Wednesday, August 20, 2003

So, I've said goodbye to the people of Nikolaev, and at 6am sharp
Monday morning Anatoly Podolsky, of the Ukrainian Holocaust Center, was
waiting for me on the train platform in Kiev. I think it was really nice
of him to be there considering my early arrival. He is quite excited
about the possibilties we have to work together, and I shall return to

The folks in good ole' Nikolaevskya (this is used to describe anything
related to Nikolaev, it's an adjectivication of the word, if you will),
had nice things to say about my time spent with the community, which is
more than they will say about more work on the website. I spent three
weeks total with the community, the first was at the beach near Ochokov
for the community�s summer camp and the other two weeks followed in
Nikolaev proper. In the end Mikhail Goldenberg, the Nikolaev Jewish
Culture Community director, said to me, "The work you did with us was not
so important, I think. I think it was very important for the time you
spent with our community, at the beach and in our center."

Well, there is much to be said for expectations. I thought that I would
have a lot of difficulty communicating, and that would be alleviated in
part by time spent with Gregory, Mikhail's son. I was under the impression
from communication prior to departure we would have much time to work
together, and that he would be able to help me overcome language barriers.
Well, he found a new job prior to my arrival, and he was available to help
me after 8pm during the week and on the weekends. This made for infrequent
communication; we spoke two times during the work week each of the two
weeks I was there, and each Saturday we were at the Jewish club from 3pm
to 6pm. Perhaps I needed to be more assertive in the communication
process, but I felt the entire time as a guest. In addition to feeling as
a guest I was treated as somewhat of the younger guest because of my
inability to communicate. My nickname, kindole (Hebrew for young child, I
think), was both affectionate and paternal. My ability to assert myself
felt somewhat limited. I think this is in large part due to not being able
to speak the language. I am not trying to place blame for this fact
anywhere other than with myself. However, I had an impression that
everything was going to work out.

With regard to the web project, which I initially perceived as my main
function of the volunteership, there were other difficulties in the
communication. I was given a set of pictures and told they would be the
pictures, and after asking a couple times, I never received captions to
accompany them. I did not ask to make more pictures as they were
constantly taking more. This may have been a place I could have asserted
myself, to create my own images of the construction for use on the
website. After a couple conversations with Mikhail at the camp with the
help of Polly Zavdivker, I thought I would author the text presented about
the construction. I went to some length compiling notes from translated
conversations at the camp as well as impressions I had developed in my
time with the community. I told Mikhail and Gregory that my text was ready
a couple times; although, I did not put it on a disk and hand it to
Gregory with the explicit instructions to translate it. Several days
later, I received Mikhail�s text in Russian, and the last day I was there
I received the version translated in English for me to edit on put on the
site as the main text. They have not read what I wrote. There was a lot of
difficulty in conveying ideas to one another because of the language
difference, but also the timeframe in which conversations took place made
it difficult to work efficiently.

The time I spent with Polly, and the Summer Camp on the Black Sea was a
different experience than Nikolaev. Here I participated in group
activities, like the �Little Olympics.� Polly and I danced with the girls
ensemble in a choreographed number, pom-poms included. At the beach we
played and swam with the kids, daily. I bonded with one parent in
particular over an intense match of chess lasting several nights. I
enjoyed watching the kids sing while Mikhail played guitar to numerous
songs each evening. I took part in several discussions on topics ranging
from Judaism in the Ukraine and America to the importance of an
association with Israel. It was fascinating as a foreigner to try and
explain different concepts. There was also the challenge of making the
translation easy work for Polly. It was good to think about different
aspects of my life in those terms. Occasionally, Polly would go through
the ringer on a conversation, and unfortunately sometimes, the people I
would be speaking with did not regard her as more than a translator. This
was a challenge she overcame pretty quickly, interjecting her thoughts in
Russian. Everyone was in good spirits considering it was their summer
rest, and the organized activities offered something more than similar
programs. This one was subsidized which had a huge impact on the
attendance, but also, the parents knew there would be quality educational
programs; lastly, there would be a chance to emphasize their Jewishness.

It is important that some time in this description of my volunteership
focus on the camp�s Shabbot service. I am happy to say it had a very high
impact on the community. On Friday night, I witnessed everybody
participating in a truly communal celebration. Kids helped bring in the
day of rest with recitation of prayer. They have constructed a candle
board giving most women in the community the opportunity to light a candle
and recite the invocation of Shabbot. It is a beautiful practice. Other
members of the community helped with the rituals including myself
symbolically washing my hands for everyone and assisting the distribution
of Challah. The event was not very long in duration, but the importance is
paramount for the week�s experiences. The practice was inspirational, and
perhaps the members of the community feel the same way. It was out of my
league to try and understand that.

During my second week in Nikolaev (my third week with the community) I sat
through the Shabbot services for the Club of Elderly People. There
celebration was shorter in ritual and time, but the beauty did not
diminish in the slightest. They have other activities for the club
including Tuesday cook-ins for the ladies. Several people contribute to
the groups� celebration, and during my second week I attended the cook-in
for the first time. It was a very special celebration because we
celebrated Mikhail�s birthday as well as one of the ladies that turned 85.
The food was prepared by Maria, who has been a professional cook all her
life, now 90. She prepared the best gafilta fish I have ever had (sorry
mom). I tried to explain this to her as she was leaving, and she was
grateful. The next day I was discussing a Ukrainian dish with Galina, my
home stay�s mother, and she said it is only available hand-made. She
informed me this is a laborious process that she would not partake in;
however, she jokingly told me to ask Maria. I pressed the issue a little,
and she made the call. Maria�s response, �They�ll be ready tomorrow!� I
gleefully accepted the bowl full of cherry vareneeky (think chinese
dumplings cooked in boiling water). And, they were fabulous. Maria told me
to come back to the Ukraine. I think she really liked feeding me.

That�s a good entry point to discuss my home-stay. It worked out very
well. The family consisted of Galya (the mom), Victor (the dad), Larissa
(the daughter), Maxim (the son), and Vassa (the cat). I got along with
everyone except Vassa�s friends; he had fleas. It took very little on my
part to explain that fleas actually bite people. I showed them the bright
red inflamed spot on my leg. This was not a point I was going to stand by
and watch unfold. They were very accommodating in getting Vassa a flea
collar and spraying the carpets in several rooms a couple times. To my
last day they were still in the house, but not nearly on the magnitude
initially. So, back to the good food I mentioned. The family happily
provided three meals per day, and I enjoyed all of it. I have now had
several authentic versions of Ukrainian borscht. I explained when they
asked if I had ever heard of borscht that my dad had made it for me, but
that I thought it may have been a Russian version. Other dishes consisted
of chicken, various meats, and amazing produce. The sun that was doing a
good job of drenching my clothes with sweat was also responsible for
harvests of amazing fruits and vegetables. I had a great fruit called
deyenna. It closely resembled a watermelon in size, the smell was of a
melon like honeydew, and the flesh had a milky white color. The taste was
delicious. I also found a good chess opponent in Victor. We played so
much, Galya kept referring to us as Karpov and Kasporov. That was about
the only time I was honored with any type of Russian status, that made me
chuckle. It was very easy staying with them, and they reported the same
about me to Mikhail. It was comfortable speaking Russian with Larissa and
Galya by the end. It took a little while to be able to communicate exactly
what I needed. Refer to entries in my blog for those references.

Under the circumstances I would say a 10 class Berlitz course was almost
laughable preparation for what I encountered in Nikolaev. I had my
difficulties, and there was much that remains unsaid. I think a command of
the language could have lead to better work in the technical realm of my
assignment. I would have appreciated more assistance from Gregory and
Mikhail. To his credit, Mikhail is facing many challenges with the
construction of his new building, and he did not have much time to spend
with me. My work there did not include the instruction of any classes in
fact they were operating during my time there. Perhaps this was a little
difficult to pin down with uncertainties revolving around my pre-departure
plans, but while I was there they kept telling me little by little that
the club was not operating as normal. This behavior reigns during the
summer, unbeknownst to me prior to arrival. I feel this could have been
better communicated on their part. I had to live through it to know what
was happening. There was very little direction during my time there other
than day to day, and that usually changed on the pre-determined day.

I believe the community is asking many good questions. Personally, I took
very much from the experience. Living with Nikolaevians gave me an
intimate awareness for some challenges they face as people of a developing
nation and trying to promote their own interest as a minority within that
system. The problems I experienced were acute in comparison with my
personal development during the time spent there.

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