Monday, February 26, 2007

Uncle Artur Wants YOU…

To send more HoHos to Belarus!

Thanks to Sarah Edelsburg, a much-needed package of goodies arrived from the U.S. After 6 weeks in transit from New York, a box arrived to the Minsk Jewish Campus filled with Eritchka’s favorites such as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, microwave popcorn, and most importantly, HoHos.

For more information on sending more gifts like this to Eritchka at the Minsk Jewish Campus, please see MJC Contact Info.

First Egalitarian Britah at the Minsk Jewish Campus: Rabbi’s Wife Has Second Baby with Initials AAA

Names. Everyone’s got one, and everyone’s indicates identity, sense of self, a personality. In Judaism, a name is essential to fulfill certain rituals such as aliyah to the Torah or reciting a prayer for the ill, and a seminal moment which marks the beginning of Jewish history is when God changes Avram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah.

Although today the Former Soviet Union possesses the third largest Jewish population in the world, it is still not customary for newborn babies to be given a Jewish name. Recently, however, a pioneering couple in the Minsk Jewish Community—Rabbi Grisha Abramovich of the Religious Union for Progressive Judaism in the Republic of Belarus, and Rabbanit Ira Abramovich, director of JCC Educational Programs and the madrichim school organized a rare baby-naming in the FSU.

The Brit Bat, Simchat Bat, or simply Britah is the covenant ceremony that parallels the Jewish newborn boy’s Brit Milah, or circumcision. Since by Jewish law girls do not get circumcised, the Britah is an opportunity to officially welcome a baby girl into the world.

Until Irra and Grisha, the few britahs that had taken place in Minsk were at the orthodox synagogue on Daumana Street. The only issue was that these events were few and far between, and was not spreading as a tradition amongst the less religious. Now upon the arrival of the newborn Abramovich, finally Minsk could make claim to an egalitarian baby-naming service. The event attracted hundreds of individuals, from the head of the JCC to the local representative of the Joint, and many others, all friends of the Abramoviches.

Upon the birth of their first child, they agreed that all of their children’s names would begin with the letter “A,” and so they named their first son Alexander Aharon, who had his brit milah at the synagogue on Daumana street. Their daughter Alisa Asnat was also given “A” names, keeping the memory of Rabbi Abramovich’s grandmother, Anna, alive.

“We gave her the name Alisa, Hebrew for joy, because we wish that she be the joy of our home. The name Asnat is the name of the wife of Joseph, because we wouldn’t mind our daughter marrying a successful important man,” explained Rabbi Abramovich over the phone.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

While Gas Prices Rise, Belarusians Keep Eating Mayo

What with the recent sky-rocketing gas prices, you might think that Belarusians would find this to be a good time to be frugal. But on a recent trip to the Korona supermarket in Minsk, Eritchka realized that Belarusians were taking the carpe diem approach to life. Instead of cutting back on unneeded items, residents of the Republic were displaying signs of increasing decadence. There, in the supermarket, stood a testament to this escalation of self-indulgence: a new section devoted entirely to different varieties of mayonnaise. Eritchka was shocked upon seeing such depravity from such a disciplined people, but then realized that each nation has its Achilles’ heel, and Belarusians were simply powerless in the face of Hellman’s.

In the Above Photo: the “Mayonnaise” section of the Korona supermarket boasts a whopping 50 varieties of mayo and can be found between “Produce” and “Meat.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Beaver and the Jew: Reunited As in Days of Yore

Its fur is dark brown. It has a rounded head, a large flat paddle-shaped tail and webbed hind feet.

For hundreds of years, the Berezina River was filled with blissful beavers nibbling on water-lilies awash in their river lodges. Beaver-trappers settled the region 500 years ago and started hunting the beaver for its meat and fur, drastically altering the beaver’s harmonious lifestyle. As more beaver-trappers settled along the riverbanks, they decided to call their new dwelling place “Bobruisk,” named after their source of income, the babyor, Russian for beaver.

As Bobruisk grew in size and affluence, traders and smiths were drawn to the area to establish themselves. Many of those that stayed in Bobruisk were Jewish because they thrived as trades and craftsmen in the region. This in turn, attracted more Jews and more Jews, until the city became over 60% Jewish.

By the end of the 19th century, the beaver and the Jew were considered the 2 lucky charms of Bobruisk, because both attracted prosperity and both dominated the region. However, by the start of the 20th century, lives of the beavers and Jews were wholly disrupted. World War II demolished the majority of the Jewish population of Bobruisk, and due to hunting and industrialization, the beaver has been brought to the brink of extinction.

Many of the surviving Jews emigrated to Israel or the United States, but many remained because of not wishing to relinquish their “Bobruisker” identity. Today, there is a small community of a few thousand Jews, but Jews living there still tell people that they live in the Jerusalem of Belarus.

Bobruisk Trivia

-Babruisk is mentioned in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode "Family" the character of Worf is waiting for his parents to teleport up to the Enterprise from "Earth station Babruysk" in the year 2367.

-Babruysk was mentioned to be the origin of Valentin Mironov in The Good Shepheard

Above Photo:
In a warm embrace, Eritchka and the Bobruisk-city-beaver pose for the camera. The Jew and the beaver are still considered to be the foundation of Bobruisk.

Monday, February 12, 2007

An Elegy for the Gaon of Vilna by Grisha of Staten Island, NY

As the sun of the third month shines,
Snow melts away,
And the earth is uncovered,
Awaken and revived from its winter slumber.

The bright blue sky along with its warm, flowing breeze,
Helps set the course of nature to thrive,
But still I am inside,
Still not ready to arise.

Since you’ve departed from the land of the Litvaks,
Life for me cannot continue on,
Still lying in bed, calling out to you,
Still frozen in my slumber, longing for you.

Since you can only be found in dreams,
As no longer on this earth can you be with me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Tevye Says “Shalom, Shabbat!” in Byelorussian Fiddler

When Igor Shapiro offered Eritchka to go to the theater, she expected to stare blankly at a stage for an hour and a half while actors made wild gestures and blabbed their Russian lines away.

“It will be a good language lesson, at least,” she thought. But when Eritchka arrived to the Yanka Kupala Theater in the center of Minsk, Igor informed Eritchka that Russian works are actually never allowed here-- only Belarusian shows. For Eritchka, this is an utter nightmare, as in 3 months she has learned at least a modest amount of Russian, but Belarusian, which lies somewhere between Ukrainian, Polish, and insanity, remained completely in obscurity to her. As the lights went out in the theater, Erichka heaved a heavy sigh, wondering how on earth she would stay awake for the next 90 minutes of national Belarusian theater in the Belarusian language.

As usual, nothing happened as Eritchka expected. The curtains went up, and out came a line of men and women wearing stereotypical 19th century peasant garb dancing what looked to be the Hora on a stage decorated with Chagall images. But this wouldn’t be the first time Eritchka had caught herself hallucinating Jewish images, so she tried to tell herself that this was a traditional Belarusian dance. But, Eritchka could have sworn that one of the characters was being called Motel, and then an older woman appeared who was named Golda. Eritchka knew these names. For some reason images of Zero Mostel from a Broadway musical kept entering her mind, and then it dawned on her: This is Belarusian Fiddler on the Roof! Now there was no need to struggle to understand the plot. Eritchka even realized that she understood better than everyone else in the room when Golda said “hamotzi” on the candles, and Tevya wished his family a “Shalom Shabbat!” in a very sephardi accent.

See Topol sing "L'chaim" from Fiddler on the Roof the way Shalom Aleichem would have wanted it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


The Vitebsk Jewish Choir Sings in celebration of the recently constructed Barry and Merle Ginsburg Building, the new community center in Vitebsk. For those of you who do not know about this important Belarusian city, Vitebsk is the birthplace of Marc Chagall, and at the turn of the 20th century, Vitebsk housed 35,000 Jews, more than 50% of the city's general population. "L'chaim," a Russian/Yiddish song is performed here by the head soloist who, even at 81, cannot help but dance.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

January's Best Babushka

Name: Esther
Age: 89
Place of Birth: Shiraz, Iran
Current city of Residence: Jerusalem

Don’t immediately reject this Babushka for not being Belarusian. The overthrow of the Shah in ’79 instigated a steady flow of immigration of Iranian Jews to Israel. Esther, already a mother of 6, decided to move to Israel with her grown daughters and brother. In this photo, Esther is showing off her emergency button bracelet. Although she lives alone, she can find peace of mind with the two-way transmitter which connects her to Yad Sarah’s communication center. A touch of the button on her wrist automatically activates a voice connection with the nearest Yad Sarah control room, allowing her to feel secure as a housebound elderly woman. She received this bracelet free-of-charge through JDC-ESHEL, which strives to improve the living conditions for the elderly population of Israel. This little invention is a triumph of engineering skill which allows Esther to remain Queen of her little palace in Nakhla'ot.