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Monday, February 20, 2012

“The Windows Opened and the Wind Gushed In”
Osik Akselrud
Written by: Julia Smirnova
Edited by: Sami Stein
The seven Hornstein students (Matthew Feinberg, Hannah Gutterman, Mary Horrocks, Jenny Kirsch, Monica Pevzner,  Sami Stein and myself), Amy Sales, Rise Singer and Victor Vitkin were all bundled up, definitely prepared for colder weather, as they we were greeted by Dasha Privalko, our guide, at the Kiev airport.  FYI, it is not as crazy cold as everyone thinks!
Our day started with a visit to the Brodsy synagogue to have lunch, our first meal together in Ukraine.  It was complete with assorted picked vegetables, curry rice salad and baked potatoes with salmon; followed, of course, by hot tea/coffee and dessert.  We ate at the King David Soup Kitchen which is in the basement of the synagogue.  Now I imagine you’re all picturing a rugged little cafeteria with a line of food for poor senior citizens to pick from.  This however, is no ordinary soup kitchen.  At times it operates as a kosher café and during certain hours of the day it is open for senior citizens to come for a hot homemade lunch.  The dining hall sits 40.  It had two beautiful chandeliers that are impossible to miss.  There is a hostess and waiters.  It is clean and cozy and each dish was served with a ding from the kitchen.
It was surreal to walk around the synagogue, which is over 100 years old.  Over the decades since it was built, it was occupied by various community groups as a place to gather, used as a potato storage unit and most notably for many years it operated as a puppet theater house.  It is a beautiful building and it is nice that it now serves its original purpose as a gathering house for the Jews in Kiev.
In the evening we had the pleasure of meeting Osik Akselrud the Director of Hillel CASE.  He is also the executive director of United Jewish Communities in Ukraine and sit as Chairman of the various Limmud conferences in FSU.  He says that wearing these various hats in the Jewish communal world of Ukraine has been an organic development since many of the Hillel members are groomed in Hillel to continue to play an active role in Jewish life in Ukraine.  Osik shared wonderful stories about his journey and growth in the Jewish life in Hillel.  He started Hillel from scratch with several enthusiastic students (including Dasha our guide) and has grown it exponentially.  When he first started the job, his focus was primarily on developing the adequate Jewish programming to introduce Jewish education and culture to Jewish students.  Most of these students had no prior knowledge or experience in Jewish rituals (i.e. holiday celebrations and Jewish texts).  Over the years his job responsibilities have evolved to focus on the long-term future and financial stability of the FSU Hillel organization.  He is extremely charismatic and is described as a father figure to the young Jewish community in Ukraine.  He is warm, welcoming, and encouraging.
Osik was joined by Sasha Oleinikova the regional coordinator, Rita the program coordinator of Kiev Hillel and Hillel activist Ilya.  This is a wonderful opportunity to address Melissa Goraj’s question about how the new generation of Jewish students (born after 1991) expresses their Jewish identity in contrast to the group of young adults that are now ages 25-35.  Well Melissa, what I have learned is that the student culture has evolved from one which used to be the recipient of Jewish programming in Hillel to an activist culture in which students feel the urge to pass on their knowledge to the incoming class.   Students are encouraged to have an entrepreneurial spirit and Hillel is an outlet for their innovations.  Find out more here (http://www.hillel-case.org/projectseng.html#3).  The Hillel staff foresees that students will continue to do Jewish even after they have aged out of Hillel.
Our evening concluded with an activity in Hillel.  We learned and sang a nigun.  It was a calm and meditating way to end our first day in Ukraine.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow! this sounds amazing! Julie, your description of the synagogue was so detailed and comprehensive that I felt I was right there with you!
    As a former Hillel professional it was very interesting to read about the Hillel in Ukraine I couldnt imagine that the Jewish students there are that active and connected to their Judaism....Amazing!