Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Santas, Seminar, and Sprouting Beans

It all began with a little New Years party we decided to throw here at Moishe House Minsk. A little party that lasted over 48 hours...

(The party starts!)

(And many hours later... It seems the party has ended.)

In Minsk, January is not a quiet month. You see, the Belarusians love their New Years, and all the tinsel, Father Frosts, chatchkes, "New Year trees," and fireworks that go along with it. The Belarusians love their New Years so much that even today, January 25th, people are still setting off fireworks in the streets. So, in honor of what has undeniably been the longest celebration of my life, I raise my glass to you and acclaim, "C NOVOM GODOM!" "Happy New Year!"

But that's not all I've been up to this month. I also paid a visit to the Holy Land with my fellow Jointnik volunteers from all over the world for a wonderfully informative and enjoyable seminar. We learned together and shared stories that you probably wouldn't believe unless you too were placed
in a country where you didn't know the language and the culture was completely unfamiliar. We learned that fellow Jointniks might be the only ones who can truly relate to our stories "from the field." We could all sympathize, if not empathize, with the volunteer who was required to give a stool sample in order to be granted a residency permit in the country, and the volunteer whose bathtub was moved into the kitchen for a week for plumbing repairs, and even the volunteer who "never really figured out how to do laundry" in his/her placement.... Oh fellow Jointniks, we have a special bond!

And there's much more to add to this whirlwind of a month... Let's not forget the Jewish Birthday of the Trees: Tu B'Shvat!

But on the fifteenth of Shvat, when I looked out my window and I saw this,

I couldn't help but sing the famous children's Tu B'Shvat song, "The Almond Tree is Blooming," with a lingering question mark at the end. "The Almond Tree is Blooming?" Really? Where?

But sometimes our Jewish holidays come right at the time we need them the most! It's more or less the dead of winter here, but there will be a spring (it's my mantra, in fact!) and that's enough reason to celebrate today.

And celebrate, we did! We had a kabalistic Tu B'Shvat seder here at Moishe House Minsk, and I sprouted beans for planting with my Mazel Tov students. Everyone enjoyed eating traditional Tu B'Shvat foods native to Eretz Yisrael, like dried fruit, nuts, pomegranates, and olives.

I hope that I helped make it an enjoyable holiday for contemplating our relationship with the natural world, even if our natural world is frozen right now... Happy Tu B'Shvat!