Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Back in the USSR!

After a long hiatus on my blog, I'm happy to report that all is well in the holiest of lands. First semester is a distant memory. I spent winter break traveling to Istanbul and Petra with great friends. The highlights of Turkey was visiting Starbucks four times and of course, searching for Constantinople. (Pictures and a video are included in those links.) Being let back into the Israel, which was a concern given an expired visa, was also a relief. Surprisingly, I didn't see much lunch meat in Istanbul. My Hebrew is improving and second semester classes are off and running - and my return to the states at the end of May is rapidly approaching. Life in Israel would not be complete without another season of holidays - next on the docket are Purim and Passover. Of particular interest, I will be traveling to Ukraine during Passover to lead the traditional Passover Seder.

I have to raise $2000 USD - to contribute to the overall costs of an $80,000 project. Every donation helps! To donate, click here: Former Soviet Union Pesach Project. Please make sure you specify "FSU Pesach Project Jen Gubitz".


Climbing into bed at 8pm, which for a 9 year old was a suitable bedtime but nearly two hours earlier than usual, the goal was to wake up at 11pm. Usually, I didn't fall asleep at all. The excitement was unbearable. Around 11:15pm, we would pile into our mini van and head to the airport - a 15 minute drive, which at the time felt like hours. I was probably still wearing my pajamas and definitely sporting my hot pink Chuck Taylor Converse high tops. My mom brought her guitar and we had balloons and bright colored signs which we had slaved over in Hebrew school. When they stepped off the plane and entered through the gate, we started singing "Heivenu Shalom Aleichem," dancing, hugging, and giving them food and gifts.

We ushered them off to their new apartment - a building inhabited primarily by immigrants settled by Catholic Charities and now suddenly, a slew of Russian Jews. We kids had one job: to play with their children. All of the parents helped them unpack their luggage and fed them after their long flight. I knew that this new family did not speak English and that at the very last minute, they were allowed to leave their home country, but wasn't quite aware of the situation in the USSR from which they had escaped.

By 2am, we were back in our beds, fast asleep. The next morning, I was usually permitted to sleep in and go to school a few hours late. The previous night was a distant memory - a clandestine event that seemed to take place only under the cover of darkness. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be trapped somewhere and have only a moments notice to pack my bags and escape, but the only image I could conjure was of being sent to my bedroom for poor behavior - certainly not an accurate comparison.

We stood on the banks of the Vltava River in Prague - fireworks, balloons, and beer cans littered the ground. Czechs really do know how to party and it was quite a day to celebrate. In less than 15 years, the Czech Republic bounced back from Communism and was granted membership to the European Union.

Only in college history classes and during this semester in Prague, did I became acquainted with the realities of Communist USSR, a divided Germany, and a locked down Czechoslovakia, among the many Communist Eastern European countries. Many remnants of this time still linger - restaurant menus show food portions in grams, various countries are finally building stable economies and joining the EU, and the elderly faces riding the tram are wrinkled by the bitter realities of Communism.

When I was a kid, I thought it was hard to be Jewish in Indiana. If only I had known.
Not everyone got out of the Former Soviet Union when the doors opened to the West. Given that many Jews still live there, my school is running an exciting program - "Former Soviet Union Pesach Project." With two classmates and a local Progressive Rabbi, I will help lead Passover Seders in Simferopol, Yivpatoriya, and Sevastopol in the Crimean region of Ukraine, on the coast of the black sea. Yes, it sounds more like a spring break locale - but I assure you, we will be working hard. It would be wonderful if you could support the program.

I have to raise $2000 USD - to contribute to the overall costs of an $80,000 project. Every donation helps! To donate, click here: Former Soviet Union Pesach Project. Please make sure you specify "FSU Pesach Project Jen Gubitz".

Thank you so much for your support!