Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Bar Mitzvah Celebration with a Wedding Theme

Shavuos in Chernigov

Chernigov, Ukraine - This past Sunday, Jews the world over celebrated a wedding – our bond with G-d as we received the Torah anew for the 3,324th time. In Chernigov, we celebrated not only a meaningful wedding between man and G-d, but we were privileged to have two Bar Mitzvahs as well.

Before the holiday, a flurry of phone calls, flyers, and text messages were sent out, inviting all to reading of the Ten Commandments and an ice cream party. The children, especially, were excited to participate in the special children’s program. They insisted on coming to the synagogue, bringing their parents with them. Among the attendees were two Jewish fathers, entering the synagogue for the first time in their lives! The men were inspired to join in the crowd of 80 as part of the minyan, and enjoyed a meaningful prayer service.    Then, they were called up to the Torah to receive their very first Aliyas.

The children thoroughly enjoyed an action-packed program of games and learning. They competed in a mitzvah quest to find all the 10 commandments, were challenged to answer questions and receive a key to a locked gift, and were reminded to follow the Torah. Long after the program finished, the children continued to play the Jewish-themed games.

Following the services, all moved outside for a beautiful Kiddush and mouthwatering spread, set up by devoted volunteers. The food was plentiful and tasty. The highlight, for the young and young at heart, was the ice cream bar. Kosher ice cream was brought in especially from Donetsk, almost 1000 kilometers away. All received a heaping bowl of ice cream, which they proceeded to decorate with a colorful array of tempting toppings.  The consensus was that the kosher ice cream was absolutely scrumptious. The Bar Mitzvah ‘boys’ made lechaims, committing to move forward in their Jewish observance.
Shavuos in Chernigov. Meaningful. Inspiring. Fun. Above all, delicious. What could be better?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sailing Against the Tide - A Ukrainian River Adventure

Lag Bomer in Chernigov, Ukraine

The graceful ship docked at the port, and, as each smiling child got off, it was evident on his face just what this cruise meant to him.

It was the end of a wildly successful Lag Bomer event in Chernigov, Ukraine – a trip down the Desna River.

As the ship began its journey, we sailed against the tide. Fighting, against the odds to make Judaism relevant to the modern, post-Soviet era, Chernigov Jew. We welcomed children, their parents, grandparents and friends on board, for an afternoon of fun and Judaism.

One hundred Jewish men, women, and children enjoyed the view and soaked in the atmosphere. They joined in the games, enjoyed the music and the delicious refreshments. Perhaps the most fun part of the trip was to watch the children, the college students, and best of all, the seniors competing in games and acting out themes of Lag Bomer. All joined in a rally of Jewish pride, and the energy brought about by saying the 12 pesukim was palpable.

As our ship sailed back to the port, you could almost hear the thoughts swirling around people’s heads. Yes, they seemed to be saying, Judaism is alive, real, and for ‘normal people’ too. They were ready to take the plunge and become more active in Jewish life. The current was now with us.