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