I was born in Odessa but came to the States when I was one
year old. My parents decided a better life awaited us here and being back
proved they just may have been right. I didnít feel much until the moment that the
plane landed in Ukraine, when a feeling of excitement and maybe even pride came
over me. It was quick and powerful. I was home.
I knew we had a great group of participants, a solid itinerary, and a lot to learn. I didnít know that forgotten memories related to my Ukrainian background would resurface. My grandma, a holocaust survivor, passed away a little over a year ago. When we were in Hillel Odessa , we were introduced to a Ukrainian song that brought my grandma back to me. It was a song that she taught me when I was a kid. A song I hadnít heard since then but still knew. A song that brought me to tears.
Visiting the shtetle of Berdichev overwhelmed me with an intangible sadness. Maybe it was the fact that the city once housed 50,000 Jews but it now has only 500. Or that the youngest ritual participants are in their fifties. Or that the Torah scrolls were stolen three times. The Jewish people have such a sad history. I am the Jewish people.
Equally moving but opposite in mood have been my fellow participants. We have shared too many laughs, beautiful song, free spirited dance, and memories that no one can ever take from us. It is so interesting to hear two recent strangers from different walks of life talking. Our differences just reinforce that there is no particular look of Jewry or Jews. I like it that way.