Thursday, March 29, 2007

Iyi Ki Dogdun!* Silk Road Takes Detour through the Former Soviet Union

By the 5th century BCE, the Persian Royal Road ran some 2,857 km from the city of Susa on the lower Tigris to the port of Smyrna on the Aegean Sea. This route, which eventually became part of the larger Silk Road, was the staging arena of inter-regional trade and cross-cultural integration spanning from Eurasia to East Asia.

Although this thoroughfare has long since become defunct, and overland voyaging has been replaced by train and air travel, Chloe, a JDC volunteer in Izmir, Turkey, formerly Smyrna on the Aegean, decided to revive her city’s ancient heritage of cultural exchange through the trading of goods.

A surprised Eritchka received a package with a scarf, Turkish candies, an assortment of balloons, including a Turkish-flag-balloon, and a mind-blowing birthday card from Swimmy the fish.

What Belarusian goods will take the return JDC-silk-route back to Smyrna? Stay tuned till May when Swimmy celebrates her own special day.

Above Photos: first photo: Donning her new Turkish scarf, Eritchka plans on starting a new trend in Minsk. second photo: birthday balloons!

*Iyi ki Dogdun is Turkish for "Happy Birthday"

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Between Purim and Pesach

The JCC kids put on a dance performance in the Jewish Campus, well, just because! Can you spot the Belarusian cowboy at the end of the video?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Sports Arena Gained is a Jewish Cemetery Lost

An unusually somber crowd congregated outside the Neman Sports Stadium in Grodna this Sunday. To bystanders walking the normally rowdy streets surrounding the stadium, this seems like a strange setting for solemnity. But for those that witnessed the stadium’s construction in the 50s, the location could not have been any more suitable for a subdued event.
Similar to many Belarusian cities and towns, Grodno had a large and flourishing Jewish population before World War II. By the 14th century, the Jews of Grodno had already established a synagogue, built a cemetery, and owned tracts of real-estate in and around Grodno. The well-resourced community members kept busy with trade, handicrafts, and land-leasing.

Throughout the centuries, the stability of the existence of Grodno Jews vacillated. When times were good, the Jews prospered in their professions and even took in less fortunate Jewish refugees from neighboring municipalities who were victims of pogroms and expulsions. But when times were bad, the Jews of Grodno suffered their own banishments, land confiscation, and from any other restrictive decree.

After World War II, only a small percentage of the Jews and Jewish relics in Belarus survived. The Jewish community of Grodno, however tattered, was luckily left with an ancient synagogue and cemetery to remind them of their rich history.

But only one of these artifacts would remain, as soon after the war, Soviet authorities demolished the Jewish cemetery and built the “Red Flag Stadium,” later renamed “Neman,” over ancient tombstones and graves which were still being visited by living relatives. Many tombstones were used to pave roads, and the metal sign at the cemetery entranceway was used to build a monument of Lenin in the Grodno central square. Some local residents even used the stones from the cemetery to furnish their facilities.

In an effort to perpetuate the memory of the deceased who could no longer be visited, members of the community fought to construct some form of memorial. After years of negotiation with local authorities and collecting funds, the Jews of Grodna had successfully received permission to put up a commemorative plaque.

Jews from Grodno and all over Belarus gathered around the wall by the Neman stadium to mark the occasion. Sunday’s ceremony was attended by many officials, including the head of the Jewish National Cultural Association of Grodno and heads of Regional and Municipal Executive Committees of Belarus. Also present were leaders from the Chabad and Orthodox communities of Belarus, and Mr. Levin, the head of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Communities. Israeli Ambassador Ze’ev Ben Aryeh presented a medal to the wife of a man saved one Jew from being murdered during World War II.

The commemorative inscription reads in Belarusian and Russian: “In memory of the Jewish community, which lived within the land borders of their ancestors since the 14th century.”

See the what the Belarusian Embassy's website says "On the Issue of the Former Jewish Cemetery in the City of Grodno"

Above Photos: The new plaque on the wall of the Neman Stadium; A man stands in the one synagogue left in Grodno

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Purimshpil- Old Country Style

In this segment of a purm play performed by elderly Jews of Minsk, King Ahashverosh laments the loss of his ex-wife, Vashti, until he falls in love with the beautiful Jewess, Esther. Don't forget to check out the costumes of the choir singers!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Purim Project: Hillel Minsk Gearing Up for Atlanta Invasion

Over two thousand years ago, the Jews of Persia equipped themselves to thwart away the troops of the evil Haman. In honor of their bravery, this Purim, Jews in Minsk are preparing themselves for a more festive foray—the arrival of a group of Jewish students from Atlanta.

Emory University is sending its 10 most adventurous Jewish undergraduates to Belarus to pair up with 10 members of JDC-supported Hillel Minsk. Together, the group will be “Purim Postmen,” delivering the joy of Purim throughout Belarus. The delegation will be distributing mishloach manot to Jewish children, and will bring presents to low-income families and to the elderly. Last year’s special messengers collectively visited over 60 homes. This year, the couriers are aiming for more than 70.

“It’s always great to see that people want to be volunteers and like to be volunteers and are willing to spend 12 hours a day doing this,” explains Hillel Minsk director, Maxim Yudin. “Our students are motivated by meeting the Americans and we find that the Minsk students in past years have continued volunteering. And for the Americans, it is also an emotional experience and a way for them to become more involved in Jewish life at home.”

After last year’s Purim Project participants returned to Emory University, they organized a fundraising project which raised $3,000. The money will go to low-income families in Minsk who are clients of the JDC-funded Jewish Family Outreach Service. Hillel Minsk volunteers are working together with JFOS professionals to asses which families can benefit most from this support and how it will be distributed.

Besides delivering gifts, the Purim Postmen will be packing food parcels and humanitarian aid items from World Jewish Relief and distributing them to needy families and individuals in their homes. In addition, they will be attending the annual JAFI Purimspiel in Vitebsk, and are organizing a Purim carnival at the Minsk Jewish Campus for the Jewish youth of Minsk.

“We hope this will motivate more partnership between Minsk and Emory students-- maybe by sending madrichim from Minsk to participate in Atlanta Jewish summer programs, or by bringing students from Atlanta here to take part in our Jewish camps. Both the Americans and Minsk Jews really learn a lot and benefit from the exchange.”
For more on Purim happenings in the Minsk Jewish Campus, please see MJC Website.

Above Photos: Hillel Minsk director, Maxim Yudin, tries on his new armor to prep for the mission from Atlanta; Planning Committee makes a toast to the success of their partnership with the Atlanta group.

HAPPY PURIM! or, A Recipe that Really Captures Haman's Ear Flavor

In an ambitious attempt to provide the Minsk Jewish Campus with traditional hamentashen, Eritchka, along with her faithful assistants Olga Tseitlina and Ksenya Sosnovskaya carried the ingredients and spent hours slaving over kilos of dough to make a variety of hamentashen favorites such as strawberry and chocolate, and the least favorite among young American Jews, the mohn, or poppy-seed-flavored tash. Olga, Ksenya and Eritchka, wide-eyed and excited to taste the final product, took generous handfuls of tashen, stuffed their mouths and could not hide their facial expressions upon having this unanimous Purim revelation:

There is an important difference between Baking Soda and Baking Powder. Don't believe me? Replace baking powder with baking soda in your favorite hamentashen recipe, and you too can capture the real flavor of Haman's ears with poppy seeds! Don't have a recipe? Here's the one Olga, Ksenya and Eritchka used:


3 eggs
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups flour (approximately)

1/2 lb poppy seeds
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

HAMANTASCHEN: Combine the ingredients in the order given, using enough flour to make a soft dough which is not sticky Let stand 15 minutes. Divide dough into 4 parts. Roll to 1/4" thickness on a floured board. Cut in 4" circles. Place a tsp of desired filling in the center of each circle. Form triangles by folding the sides in towards the middle. Brush with beaten egg. Bake on a lightly greased baking sheet at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Above Photos: Olga, Ksenya, and Eritchka say, "These are GROSS!"

Friday, March 2, 2007

Yama Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

Today, hundreds gathered in the rain to honor the memory of 5,000 prisoners of the Minsk ghetto who were brutally murdered by Nazis on this day 65 years ago. The ceremony was held in the Yama pit, where victims were forced to dig their own mass-grave, were shot by the Nazis and thrown into the pit. This site, where many victims were buried alive in whirlwind of extermination, is now surrounded by modern residential buildings. Mr. Leonid Levin, architect, head of the Minsk Jewish Community and Director of the Belarusian Union of Jewish Communities, along with other artists, erected a memorial in the pit in honor of the deceased.

Michail Treister, Chair of the Belarusian Association of Former Jewish Ghetto and Nazi Camps Prisoners emceed the event. Among those who attended were Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, Israeli Ambassador to Belarus, Jonathan M. Moore, Counselor and Deputy Chief of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, and Latvian Ambassador to Belarus, Maira Mora. Youth members of JCC “Emuna” recited Holocaust poetry, and Rabbi Grisha Abramovich of the Progressive Community recited Av Harachamim, the prayer for martyred Jews.
After the ceremony, diplomats, honorees, veterans, survivors, children, and Jewish community professionals lined up to place wreaths, bouquets, or even single flowers on the memorial to offer their respects to those that were lost.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

February's Best Babushka

Name: Rena Pinkett
Previously of Vorhees, NJ, now of Minsk, Belarus

When Rena’s husband Lou found out that he would be the Minsk elf, English Language Fellow with the U.S. Dept. of State, he jumped at the exciting cultural opportunity. Anxious to get in touch with a Jewish community, Rena sent an email to the Joint wondering if there was a community and offered her volunteering services. Little did she know that she would be responded to with a flood of excited community members ready to welcome her and her husband into the team. Since then, Rena and Lou have become regulars at the Minsk Jewish Campus assisting with proposal-writing and attending programs.

Rena’s paternal grandparents were born and raised in Minsk, and she really looks like a native in her black and magenta winter coat and matching mittens.

Rena and Lou have 4 grandchildren: Mandy, Samantha, Barry, and Evan.

Above Photo: Rena poses in her apartment atop the their "Corn" tower. There are five "Corns" in Minsk.
Photo on Right: The view of one of the sunnier days in Minsk from the Pinkett window. Can you find a Corn building?