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February 15, 1991 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-02-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

DETROIT

Kishinev Yeshiva: Love Of Torah
And Spaghetti For Breakfast

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM

Assistant Editor

A

5-year-old, chubby
cheeked boy wan-
dered through the
front door of the Kishinev
yeshiva.
"Can you teach me Heb-
rew?" he asked the Ameri-
can rabbi standing before
him. "I want to go to Israel."
The boy was typical of
other Soviet Jews with
whom Rabbi Yoel Sperka
met during his two-month
stay at the Kishinev
yeshiva. Eager to learn
about Judaism, the students
came to the yeshiva in the
morning and stayed until
late at night to study with
Rabbi Sperka of Congrega-
tion B'nai Israel-Beth
Yehudah in Oak Park. His
visit was sponsored by the
Agudath Israel of America.
Located in the southern
half of the Soviet Union near
the Ukraine, Kishinev is a
city of some 750,000 citizens. -
The yeshiva, started six
months ago by a student who
has since moved to Israel, is
in an older part of town.
Like much of the rest of
the country, the neighbor-
hood is filled with drab, off-
white apartments.
"There's no such thing as
making anything attractive
in Russia," Rabbi Sperka
said. "There's no such thing
as creature comforts."
Speaking this week at his

synagogue, Rabbi Sperka
described the yeshiva as a
one-story building that sits
near the edge of the street.
Because of the limited space,
rooms serve as study centers
in the day and as bedrooms
at night. Outside, two dogs
live in the courtyard.
Rabbi Sperka arrived on a
Monday. The next morning,
he began teaching.
The day began at 8:15 a.m.
with morning prayers. After
studying Gemarah until 2
p.m., the students broke for

New students were
so dedicated to
Hebrew that they
would struggle
syllable by syllable
through the silent
prayer, the
Shmonei Esrei.

lunch. In the afternoon, they
learned Halachah (Jewish
law), Chumash and Jewish
thought. Many stayed to
study until midnight.
Rabbi Sperka gave lessons
in Hebrew, which were
translated into Russian.
Usually, he worked with
older pupils; but once, when
no other teachers were
available, Rabbi Sperka
pulled everyone together
and taught students aged 13
to 40.
Some 40 men and women
attend classes at the
yeshiva, including both

students there every day and
others who drop in for an oc-
casional course.
Among the books the men
studied were texts more
than 300 years old. Contain-
ed in the yeshiva library, the
books were in excellent
shape. "I loved those seforim
(books)," Rabbi Sperka said.
The Soviet Jews were es-
pecially eager to learn Heb-
rew, which some had already
taught themselves, Rabbi
Sperka said. New students
were so dedicated to learn-
ing the language that they
would struggle syllable by
syllable through the silent
prayer, the Shmonei Esrei.
On Shabbat, the students
joined for praying and sing-
ing. In addition to the tradi-
tional tunes, they had their
own favorite, singing over
and over "Shabbat, ya
loobloo tibya" (Shabbat, I
love you.)
After meeting for Shabbat
services many of the men
walked home, which meant
a 45-minute journey in 10
degree and below weather.
Those who dared take a
shower before Shabbat faced
equally harsh conditions:
unheated water.
"The water was so cold it
was painful," Rabbi Sperka
said.
Yeshiva students ate
meals of cabbage, potatoes
and onions, some of the few
foods still available in the
Soviet Union. Kishinev has
no kosher butcher, though

Rabbi Sperka with students outside the yeshiva: "It's hard to believe it
could happen in our lifetime."

no one could afford meat
anyway, Rabbi Sperka said.
Rabbi Sperka's wife,
Florene, a principal at Bais
Yaakov, joined her husband
for the first few weeks of his
stay. She brought two suit-
cases filled with food in-
cluding kosher salami, tuna,
peanut butter, meat and
yeast, with which the
students made challah.
One Shabbat, the yeshiva
cook even managed to make
gefilte fish out of the tuna,
Mrs. Sperka said. But
atypical food was typical in
the Soviet Union. Rabbi
Sperka said the students
once fixed spaghetti for
breakfast.
Rabbi Sperka said he
found the Soviet Union a
much different place than
the country he visited four-
and-one-half years ago. The
government now permits
Jewish study and Rabbi
Sperka said he experienced
no anti-Semitism.
At the same time, Soviet

citizens are under constant
stress, he said. "Every day is
another problem. You never
know what's going to
happen from day to day."
Most of the Jews he met
are eager to emigrate to
Israel, he said.
While in Kishinev, Rabbi
Sperka gave a lecture to a
crowd of 150 on how one can
find his past in a country
that has tried to obliterate
much of Jewish history. The
answer, he said, is through
Torah and mitzvot.
After the talk, students
approached Rabbi Sperka
with questions like, "I'd like
to know the history of the
Jewish people" and "What is
the difference between a Jew
and a non-Jew?"
That such a gathering
could even be held amazed
Rabbi Sperka.
Of the Soviet Jews' ability
to practice their religion in
public, he said, "It's hard to
believe it could happen in
our lifetime." ❑

Not All Jews Are In Love
With St. Valentine's Day

AMY J. MEHLER

Staff Writer

uestions about
whether or not Jews
should send each
other cards and candies for
St. Valentine's Day rank
particularly low — if at all —
in the minds of several area
rabbis and Hebrew school
administrators.
"We need to spend our
time promoting a height-
ened awareness about
Purim,"said Rabbi Allan
Meyerowitz of B'nai Moshe
in Oak Park. "That's the fun
holiday in our calendar."
"But if someone wonders
about the propriety of giving
chocolate or gifts for Valen-
tine's Day," he said,"I'd
suggest saving it and send-

Q

Artwork from Newsday by Anthony D'Adamo. Copyright* 1991, Newsday. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

14

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 1991

ing them on Purim as
mishloach manot or matanot
l'evyonim, gifts to friends or
poor people."
Margaret Eichner, head-
master of Yavneh Academy
in West Bloomfield, said her
students "instinctively"
understand that Valentine's
Day has no part in their cur-
riculum.
"It's simply not a Jewish
holiday," she said. "It has
never been a part of our
angst over here."
Dr. Mark Smiley, head-
master of Hillel Day School
and Rabbi Bruce Aft, educa-
tional director of United
Hebrew Schools, agreed.
Once people make Valen-
tine's Day an issue, Rabbi
Aft said, it starts getting
more attention than it
deserves.

"We don't find Valentine's
Day to be a purely secular
holiday,"Dr. Smiley said.
"We encourage our teachers
to largely ignore it."
Ironically, the story
behind what has become the
year's most romantic day,
February 14, began in a
decidedly unromantic way.
Histories of early Chris-
tian martyrs mention at
least two saints named Val-
entine. Both are described as
priests of Rome, and both re-
portedly became martyrs
around February 14 during
the second half of the third
century.
Other theories associate
the name of Valentine with
a medieval belief that
throughout rural Europe,
birds began mating on
February 14. Another theory

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