments (1)
Coming soon...a blog from our trip to the Third International Task Force Meeting on Jewish Peoplehood Education and Programming in Kiev, Ukraine!