Caring for the Community
Written by: Jenny Kirsch
*sorry for the delay in blogging about our Dnep experience on Friday the 24th....the cold bug paid me a friendly and long visit!
So we woke up to our second day in Dnepropetrovsk feeling much more rested than the day before! After breakfast we split up into two groups-one group went to Beit Baruch-an assisted living facility and the other group went to the Education Resource Center. I was in the first group with Matthew, Rise, and Yan (our guide). When we arrived at Beit Baruch we were met by two residents and three staff members. They first showed us their winter garden room, which hosted a wedding on Wednesday night (not one of the residents though!). We sat and talked with them for a bit and the two residents kept saying how great their friends are in Boston. Beit Baruch opened in January 2002 and currently has 52 people living there. It doesn't cost the residents anything to live there-which is drastically different than in the US!!! And you won't believe their facilities! The garden room had a waterfall....yes a waterfall! I would live there! :) They have tons of classes for the residents, including arts and crafts, choir, sewing, Torah group, Yiddish group, English group, etc. They have an exercise room and a fitness room. Beit Baruch is the only place of its kind in the Ukraine and in fact people from different parts of the country come to Dnepropetrovsk to check it out. It was not only great to get a tour of the place, but it was nice to be able to to sit with two of the residents and hear their stories. The man, I can't remember his name (sorry!), is 85 years-old and the President of Residents Committee. He was proudly wearing a Lion of Judah pin and told us "the wives of the wealthy Americans came here and one of them gave me this pin." He was actually in a ghetto with his mom during the WWII but somehow escaped. When the Soviets liberated the area he was on a train that was subsequently bombed and all his documents were lost. He was imprisoned and given a sentence as if he was caught running away from a ghetto. While in jail he caught many fatal illnesses but somehow survived. He was jailed for 5 years. He came to Beit Baruch after his wife died. He said, "I won't believe that I could be living in such a place because residents can prolong life and become younger" What keeps him younger you ask? Well he has a 68 year-old girl friend and that doesn't stop him from chasing other women! :) The woman we met, Eita, is 90 years-old. When she was young she went to Jewish school and learned Yiddish. She actually teaches Yiddish at Beit Baruch and sings Yiddish songs (she organized the choir there!). As she was telling her story, it was interesting to hear that her documents were also lost on a train. I guess it was common, but can you imagine losing all forms of identification? How do you prove that you are you? Anyways, Eita also came to Beit Baruch about 10 years ago. The two residents were really cute....they waited for us to return after our tour to continue their stories-you know how old people love to tell their stories. :)
Well after Beit Baruch, the four of us got a treat. If you think I mean an amazing experience, then yes you are right, and if you think I mean food, you are also right! Our next stop was the Warm House. The Warm House is a program that is run by the Action for Post-Soviet Jewry which is in Boston. It is a program that offers lunch within the community once a month for residents to get together. There were about 8 people there plus the host. And let me tell you, the food never stopped! And the vodka....they loved their toasts! One women read a poem that she wrote about the Warm House. And yeah, you guessed it, I was crying! She was saying how no matter the weather outside it is always warm inside and how the Warm House gives them motivation to get up and out of the house. But again it was great hearing people's individual stories. What I found most interesting was when this one women asked us why the women's group was cancelled. It seems that there was some kind of women's group through the Israeli cultural center but it no longer exists. Apparently there is a women's group through the synagogue, but they don't like it because it is more religious (not social). This was the first, and only time, that I felt that someone was questioning the "religious" aspect of Chabad's control in Dnep.
** The group split into 2, so there is more to come on the Education Resource Center and our second experience at a mass grave memorial, so stay tuned!**
So then it was Shabbos and you know what that means...Shabbos dinner! Yes we all went to the Rabbi's house for dinner and again the food never stopped. There were tons of people at the dinner, including newlyweds, an engaged couple, board members, wine producer, a sofer (scribe), and a top fashion designer... Needless to say there were tons of l'chayim's. One of which from our very own Matthew, or should I say Matisyahu. Yes the Rabbi liked to refer to him as that. :) Matthew not only gave a l'chayim and danced, but he also got the honor of reading the seventh blessing of the sheva brachot! Yeah he represented!