Song of Songs
Posted by: Irina Kot on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (2)
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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t 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.
Posted by: Katie Chancer on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
sun has set on our day trip from Odessa, through a few Jewish Communities, to
Kiev. The first stop was Uman, site of Rabbi Nachman’s grave, and then to
Berdichev, site of Rabbi Levi Yitzak’s grave. The last stop of the day was Zhitzomer
to visit a synagogue before we reach Kiev for the remainder of our time here.
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.
has been an interesting few days. I don’t mean interesting in the way that if
someone’s food tastes bad you tell them it is “interesting,” 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 Lital’s Persian
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.
the days to come, I am excited to get to know everyone else on the trip better.
I really didn’t 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.
A Palace in Time
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
With apologies to Abraham Joshua Heschel, long distance
travel is a palace in time. However, the
seats in this palace have no legroom and fold-down tables, the meals are
indiscriminate meats in tiny trays and the language is 1000 dialects of
We started our journey with a three-hour delay in Newark due
to high winds and torrential rain.
Depsite all that, we still made it to Warsaw a mere 15 minutes after our
connecting flight was scheduled to depart.
Even though there were close to 50 people on our flight that needed the
connecting flight to Kiev, the plane still took off without us and the rest of
the passengers. But hey, we got a meal voucher!
We were able to
negotiate a new itinerary that now included a short flight from Warsaw to Vienna
on a two propeller plane and a flight to Kiev from there. Understandably nervous about the luggage
situation, we had no choice but to board.
It couldn’t have been that simple however as all but one of us was booked
for the flight with Luba inexplicably booked for the waiting list for the same
flight. Pleading with the kind Austrian
Airways staff yielded one first class ticket for our group and confirmed seats
for the rest of us.
When we finally
landed in Kiev all seemed well…except when the luggage carousel stopped with
three bags missing. I can only hope that
LOT Airlines will do whatever they can to get the remaining luggage to us in
Odessa, free Hillel t-shirts only go so far.
Enough with the mundane aspects of travel though. We were finally all here! New York, Israel and Kiev together at
last! This morning we met in the Kiev
Hillel to receive an official welcome from Osik Akselrud, the Director of the
CASE Hillels. I had a great sense of
pride and accomplishment already as I looked around the room at the 30 students
and staff from all around the world, here together for Kol Hillel. Over a year and half ago, this was just an
idea on a piece of paper. The Jewish
Peoplehood Innovation Award from NADAV Foundation helped kickstart the
initiative and helped attract more support from UJA-Federation of New York,
Jewish Agency for Israel and the Global Jewish Connections Initiative.
It was so amazing to
see the things that we had spent so long planning with Kiev Hillel and IDC
Hillel actually happening. To hear the
participants laughing and smiling in Russian, Ukrainian, Hebrew and English…it
was indescribable. This is what Jewish
Peoplehood is all about…the tangible unity of an indescribable
commonality. Everyone in this group has
a very different connection to their Jewish identity; there may be different
knowledge, different experiences, different traditions and cultures, but we are
Next post: A Passover seder from Russian-language haggadot,
planned and led by everyone here. This
too is the reality of Jewish Peoplehood…the varying cultures, traditions and
languages will combine to create something greater, something holier, something
very, very Jewish.
There, and back again
Posted by: Matt Vogel on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
We are less than 24 hours away from our first Kol Hillel trip!
A big thanks to NADAV Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York, Jewish Agency for Israel and Israel Connect for helping make this all a reality!
Keep checking in during the coming days as we'll have regular posts from trip participants (pictured below on a video conference with Kiev and Herzliya).
Chag Sameach! !חג שמח
General Assembly 2010
Posted by: Alena Karlik on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
My Experience at the General Assembly
From November 17 through 19 I attended the General Assembly in New Orleans representing Baruch College Hillel. Matthew Vogel, the Executive Director of Hillel suggested that I should participate of this conference. At first, I was a little
skeptical, I feared it would be too religious,
but then decided to give it a try. A week before the General Assembly, I attended a meeting about what should
be done there, where I met a lot of other students from Brooklyn
College and LIU Hillel that were attending the conference. Some of them I actually
knew previously so I was getting very excited about the trip. We all took the same flight, which was comforting. When I got to the Assembly, I walked
into the room with thousands of people. I received my badge, settled in the hotel
room, and started exploring the area with other Hillel students. I got to hear
great speakers such as Joe Bidden, Vice President of the United States, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of
Israel, and many other whose speech touched my heart. On Monday, we spent half of our day volunteering. It gave us all the opportunity to see how people were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. We got to meet the victims and hear their stories.
It made me feel good when strangers that were passing by would say "Thank
You!" and appreciate the work that I actually did not mind doing. During
the free time other Hillel students and I went to explore the city, and see what it had to offer. I hated leaving New
Orleans. I met so many great people. I would love to participate in GA next
Posted by: Miriam Lipsius on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
A mere five years ago, my reading
material was limited to things that were religiously uncontroversial, I could
count the number of movies I had seen in theater on my fingers, and I was not
allowed to use the Internet without parental
supervision or consent. Today I am 20 years old, enrolled in Baruch College, and I have
discovered that the insularity with which I was
raised pales in comparison to the xenophobic and
overbearing nature of other religious sects.
About a month ago, I was introduced to Footsteps (footstepsorg.org), a
secret society of sorts. This group is
comprised of young adults who have elected to
leave their ultraorthodox way of life.
The members come from religious sects that censored their education and
manipulated their lives to a dastardly extent.
from communities in New York State with regulatory power akin to that of a
regime. These communities have their own
judicial system they turn to as a form of arbitration recognized by and
supplanting New York’s judicial system. They have their own private schools wherein instead of educating their students, they seem to exist for the sole
purpose of depriving their students of education. These schools teach a maximum of one and a
half hours of secular studies each day just four
days of the week; the remainder of the time is
devoted to religious studies. The students leave these institutions without
a substantive grasp of the
English language and with no knowledge of their
country’s history and heritage. They are
proficient in a language that is not quite a single language, but a bizarre
dialect, a relic of ancient Europe, a conglomerate of languages seldom spoken outside their community. These students
have never heard of the United States Constitution or the Declaration of
Independence, and they will never learn about the big bang, evolution, and age
of the universe or anything scientific that might remotely associate with anything religiously contentious.
These communities have separate
institutions for girls and boys. Girls
are typically privileged with a more decent
education than boys, but even their education pales in
comparison with the public school system. The girls, like the boys, are also lacking in
knowledge that might be fundamental to even a high school drop out;
things children are mandated to learn in grade
school. The girls,
at the very least,
learn the English language and can speak it fluently
though amateurishly by comparison. In some of these communities, the boys are
expected to pick up the English language once they are married, their wives
serving as their teachers.
New York State has very explicit
standards for education, and these communities are in flagrant violation of
NY EDUC s 3204
Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated Currentness
Education Law (Refs & Annos)
Chapter 16. Of the
Consolidated Laws (Refs & Annos)
Title IV. Teachers and
Article 65. Compulsory Education and School Census (Refs & Annos)
Part I. Compulsory Education
§ 3204. Instruction required
3204.2 - Title IV, Article 65, Part I states:
given to a minor elsewhere than at a public school shall be at least substantially
equivalent to the instruction given to minors of like age and attainments at
the public schools of the city or district where the minor resides."
It should be noted that this law was
Education Law: First Amendment, Due Process and Discrimination
1. Religion Issues and Public Education[*]
§ 1:11. Religious Objections to Secular
Curriculum and Activities—Generally
This amendment invokes both the
establishment clause and free exercise clause (“Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of
religion or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof”) to make allowances and raise objections on religious grounds to school
activities or curriculum. However, this
amendment also states that “even when there is a substantial burden on
religious beliefs, the state's interest in educating its population may
The state has prescribed
standards and requirements for the education of its citizenry and these are
clearly not being met by some institutions. The educational attainments of the
students who attend these ultraorthodox institutions are not near
commensurate to those of even your less than average public school
student. These children do not even
obtain a high school diploma, depriving them of any hope of attending college
and achieving a higher level of education.
Some of the very motivated and highly intelligent young adults who have
left their oppressive communities turn to
organizations such as Footsteps to help them
obtain a GED and go on to earn post secondary degrees. Along
the way, they encounter many difficulties
between supporting themselves, self-teaching
things that many others take for granted and coping with estrangement from family that often
results from their decision to pursue higher education.
Adults for Fair Education (YAFFE, also a transliteration of the Hebrew word for
“beautiful”) was conceived to promote student activism, inform the public of
the grievance of the victims of these ultraorthodox communities, and to take
legal action, whence appropriate. YAFFE aims to provide a more beautiful and
enlightened future for those who have been deprived of the education and the
tools that would have enabled them to find their futures on their own.
[For more information or if you
would like to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
or you can be in touch with the author of this article by contacting email@example.com]