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.

Den' Pobedy

THE May 9th Victory Day song. Really get into the victorious Soviet spirit with this marching tune! After listening to this, even you'll have to admit that the Soviets sure knew how to make military music!