Sunday, October 21, 2007

"It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House." It's Even Nicer to Have Natasha Around the House!

When I was little, my momitchka (yes, even moms have a diminutive name here) used to read me a book called, It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House. In this children's picture book, the wolf, a former criminal, sought to redeem himself from his crooked past by assisting an old man around his house. One day, the old man discovered that his wolf was actually a former bank robber, but forgave him and allowed him to continue to be his trusty home companion anyway. Now, I'm not sure what exactly made me think of this once-forgotten literary gem of my past, but here are two possibilities:

1. I have my own trusty home companion these days, namely my roommate, Natasha!
2. Taxidermy seems to be the decoration of choice for many restaurants in Minsk. Sorry wolf...

Now more about possibility #1:

I have a great roommate. Some of you may recognize her from my post entitled "Scoot over Sarit Chadad..."

Here's a little something that Natasha wrote about herself:

"For a start, I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Natallia (Natasha) Kirykovich. I was born in Pinsk, but now I live in Minsk - the capital of the Republic of Belarus. I am 23 years old and I finished university last year. My profession is translator. My first foreign language is German and my second is English. After university I moved to Germany for a one year in order to improve my language skills. My hobbies include music (play piano, singing), traveling and reading."

Natasha is helping me learn Russian and I'm helping her improve her English.
(Check out all those dual language post-its in our kitchen!)

Also, Natasha has this fantastic Alf doll that giggles when you squeeze his foot! I love Alf! When I saw it for the first time, I was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of kismet; indeed I had chosen the right roommate!

We are so excited about our new apartment and we've put a lot of effort into making it home.

Thanks to Mr. Proper, our place is squeaky clean!

Natasha and I love to cook. She makes a mean latke and I got her to try some specialty items I brought from home, like Chilula hot sauce, and Skippy peanut butter! But not together, of course!
(Natasha and Olga eating latkes, or "draniki" in our kitchen)

I'm sure that for the aforementioned old man character, having a wolf around the house was quite lovely. For me, having Natasha around the house is even better!

*Important note: The Natasha/wolf analogy was just a figment of my silly post-midnight musings... While the wolf was an ex-con, Natasha has the pristine past of the nicest of nice Jewish girls!

(Our apartment. Here they're called the kukurooza, or corn buildings.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Aliyitchka in The Cleveland Jewish News

My official title here in Minsk is the Rozlyn Z. Wolf Fellow. Here is a description of the Fellowship, taken from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland website:

The Roslyn Z. Wolf Cleveland-JDC International Fellows Program

Spend a year abroad. Get a lifetime of rewards!

This joint project of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has been established through the generosity of the late Ambassador Milton A. Wolf, Ph.D. and his children to permanently honor and memorialize his beloved wife. A Federation Trustee for Life, Roz's Jewish community commitments set an example for many and continue to motivate other volunteers.

Each year, the Roslyn Z. Wolf Cleveland-JDC International Fellows Program will provide one college graduate the opportunity to spend a year abroad, where he or she will help isolated or re-emerging Jewish communities develop programs that educate youth, care for the elderly and train future leaders.

In August, I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, for a few days to become acquainted with the Cleveland Jewish Federation and the Jewish community in general. When I was there, I was interviewed by a writer for the Cleveland Jewish News and the article was recently printed.

CLICK HERE to read it!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Scoot Over Sarit Chadad! Make Room for Natasha, Aliyah, and Olga!

On Friday, October 12th, I had the honor of singing with my two friends (Oh yes, I've made friends!), Natasha and Olga, at a Minsk Jewish Campus event! Our friend Vitusha accompanied us on the piano.

Together we sang "Shma Yisrael Elohai," by pre-eminent Israeli Mizrahit singer, Sarit Chadad. (Click here for lyrics)

(Can you spot the Babushka in the background?)

The very special event to which we were invited to sing was the opening of a new art exhibit at the Minsk Jewish Campus. The artist, Natalia Baronetzkaya, was a participant on
Taglit Birthright Israel, a ten-day free trip to Israel, this past summer. She was so inspired by the sights and scenes of Israel that now, two months after her return, she has produced an entire exhibit of beautiful paintings. I was so impressed by the way she was able to capture the colors of nature in Israel and the way that light emanates from Jerusalem stone. Kol Ha Kavod Natalia!

Here are some of her paintings:

And here is Natalia the artist with me:

We were asked to sing "Shma Yisrael Elohai," because it is a very popular and powerful, but sad, Israeli song. It was written in 2000 after the brutal lynching of two Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramalla, and expresses the desperation felt by many Israelis during difficult times. Here is the Sarit Chadad Music video:

I miss Israel and long to be there, even though I'm enjoying my time here in Minsk very much. Today, while singing Sarit Chadad and viewing beautiful scenes from the holy land, I felt that much closer...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Ginsburgs offer a HELPing Hand!

The Ginsburgs are a very special and deeply appreciated couple for the Minsk Jewish community. Their philanthropic generosity has benefited Jewish communities in Minsk and Vitebsk tremendously, and touched the lives of many members within those communities.

I was honored to have met this couple from New York last night at a Project HELP gathering at the Minsk Jewish Campus. Project HELP is a business education and loan program for young Jews from the Minsk Jewish community. At the gathering, the Ginsburgs shared their experiences as accomplished business people and answered questions from the audience. Their wisdom and practical guidance were appreciated by all, including myself.

I'm certainly not a "business person" by any stretch of the imagination (read: I've been here for a whole month and I'm STILL mystified by Belarusian rubles), but I still found their advice relevant and valuable. I especially appreciated hearing how they understand their Jewish identity in the context of their professional lives and about their decision to create a relationship with Jewish communities in Belarus by giving.

Even after the program, I still wanted to hear more from Mr. Ginsburg!

Monday, October 1, 2007

An Etrog Grows in Gomel

Ok, I'm not sure if the etrog was actually grown in Gomel but it certainly found its way there for Sukkot festivities!

On Sunday, Setember 30th, Pasha drove a few of us from the JDC all the way to the southern cities of Mozir and Gomel for a visit to Sukkot family festivities. The JDC gives a lot of support to Jewish communities in the "periphery" of Belarus (anywhere not Minsk) by helping them enjoy chagim and providing other resources. The drive took about four and a half hours each way but Pasha played a fascinating Mongolian film on his car DVD player that really helped pass the time!

In Mozir I was impressed to find a small Hebrew lesson taking place. Two pensioner who plan to make aliyah shortly were learning Hebrew and I was happy to take part in their conversation.

And the Gomel celebration was filled with tons of wholesome Sukkot family fun. The community rented a cafeteria and converted it into a lively Sukkot celebration complete with a kippa-sporting emcee, Israeli music and dancing, contests for children, and and a symbolic decorated tent sukkah.

I loved showing this adorable Gomel tot and his father the lulav and etrog!
That's right little dude! Shake it like a Polaroid picture!