The sun has set on our day trip from Odessa, through a few Jewish Communities, to Kiev. The first stop was Uman, site of Rabbi Nachmanís grave, and then to Berdichev, site of Rabbi Levi Yitzakís grave. The last stop of the day was Zhitzomer to visit a synagogue before we reach Kiev for the remainder of our time here.
Despite the long hours of driving in between communities, it was a very good day. Visiting all of these different areas in the countryside made me realize that even in the most remote towns, there is a proud and thriving Jewish community. They are all small in size; the Berdichev rabbi said that there are 10-12 men that come for the daily mincha. The Jewish crowd is a much older set. In Berdichev, the groundskeeper of the synagogue said that the youngest members of the synagogue are in their fifties. While he himself was almost 70, he said that he was not even close to being the oldest member.
This has been an interesting few days. I donít mean interesting in the way that if someoneís food tastes bad you tell them it is ďinteresting,Ē but interesting in the way that really opens your eyes and teaches you something new. Everyone has different views, but what ties us all together is that we are Jewish. At the first Pesach seder that we had as a group, we all brought a bit of our family traditions. We ran around swatting each other with towels, which is a tradition of my roommate Litalís Persian family.
I have really learned so much while on this trip. On the drive from Kiev to Odessa, I was taught how to read the Cyrillic alphabet, and am now able to identify most words on the street signs. I also know how to have a 2 sentence conversation with a Russian speaker, with the following phrases: hello and how are you. I also know important phrases like how to scream for help, and ask for the location of the ladies room.
In the days to come, I am excited to get to know everyone else on the trip better. I really didnít know anyone before coming on the trip, except for Matt and Boyana. As unlikely as it seems, but i have already made such a strong connection with a few of my fellow participants. Given our situation, I know that I have made friends for life.