Friday, December 7, 2007


This Hannukah, the entire city of Minsk is alight with Hannukah festivals. The holiday was kicked off on the first night with Chabad’s Hannukah play performed by the Or Avner school, followed by a concert featuring Minsk’s newest Jewish band “Shalom.” The second night brought crowds to the Israel Cultural Center’s concert presenting new-age Israeli artists Aloni Daniel and Mikhael Meirzona. But that wasn’t all for night number two; Minsk’s latest hangout for young Jews, Moishe House, headed by Aliyah Phillips and Natasha Kirikovich and funded by the Forest Foundation in partnership with JDC, hosted a candle-lighting after-party abundant with home-made draniki (Belarusian: latkes), and fresh sufganiot (Hebrew: jelly donuts). Night number three uncovered young talents at the Mazel Tov Hannukah play for pre-schoolers and their parents, and a holiday-themed Hesed concert, also led by Aliyitchka and her co-teacher, Tanya.

But it’s not over yet; Minsk’s Jews of all ages are waiting to see what the second half of the holiday will bring them. Today, JDC Minsk’s employees are getting ready for their office holiday party, to be led by JSC volunteers, Eritchka, Aliyitchka, and Sebastianchik. This weekend, students and university graduated are anxiously anticipating the Hillel Hannukah Shabbaton, where there will educational historical Hannukah content and of course, lots of fun. And of course, the holiday will be topped off this Sunday by a final festive concert organized by the JDC and Minsk Jewish Campus.

Photo 1: The holiday would certainly not be complete without the JCC-Emuna Kokhavim art studio for children's beautiful Hannukah-themed paintings decorating the campus.
Photo 2: Aliyichka hypnotizes Mazl Tov children...

Friday, November 30, 2007

October's Best Babushka

Malka Zalmanovna, 84

Malka was born in Berezino, a town approximately 70 kilometers from Minsk. When the Second World War started, she was evacuated to the Urals with her mother while her father served in the Soviet army. Her father, Zalman, was never heard from again. She and her mother survived the war years, but due to severe malnourishment, Malka suffered from many illnesses throughout her young life and was diagnosed with osteoporosis when she was in her 40s. Malka and her mother returned to Berezino, but they found that Malka would acquire a better education in nearby Borisov.

Between sicknesses and studies, Malka had little free time, but she always made sure to sing and cook with her mother. “We were very close. Like sisters or best friends. I wanted to remember how she did everything, from her gefilte fish recipe to her bedtime lullabies,” Malka said while showing off her golden smile. (Literally, her when she grins, she shows off a mouthful of aurous gold-capped teeth.) “That’s why when I joined the Hesed club in Borisov, I realized that I knew more Jewish songs than anyone, because I had paid such close attention to my mother.”

Malka is now a star soloist in the Borisov Hesed choir. When she sings the songs she remembers from long ago, her small shaky frame suddenly stands tall to accommodate her powerful voice.

Malka has 2 children and 4 grandchildren. None of them live in Belarus.

Jewish Museum Turns 5!

5 years seems like a short amount of time for Minsk, a city which just celebrated its 940th birthday since its establishment. But in a post-Soviet city where communism almost completely destroyed 500 years of Jewish history in Belarus, 5 years of the existence of the Jewish Museum in Minsk is the only thing keeping the community from completely forgetting. The only Jewish Museum in Belarus, housed in the Minsk Jewish Campus, is only one room small, but is filled to the brim with Jewish artifacts, photos, and maps depicting Jewish history in Belarus before, during, and after the Holocaust. The Museum holds an archive of Jewish family names which helps Belarusian Jews and Jews from abroad discover their roots.

The 5-year birthday party of this prized project was hosted by director Inna Gerassimova who founded this Museum before she even received a salary for her work. The party celebrated supporters of the Museum, with the most honored being the volunteers who develop the projects of the Museum by acting as museum docents, text translators, and exhibit builders.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Memorial For “Nameless” Partisan

Oct. 26, 1941: Dispassionate SS officers parade a seventeen-year-old girl, a young man, and an older man through the streets of Minsk and hang them side by side at the gates of a yeast factory.

This was the first public execution of partisans in the German-occupied USSR during the Second World War.

The two men were accordingly identified and proclaimed heroes, while the teenage girl remained “unknown.”

Her picture can be seen in the Minsk Museum of the Great Patriotic War and in any Russian book about the partisan movement, but despite eyewitness testimonies, she steadfastly remains “ne ustanovlivena,” unidentified, in official sources, and even on her memorial plaque.

Despite conclusive historical sources which declare her unknown, many know her as Masha Bruskina, a Jewish resident of the Minsk ghetto who, in her tenure as a nurse, helped hospitalized Soviet personnel escape occupied Belarus to join the underground movement.

A dogged Minsk Jewish community refuses to forget their most famous partisan maiden. The yeast factory where the gallows stood still stands, and this year, a group of Jewish and non-Jewish survivors, veterans, and bystanders gathered to honor Masha’s name, and the two others who were hanged with her, Volodya Sherbateyivich and Kril Trus.

A classmate of Masha’s reminisced at the ceremony about how she and Masha studied for exams together and did their hair together. She will never forget Masha’s thick brown mane.

Photo 1: The plaque by the yeast factory where Masha was hanged reads “here on the 26th of October, 1941, the Fascists executed Soviet partisans K.E. Trus, V.E. Sherbateyivich, and a girl- surname unknown”
Photo 2: The Jewish Masha Bruskina is hanged with two other partisans, Kril Trus and Volodya Sherbateyivich. The sign around her neck reads in Russian and German: "We are partisans who shot at German soldiers."

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bubba-loshn: September’s Best Babushka

Yiddish language has had its ups and downs in Belarus. As the heart of the Pale of Settlement, Belarus was a hub of Yiddish language, theater, and culture. So commonplace was Yiddish in many Belarusian towns such as Bobruisk and Slutsk that it was even the lingua franca of many non-Jews dwelling in these overwhelmingly Jewish villages.

During the pre-WWII Soviet Period, the Yiddish language enjoyed a period of flowering.
By the 1930's there were more than 1,200 Yiddish schools and several teacher-training institutions, as well as departments of Jewish studies and chairs of Yiddish language and literature at the Universities of Moscow, Kiev and Minsk.
Yiddish, in fact, was so prolific that it was among the 4 official languages of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic displayed on the emblem of Belarus, the three others being Russian, Belarusian, and Polish. There were also Yiddish puppet theaters, drama societies, and daily Yiddish papers throughout the Belarusian Soviet Republic and throughout the Soviet Union.

Now, years after World War II and Stalin’s repression, the momoloshn is back in full force in this Mother Land. There are no Yiddish schools or newspapers, but already since the fall of the Soviet Union there has been a true renaissance of Yiddish. Few remain that can speak the language fluently, but hundreds of elderly Jews in Belarus are coming out of the closet as Yiddophiles.

The Minsk Jewish Campus now hosts two Yiddish language courses. One is Shmues, a Yiddish language and culture club organized by Hesed, the Joint Distribution Committee’s main welfare organization in Minsk. Hesed also has a Yiddish puppet theater, Yiddish choir, and even puts on an annual Yiddish-only Purimspiel.

The second is Momoloshn, a weekly lesson headed by one of the only Yiddish teachers in Belarus and this month’s Best Grandma, Valentina Pugachova, who puts her Babushka heart and soul into teaching Yiddish at the Minsk Society of Jewish Culture, also in the Minsk Jewish Campus.

Valentina’s first childhood memories are of her life in the Minsk ghetto. She, like most other Jewish Minsk residents has relatives who were murdered in the Yama pit in the center of Minsk. Despite the dangers, Valentina and her husband spoke to one another in Yiddish during the Soviet Union, determined not to forget their national language. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Valentina has had the pleasure of openly sharing her knowledge with her community every Tuesday night at 6:30pm with other less-knowledgeable Yiddish enthusiasts. Valentina is has two Yiddish-speaking grandchildren, one who lives in Minneapolis and one who lives in Chicago.
Top Photo: Valentina teaches the alef-beis. She keeps her students' attention with her warm smile and bright orange hair! Second Photo: a Yiddish and Russian sign from the "White-Russian Soviet Socialist Republic Government University," which still exists today.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Italy is HERE!

That’s what a dozen signs in front of proud displays of Kellogs cereal told customers in Preston Supermarket’s Bogdanovich Street branch. A recent shipment of “Italian” cereals such as varieties of Special K, All Bran, Frosted Flakes, Corn Flakes is the first of its kind in the Republic of Belarus and is certainly making waves in certain (very limited) circles. Each box is priced at approximately 13,500 Belarusian Rubles (7 USD) and is worth every Kopek if you’re a resident of Belarus who appreciates good cereal and is sick of buying Russian cereals such as Cosmo-Stars and Snow Flakes, which simultaneously taste kosher-for-Passover and look like cigarette ashes. Thanks to this latest shipment of Italian delicacies, Eritchka’s kitchen was filled with the melodious sounds of Pif Paf Pof (Eng. trans: Snap, Crackle, Pop) for the first time since her arrival to Belarus.

So if you’re an Italian living in Belarus and you’re missing the taste of home, drop by Preston Market and pick up a Kellogs box, because like the sign says, “Italy is HERE!” Before you rush to the check out line with your goods, be sure to check out the fresh home-made Polish-import pastas just across from the cereal section.

Gig at the Fall Festival

Eritchka has her first clarinet gig with Viktor Maslov, darbuka, and Ilya Bassin, trumpet. Together they play a funked up Hava Nagila at the Minsk Jewish Campus's annual Autumn Holiday Festival which always falls just before Sukkot.

Memorial Unveiled in Slutsk Brings in Somber New Year

During Rosh Hashana this year, an unlikely community of only 100 Jews celebrated not only the beginning of a new year, but also their heroism of years past. A long-awaited memorial marking the location of the Slutsk Ghetto and its uprising was finally unveiled the first Sunday of year 5768.

The monument, located near the center of town, is just across the street from the original entrance to the Ghetto itself.

“It is very significant that there is such a sizeable memorial near the center, because here people will actually see it,” explained Yaakov Bassin, head of Belarus’s Progressive Jewish communities and a strong voice against anti-semitism in the Former Soviet Union.

And sizeable it is. The memorial ground covers a large segment of a Slutsk city-street. It is surrounded by an unusual gate-like structure made of black wood in an irregular arrangement, giving the observer a feeling of imprisonment in a labyrinth. There are columns of stones shoved in various corners of the gates to symbolize residents of the ghetto being cornered and victimized. These faceless formless stones illustrate how targets of Nazi cruelty were dehumanized by their oppressors.

"The story of the Slutsk ghetto is probably one of the most terrifying in all of Belarus," explained Raisa Tychkina, the Chairman of the local Jewish community. "Ghetto prisoners were burned alive in their own homes and those who tried to run away were shot to death. Only several persons managed to survive these events," she said (

The stones which mark the memorial’s purpose are written in Belarusian, and label the place in honor of the people of the Ghetto. Thanks to the financial assistance of Jerry Weiner, a major force in the Minsk-Atlanta Jewish partnership, and others such as the Simon Mark Lazarus Foundation, and also due to the spiritual guidance of Slutsk Ghetto survivor, Fredrich Falevich, the memorial was erected, marking this previously virtually unknown historical locale. The elderly Slutsk community has finally achieved a long-anticipated victory of building their memorial in the hopes that passersby will now pay tribute to a nearly-lost Jewish community which once comprised approximately 80% of Slutsk’s pre-war population.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Aliyah and Erica: Leading Jewish Belarus to Glory!

The count is officially in: TWO Americans are currently residing in Minsk! Watch out Kazakhs, cause there’s a new national minority group in town! This new record-breaking stat doesn’t just mean more recitations of “beans beans the musical fruit” and other American literary classics, because these two with their amazing yiddisher khokhma are taking Jewish Belarus by storm.

Above photo: Watch as Hillel students ride Eritchka’s and Aliyitchka’s coattails to shtetl-fabulous glory. Just remember: don’t drink and ride!

Ktiva Ve'Khatima Tova: May you be written in The Good Blog for this year to come

Minsk “Jointniks” wish you and yours a Happy New Year! Even if you don’t follow the integrated lunar-solar calendar of the chosen people, take this opportunity to do some heart-searching and make some resolutions for the coming year. And don’t forget to eat as many sweets as possible, because it will unquestionably clinch you a candy-coated year!

Photo: Jointnik Katia (far right) coquettishly eyes the mouthwatering apples and homemade forest honey at the JDC Minsk Rosh Hashana party while her neighbors are entranced in a lecture on the traditions and obligations observed on the Jewish New Year.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

August’s Best Babushka: Having a Ball

Lena Fruman is exercising her Jewish core with fitness balls in the newly renovated Barry and Merle Ginsburg Community Building gym in Vitebsk. This trendy fitness method is mostly yet unknown in Belarus, but these en vogue pensioners are spreading the rage, while firming their abs, with their total-body, low-impact conditioning. Vitebsk seniors aren’t the only ones flexing their muscles with chic workouts. Come to Minsk, where Hesed Rachamim’s golden-agers attend dance and pilates classes in the Minsk Jewish Campus. So for those optimum abs, buns, and thighs, it’s best to keep with the Jewish Belarusian Babushkas, who stay on the move with the latest fitness trends.

Monday, August 20, 2007

July's Best Bab- Dancing Queen: Irina Bukhel

This pioneering pensioner was one of the first to join Vitebsk Hesed’s dance troupe. “As soon as I heard about the club, I made sure my name was at the top of the sign up sheet,” said the 77 year-old. Affectionately called the Vitebskie Devchata, or Gals of Vitebsk, the group currently has 15 regular members who come together twice-a-week in the Barry and Merle Ginsburg Community Building in Vitebsk to practice eye-popping dances which never betray the ladys’ ages. “We make all of our costumes ourselves,” Irina proudly explained displaying her blue and white gown and crocheted bonnet. “We gals are proof to the world that grandmas can move!”

Top Photo: Irina poses in one of her fur hats after rehearsal. "I have a much bigger one," she says. Bottom Photo: Irina in motion!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Camp Raduga: People with Limits Push the Boundaries

To the average Minsk resident, traveling a mere one kilometer outside the city is no major escapade. But to participants and organizers of the Raduga camp, that kilometer is for some, an achievement of a lifetime. Raduga, Russian for rainbow, is a club for young Jewish adults living with psychological and physical disabilities. The club is organized by Hesed Rachamim, Minsk’s main Jewish welfare organization, and meets at the Minsk Jewish campus twice a week.

The main activities of Raduga aim toward the integration and social adaptation of its members, especially working on building confidence, independence, and Jewish identity through cooking, arts and crafts, theater, and physical fitness.

“For urban Belarusians, the summer is a time to escape from work and the stresses of city life. However, for individuals suffering from severe disabilities, it can be virtually impossible to leave the apartment, let alone the city,” explained Lena Efremenko, year-round Raduga social worker. For this reason, the Raduga camp, which provided transportation accessible to individuals with special needs, is liberation from the monotony of the rest of the year. “Especially for young people trapped at home all summer, this gives them a release,” Efremenko added.

The camp is located in Terassova, a small village dominated by a large church. The house in which the campers are living is specifically designed for retreats for disabled individuals, and the house itself is in fact owned by the church. “Icons are apparent throughout the rooms, but the staff here is understanding and lets us put up our own Jewish symbols around the house,” Lena illustrated, pointing to the large “Grace After Meals” poster. “We face no trouble here with displaying our Jewishness.”

The camp is run in two 10-day shifts, with about 20 people per shift, including some mothers who accompany their acutely dependent children.

An important part of camp is of course, the physical element. For that, Raduga staff brought in Boris Bachkovsky, who has made a career of competing himself and training others in competitions for the disabled. He holds the title for world champion of wheelchair dancing, and his is currently preparing a Raduga delegation to compete in this year’s Special Olympics games in Shanghai. Boris designed games that encompassed the both the fitness and emotional aspects of sports, giving campers an opportunity to test their limits, and feel proud of their success.

The camp also offers cooking, painting, and of course singalongs around the bonfire.

To an outside observer of the camp, what is immediately visible might be the tragic stories of helpless individuals facing a dead end on the road of life. But to Lena, these youngsters represent improvement and potential. “I have been working with these young people for years now, and it is amazing to see how much progress some have made since they joined the group.” Pointing to a conspicuously cheerful brunette playing horseshoes with another camper, she expanded, “Natasha over there was in a wheel chair at last year’s camp. She and her family had despaired of any possible improvement in her condition, and Natasha always had a dejected look on her face. Now look at her. She is literally standing on her own two feet and is so happy about it.”

The first shift of Raduga camp ended with a song session around the bonfire. They sang Soviet marches, children’s songs, and pop. The song before bedtime was “Shalom al Yisrael,” and although not everyone could pronounce the words, everyone was singing, rejoicing in their emerging personalities, abilities, and challenges they face ahead.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

June’s Best Babushka: Founding Baba, Sonia Filkova

This Babushka is one of the 4 founding mothers of the post-Soviet Belarusian Jewish community. Before any Jewish organization had been established in Minsk, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, Sonia taught the Belarusian yingele in the only Jewish Sunday school of the time. Sonia and the others kept their full-time jobs while working as full-time volunteers in the Jewish community. When the JDC sent their first emissary to Belarus after the fall of the Soviet Union, he discovered these four women had already created a basic community infrastructure, but it was in need of assistance. Since she was so wonderful with children, she was offered the position of director of the as-of-yet non-existant local JCC, JCC Emuna. Since then, Sonia has been invaluable in creating programs for Jewish children across the Republic. Sonia loves eating chocolates and cakes as much as she likes distributing them to her JCC children. Once you talk to this Baba, you’ll find that you’ll get a sweet tooth for more of her.

Sonia has one grandson who participates in programming in the Minsk Jewish Campus.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Babushka! May in Mogilev

You’ve apprehensively waited for May’s Best, but this one’s definitely worth it. Masha from Mogilev was a child when World War II broke out, and she and her parents were evacuated to the Urals. While tumult was all around her, she learned to find inner peace. Masha will tell you that she “has a deep artistic Jewish spirit,” and that’s also why she likes attending Hesed’s jewelry-making classes in the Mogilev Jewish Community House. When you meet her, you will indeed sense that Masha’s creative soul can peer out from her fishbowl glasses and read your deepest thoughts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Yiddish Alef Bet

For the Yiddishist in you...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Cornbread Meets Caviar: Atlanta Teen Ambassadors Come to Belarus

This morning Jason Feldman was touring Minsk with his new pal Vadim, and an elderly Hesed volunteer named Garik. But this was no tourist’s excursion. These three had a mission: to deliver food packages for the hosts of the “Warm Home” programs planned for the ensuing Shabbat. The program provides lonely and isolated elderly individuals with a much-needed nutritious meal, company, and the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat in a hospitable home setting.

Jason’s knowledge of Russian was limited to a cheerful “Priviet!,” yet it was enough to bring appreciative smiles and words of welcome from Hesed clients-- old, lonely, and sick. Coming from a world that is completely different from what is commonplace in Belarus, Jason was not impressed with the decrepitude he was exposed to, or so it seemed. He behaved like a seasoned welfare worker, mixing up an accurate dose of sympathy with huge amounts of respect and an encouraging presence. The half-a-dozen individuals Jason visited before lunch will be dwelling upon his confident smile and hearty priviet for quite some time.

At that very same moment, Jason’s peers were scattered all around Minsk busily preparing Shabbat activities for needy Belarusian Jews, bringing the spirit of Shabbat to where it otherwise would not be found.

Jason and his seven associates are participants of a group called the “Teen Ambassadors,” a group of high school students from Atlanta, GA, reinforcing the sister-city bond between Atlanta and Minsk. In its third year, the “Teen Ambassadors” group is a response to a growing recognition of the importance in strengthening our international Jewish support network. This year’s American emissaries are disciples of the Weber School, a pluralistic Jewish community high school which not only offers its pupils science, math, history, and Jewish subjects, but also works hard to reinforce the concepts of tikkun olam, social action, and love for Israel in every facet of school life. The Jewish Federation of Atlanta, Jerry Weiner, and the ambassadors themselves provided the necessary funding which made the trip possible.

Volunteerism aside, an essential component of the teen expedition was the involvement of Jewish Belarusian high school counterparts. Just as important as offering manpower and smiles to the elderly and ailing was finding common ground with Jewish peers on the opposite side of the planet, demonstrating that Jewishness indeed creates common ground across boundaries.

Together, American and Belarusian teens carried out service projects and honored the Jewish dead at monuments in once-vibrant Jewish communities. While most groups simply visit the historical yeshivas and cemeteries of Mir and Volozhn, these take-charge highschoolers donned their gardening gloves and crouched down in the dirt to salvage what was left of Volozhn’s Jewish tombstones. While other Americans were taking a day off on the 4th of July, these teens honored their American Independence by scraping Jewish tombstones clean of moss and clearing out the grass which had long overgrown most of the names of the Jews of the town.

With the help of Minsk’s Hesed Rachamim and Jewish Family Outreach Service, the American and Belarusian ambassadors were split into services routes to assist with the delivery of food and humanitarian aid to destitute families, the elderly, and individuals with special needs. While this work can be difficult for the untrained, it was apparent by the smiles on the faces of both giver and receiver that these pupils had intuitively understood the essence of giving.

On a visit to Kurapati, a Stalin killing-ground in the forests outside Minsk, the young adults somberly walked through the lanes of crosses, led by Yakov Bassin, head of the Progressive Jewish Community of Belarus, to reach a small stone structure stained with red paint. Upon a closer look, it became clear that it was a monument placed by the Jewish community in memory of “Jewish, Christian, and Moslem brothers” killed in this camp. They also realized that the red paint formed a faded swastika. The ambassadors also visited Khatyn World War II memorial in memory of the town which was burnt down with all of its inhabitants.

In a very different kind of camp-ground, the Teen Ambassadors visited young Jewish children participating in the JDC-funded camp for artistically talented youth. The teens were welcomed by singing and dancing campers, who clearly felt lucky to hone the talents that they had not the means to develop. The campers and ambassadors welcomed the Sabbath together with an interactive Kabbalat Shabbat, played games, and enjoyed a Shabbat dinner together.

By the end of their stay in Belarus, the American messengers were aghast with thoughts and sensations, barely knowing what to do with all of their excess energy. Beth, one of the American ambassadors commented, “This whole week has been so different. I really hope I can take what I saw back with me and do something about the problems.” Another ambassador named Ben said, “I did not sleep all night thinking about the family I visited in Cherven. I want to go back and start helping families like this one.”

But it was not only the Americans that gained from the experience. Masha, a Belarusian participant of the program, revealed, “This program showed me things in my own country that I did not see during all of my 15 years.” Dima, another partaker of the program who had attended Camp Barney in Atlanta as part of the Minsk-Atlanta partnership also shared his thoughts about the program with his American companions. “It was very interesting for me to learn about the place where I live. We visited cemeteries, cemeteries, and monuments, and we saw our very difficult Jewish history. I hope that when you come here again in 50 years that you can see things better than cemeteries, and we can show you a much brighter community.”

Although the Americans have returned home, the adventure is far from finished, as is the role of the Ambassadors. Artur Lifshitz, Director of the Resource Development Center in the Minsk Jewish Campus, who has been instrumental in building the Minsk-Atlanta relationship, told the Atlanta teens that “we truly believe you are going to become our ambassadors in Atlanta, taking responsibility, along with us, for the future of the community.”

Friday, July 6, 2007

Live the Belarusian Dream this Belarusian Independence Day!

Honor this dynamic nation with shashliki (barbeques), family gatherings, and a military parade! No Belarusian Independence Day is complete without a giant cabbage leading the armed forces into victory. Uncle Sam’s July 4th fireworks cannot begin to compete with Cousin Ivan’s July 3rd Soviet concerts. Come celebrate the existence of Belarus in the capital itself where the smells of daffodils and alcohol permeate the air!

Happy Birthday, Belarus!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Stuck a sheitl in her hat and called herself a Yankee

If you ask most Americans why the Yankees win as much as they do, you might hear, “because of Jeter.” or a spiteful, “because Steinbrenner is a smart businessman who knows how to buy the best players off of other teams.” or a simple, “because they’re the best.” But on a recent trip to The Big Apple from the Kashabasket of White Russia, Eritchka learned the real reason for the superhuman Yankee success, and that the reason for the success is truly superhuman.

The New York Yankees, or the “Bronx Bombers,” is the most triumphant team, scoring 26 World Series titles and 39 American League Pennants. This professional Major League Team is the most successful franchise in North American professional sports history, consisting of some of history’s most famous all-stars such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio.

But how did this Yankees heritage of triumph begin? And what sustains it? For the answer to this question, let us go back in time.

The year is 1903: the New York Highlanders are born and as little bat younglings, take to the field for their first game on April 22, playing the Washington Nats. That same year, New York was in the midst of tackling an immigration boom, and Eastern European Jews fleeing persecution in search of opportunity were amongst the various internationals arriving en masse. By 1924, just after the Highlanders became the Yankees, and Babe Ruth joined the team, two million Jews had already arrived to the United States, a huge number of them settling down in New York City.

Many Jews wanted to make America’s culture their own, and accordingly, made America’s game their own. The Big City in the early 1900s mass-produced Jewish baseball fans, and even bred some New York City Jews who proudly donned the pinstripes themselves, though not necessarily for the Yanks, such as Moe Berg, Alta Cohen, Harry Eisenstat, Leo Fischel, and of course, Hank Greenberg.

Baseball is the ultimate Jewish gene which can be transmitted patrilinially and matrilinially. With all those New York Jews scattered around the United States, it's not difficult to understand why most American Jews still root for the Yanks. And what other team sells Kosher Carvel soft serve in adorable helmet cups? What other stadium sells Hebrew National and Glatt hotdogs?

When they have enough minyans at a game, the Yankees always win enough points from above to be victorious. Just as the Israelites prayed for food and received manna from the heavens to sate their hunger, so too, can modern Jewry sanctify the Bronx with a grand slam.

PHOTOS: Top- a religious Jew, his wife, and her sister grab a nosh at the kosher pretzel stand in Yankees Stadium. The wife is a self-proclaimed Yankees fan "born and bred." Photo 2- can you guess that sect? Even the chassidim like to play America's sport. Photo 3- Evening minyan gathers in the halls of the Stadium. There are at least 2 minyans that night praying for a Yankee victory, which God indeed delivered later that night. Photo 4- Hungry Jews gather around "Strikly Kosher" hotdog stand in need of some kosher comestibles. Below- Jewish girl openly shares her Jewish love for Jeter. "Even if he's not Jewish, at least our children will be."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Belarus Party Profiles: Hillel Turns 10!

Jewish communities across the Former Soviet Union were astir with chatter this week following the blowout party run by Hillel Minsk in honor of its 10th birthday. This invitation–only bash turned out to be the sizzling soiree of the season, with over 200 lining up along Vera Khoruzhay street to get into the Reaktor nightclub.

Party master, Ossik Axelrod, Hillel Regional Director of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan, traveled all the way from Kiev to attend the gala out of adoration of one of his best regional Hillels. With him, he brought associates Darina Privalko, director of program development in the region, and Yulia Belilovskaya, regional educational director. Other notables who made an appearance at the event include, but are not limited to, Yuri Dorn, director of the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations in Belarus, Yigal Gittelman, Director of JAFI Belarus, Yoni Leifer, Representative of JDC Minsk, and Leonid Levin, Head of the Belarusian Jewish Communities, who was spotted boogying down on the dancefloor with his daughter.

The party at Reaktor also included cameo appearances by eccentric Hillel Minsk ensembles such as Victory Stars' Eastern–style Ashkenazi music trumpet and darbuka duet, and the talented and alluring Divas song–and–dance troupe. Amateur performances by Hillel leadership were barely blundering when they presented their dances and special 10th anniversary song. The Reaktor club stayed open all night to allow Hillel members to express their birthday elation disco–style.
The VIP after–party allowed entry to only the most influential in the Hillel organization and the Belarusian Jewish community. The night that ensued was filled with catered and waited–on guests and dignitaries making toasts to the next successful 10 years of Hillel in Minsk.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Woody Allen’s Classmate: Finally Famous in His Own Right

“No one has ever asked me for my autograph in my life,” a shocked and hungry Lou said in Beze CafĂ© in between bites of his Belarusian poppy-seed strudel.

Lou, husband of February’s Best Babushka, vaguely remembers his awkward Brooklyn schoolmate Allen Konigsburg. But the first time Lou saw Allen on his TV set, it took a while to sink in that little Allen K. had become celebrity-comedian Woody Allen.

That was a long time ago, and Lou has since come to terms with the fact that he would probably not reach the public eminence achieved by his elementary-school associate, which is not to say that he would not surpass his accomplishments. Little did Lou know, however, that his decision to become an English Language Fellow in the Minsk State Linguistic University through the U.S. Department of State would immortalize his name as renown scholar of film and companion to the rich and famous.

This year’s American Film Festival in Minsk was sponsored by the American Embassy in Belarus and was held in the soviet-era Victory Theater. The film lineup features such classics as Kramer vs. Kramer, directed by Robert Benton and starring Dustin Hoffman, and of course Annie Hall, directed by and starring little Allen K.

The U.S. Embassy could not hold back from asking Lou to introduce Annie Hall. Lou spoke of recollections of his classmate, growing up in Brooklyn, and even mentioned that his wife, February’s Best, went to school in Astoria, Queens with Christopher Walken, who also makes a cameo in Annie Hall as Annie’s creepy brother. She remembers eating delicious pastries at Christopher’s father’s store, “Walken’s Bakery.”

Judging by the roaring laughter, the assembled audience, about 1,000-Belarusians-strong, appreciated Allen’s humor more than your average American.

In the above photo: Much to his wife’s surprise, Belarusian students crowded around Lou to ask for his autograph and seek advice.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I Don't Mean to Pop Your Bubble But... IT'S JERUSALEM DAY!

Yom Yerushalayim--Jerusalem Day--is the most recent addition to the Hebrew calendar. It is celebrated on the 28th day of Iyar, six weeks after the first Passover seder, one week before the eve of Shavuot. Although Jerusalem has been considered the capital city of the Jewish people since the time of King David, who conquered it and built it as the seat of his monarchy in approximately 1000 B.C.E., there has never been a special day in honor of the city until the Israeli army took over the ancient, eastern part of the city on the third day of the Six-Day War in June, 1967.

Because Jerusalem Day is such a new addition to the Jewish calendar, there are still few customs and traditions which distinguish this day from other Jewish holidays. However, new traditions are emerging throughout the globe. In Israel, people take day-trips or even hike from different cities through the hills surrounding Jerusalem to the old city in a show of solidarity. In New York, Jews in various communities arrange assemblies and Jewish dances in celebration of the ancient stronghold. In Minsk, Jews from across Belarus gather to watch the Felmans blow bubbles.

In a Jerusalem day show organized by the Israel Cultural Center and the Jewish Agency for Israel, musical and dance ensembles were brought together for a gala festival which was attended by some 500 people. But it was clear that the three-hour show was stolen by the Feldmans, who are known throughout Belarus for their famous bubble-blowing show.

During their performance, the Feldmans, a young Jewish couple from Minsk, convey such sheer delight in their bubbles, that the most crabby-babushka spectators cannot help but crack toothless smiles. Even the usually-austere Israeli Ambassador to Belarus ecstatically reached his hands above his head to try to pop the bubbles the Feldmans blew his way. Judging by the look on his face, Mr. Ambassador will surely establish bubble-blowing as obligatory for Belarusian Jerusalem Day.

Top Photo: The Feldmans steal the show with their bubble-blowing talents!

Middle Photo: Yeah, there was like, some dancing and stuff.

Bottom Photo: Mr. Feldman makes a bubble-chain.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Eritchka celebrates surviving 6 months in BELARUS! After 6 long months of kasha and doting grandmas, Eritchka is happy to say that she has made it through 6 months, and she’s ready for another 6, maybe even 9.

Minsk was also celebrating a victory this weekend. That is, the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 8th, 1945. Eritchka celebrated Europe’s victory, and her own, by attending parades, ceremonies, and cruising along the highway in a 1980 Russian Zhigoolly car to the Stalin Line.

Yes, the Stalin Line. It is a huge tract of land protected by fortifications which served to protect the Western border of the Soviet Union. Work began on the system in the 1920s to protect the USSR against western aggression. The line was made up of concrete bunkers, gun emplacements, and tank storage area. Now after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the line is a military museum located in the territory of the Republic of Belarus, just a few kilometers outside Minsk.

Eritchka and some Hillel Minsk buddies spent the day frolicking about the battlefields, climbing the tanks and helicopters and crawling into bunkers. The rain didn’t stop them from enjoying the field of Soviet Vehicle Skeletons.

Victory Day in the Yama Pit

Victory Day, which occurs May 9th in the former Soviet bloc, celebrates the end of World War II, and specifically the capitulation of the German army to the Allied forces: the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France, the United States, and other Allied states. Although the German Instrument of Surrender document came into effect on May 8th, 1945 at 23:01 Central European Time, it was already May 9th in Eastern European countries due to the time difference.

The May 9th Victory Day is observed in most of the successor states of the Soviet Union, and is marked by ceremonial military parades and firework salutes at night. Specifically celebrated in the region is the Soviet defeat of the Nazi forces in Berlin, which is commemorated through a famous photograph of a soldier triumphantly waving the Soviet flag above the Reichstag.

Because the Nazi defeat also gives occasion for Jews to celebrate, Jews from all over Belarus, around 1,000 people ages 0-94 gathered at the Yama memorial in the Minsk city center to celebrate Victory Day. The Yama memorial is best known for having been the first erected in the Soviet Union to specifically mark that “Jews” were murdered here, not just “Soviet citizens.”

The Yama memorial, erected in the pit where the thousands of members of the Minsk ghetto were murdered, has become a traditional place of gathering for Jews since after WWII. Jews have gathered here for decades for major meetings and ceremonies, and Victory Day is no exception. This May 9th, the ceremony was led by the heads of the Jewish Veterans and Ghetto Survivors’ Association, and Chabad Rabbi Shneur Deitch led the large crowd in reciting the memorial kaddish prayer. Head of the Belarusian Jewish Community and sculptor of the Yama memorial, spoke about the importance of Israel for the survival of the Jewish people across the globe.

The ceremony ended with a long moment of silence, which was broken by the giggles of Jewish children playing tag and picking daffodils from the lush green Yama ditch.