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March 21, 2003 - Image 38

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-21

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

OTHER VIEWS

Reinforcing Who I Am

Ann Arbor
hanks to the generous sup-
port of Bill and Audrey
Farber of Franklin, seven
University of Michigan stu-
dents studying Jewish communal lead-
ership were given the chance of a life-
time: spend a week in Kiev learning
about the history of the Jews in the
region while seeing and experiencing
firsthand the Jewish renaissance taking
place in Ukraine.
In February, we began our stay with
an emotional Yizkor ceremony at Babi
Yar. For many of us, this was the defin-
ing moment of the trip. As I stood in
that place, which witnessed the deaths
of thousands of Jews, it made me think
of how those Jews might have felt walk-
ing on this ground — in their very last
moments, what were their thoughts?
This terrifying place brought me
much closer than I had ever thought
possible to the realities of the
Holocaust. The snow-covered ravines,
eerie in their peaceful silence, will stay
in my memory forever.

Diana Kogan, a 2002 Indiana Univer-

sity graduate, is a student in the
University of Michigan's Sol Drachler
Program for Jewish Communal leadership
and in the School of Social Work. She was
born in Odessa, Ukraine. Her family
came to the United States in 1989.

Even though we were well prepared
to experience Ukraine through a series
of enlightening seminars given by U-M
Professor Zvi Gitelman, I was very
much struck by the great disparity in
wealth that pervades. everything in the
city of Kiev. On the streets, an Audi or
a Mercedes is parked next to an unrec-
ognizable beat-up old car. Instead of a
Starbucks at every corner, Kiev's streets
are marked with flashy casinos loudly
advertising their services.
Huge apartment buildings in all areas
of the city look as if they are ready to
collapse at any moment, whereas private
homes right outside of the city's perime-
ter are not just sturdy, but castle-like.
Half-empty restaurants serve meals that
cost 28 grivna or more. However, for
the citizens of Kiev, this is a substantial
part of their monthly earnings.
When we went bowling with
Ukrainian Hillel students, they said that
they had never been bowling before
because it was too expensive. (The local
Hillel members are college students who
come together to learn about Judaism,
celebrate Jewish holidays and do volun-
teer work in the Jewish community.)
This depressing dichotomy of Kievan
life notwithstanding, Kiev is the site of
an amazing renaissance in Jewish com-
munal life. Everywhere we went, we
were impressed with the remarkable
organization of the Jewish community.

and contributing to the com-
Only 12 years after the fall of
munity in a myriad of other
Communism, this community
ways.
has every social. service in place.
While getting to know some
Every need is considered and
of these students throughout
every group of the population is
our stay, I kept thinking how
served. We visited several Jewish
lucky they are to be able to cre-
community centers, each with a
ate so much change — to visi-
different focus: music and arts,
D TANA
bly make people's lives that
cultural events, family programs
KO GAN
much better: At the same time,
and education. Superficially,
Corn munity
I considered how strong and
without the requisite pools,
Vi ews
motivated they are to be so
gyms, and massive square
positive and enthusiastic while
footage, these JCCs were, at
working
with a population that
first, unfamiliar to us, each
is in such dire circumstances. The
using every bit of space for some kind
insight these Hillel students offered us
of education, cultural or social activity.
into the Ukrainian Jewish population
At night, these places come alive with
was priceless.
children working in the computer labs
For me, this trip has meant many
learning English and Hebrew, as well as
things. We learned about each other
computer animation, while their grand-
and really came together and became
parents participate in a knitting class in
more than just a class, but a close-knit
a small niche in the hallway and their
group of true friends. While bonding
parents attend a meeting or a concert.
with my classmates, I felt the pull of
Walking through these centers, I felt as
older friends and memories.
if the buildings themselves were alive
When my family immigrated to the
with the spirit of these people wanting
U.S.,
I left Odessa and all of my friends
to learn and be a part of the Jewish
behind
me and, through the accultura-
community.
tion process, put that whole part of my
Always present were the Hillel stu-
life in the back of my mind. Going to
dents, who are at every agency learning,
Kiev, and really experiencing it, has
observing and organizing events. These
given me a better sense of who I am,
enthusiastic students are doing amazing
who I want to be and how important
work coordinating and leading dozens
my Jewish-Ukrainian heritage really is
of Passover seders across the country,
to me. CI
visiting homebound older Jewish adults

It Takes A Giant

"How odd of God
to choose the Jews."

Jerusalem

his famous English rhyme,
written by William Norman
Ewer, captures the world's
attitude toward the Jews as a
chosen people.
Indeed, why did God choose the Jews?
Before we can get to this question,
we need to ask another question.
What is a Jew?
Whenever I am asked this, I say
that the Jews are like everybody else,
only more so. "More so" means we are
wiser, we are faster, and we are more
generous. We are more vicious, we are
crankier, and we are more obstinate.
We contain everything every human
being has — just in a larger size.

T

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is an author,

Wrq

3/21
2003

38

historian and social critic who trans-
lated the Talmud into five modern
languages. His e-mail address is
steinsaltz@milita.co.il

And we have more obligations!
Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish
philosopher-sociologist, wrote a book
titled The Revolt of the Masses in
which he says that nobility is best
expressed by the French expression
noblesse oblige. Nobility is not about
rights or riches; it's about obligations.
The higher someone's noble rank, the
more obligations he has.
Being Jewish means that we have
obligations from the moment we open
our eyes to the moment we go to
sleep, from the day we are born to the
day we are buried. They never leave
us, not for one moment. There is no
time in which we can say, "Okay, dear
God, now we'll part ways. We'll meet
again sometime."
Being a Jew means that God inter-
venes in our pocketbooks, in our
kitchens, in our bedrooms. It doesn't
mean that we're not allowed to do
anything. We're allowed to do lots of
things — but always with the notion
that Somebody is there, and He's
keeping count.

rible sin. He said, "Ki am
Take the kitchen. Why
kishei oref hu. Visalachta ... for
should God care what we do
it is a stiff-necked people, and
with milk and meat? Why
you shall forgive ..."
should He care if we eat a
This seems strange. If they
small piece of bacon, a bit of
are
an obstinate people, then
catfish? But He interferes and
why
should God forgive them?
He says, "That: yes," and,
The
Ramban, Rabbi Moses
"That: no."
Why did God choose us?
RABBI ADIN Ben Nachman who lived in
In my opinion, God chose
STEINSALTZ the 13th century in Spain,
answered this question. He
us for our stamina and stub-
Special
wrote
that the verse means
bornness. We are possibly the
Commentary
that
Moses
says to God, "You
only nation that could bear
know
your
people.
They are a
such a great burden.
terribly obstinate people. To move
Psalm 29 says, "Render unto God,
them from one level to another, from
you sons of the giants," because it
one position to another, takes a long
requires great strength to lead a life
time. Because of this, you should for-
that is loyal to God. At times we may
give them.
wish that we could take a vacation
"You must remember that they lived
from our many obligations. Say,
400
years amidst an evil nation. You
between the ages of 14-65. Yet, we go
on not merely obeying, but also trying want them to change? You can't expect
them to change in a day. It will take
to deepen our connection with God.
them years and years to change. But
When the Jews immediately after
when they are changed, the same
receiving the Torah made the Golden
obstinacy will be on your side. They
Calf, Moses prayed to God asking
will
never leave you." ❑
Him to forgive the people for this ter-

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