A birthday, balloons, boarding school and a bunch of new friends

19 Sep

Life has a way of feeling slow, but before you know what’s hit you, nearly a month has passed and your days are full and sailing by. I decided last week that bi-weekly posts might be a better pace, but as I feel like I now have too much to report, I am returning to weekly updates.  My apologies for the length of this post.

Firstly last week I celebrated the beginning of my 23rdyear of life. Being at the beginning of September my birthday always falls sometime around the new beginnings in my life, but this was the first birthday in 17 years that was not the beginning of a new school year (Though I think I spend more time studying and working here then I did in college. Russian is unrelenting), which was certainly a milestone for me. The occasion was marked with a really sweet celebration thrown for me at the JDC office. Complete with a cake, flowers and gift of some very cool Ukrainian pottery, it was a very heartwarming gesture.

Office Birthday part

I continued my celebration by visiting a very yummy Ukrainian restaurant near to my apartment. I like this restaurant because 1) Ukrainian food is delicious, think carbs in every shape and butter, mmm and 2) its buffet style, so my extremely poor Russian skills can be augmented with a heavy dose of pointing and grunting. Not very graceful but it gets the job done. Overall it was a very nice day that came and went without a big a bang, which was okay by me.  I am however anxiously awaiting the birthday care package of peanut butter and various health food ingredients my parents sent to me for which I am very grateful.

These last two weeks I have begun to cut into the meat of the work I will be doing here. In that vein last Sunday as the big opening day for the Jewish family center Beiteynu, where I will be working with kids from age 5 to 18 doing a variety of programs. More than 100 children and their parents were there to celebrate the first day of activities for the year. Everyone was in high spirits participating in the activities of the day that ranged from a short Jewish history lesson, to arts and crafts, to the activity I participated in, Israeli Dancing.

Opening day at Beiteynu

Jews everywhere love Israeli dancing and with a great teacher, Andre, who actually works at the Joint office, this was a very fun session. It didn’t hurt that it was a nice Indian summer day so we were able to dance in the sunshine. The day culminated with the release of a GIANT balloon adorned with the wishes of all in attendance being released into the atmosphere. Despite my environmental reservations about releasing things into the atmosphere, they certainly kicked things off on a high note.

The folks at Beiteynu already have a robust calendar of events, so this Friday I was able to go along  with several staffers and about a dozen high school volunteers  on an excursion to spend a day at a boarding school for orphans about 3 hours outside of Kiev.  The day began bright and early, and I spent much of the bus ride there listening to two of the high school girls on the bus singing along to many familiar songs in English, Hebrew and Russian. Aha, I thought, English speakers! So I was surprised when I asked them in English about the songs they were singing perfectly along to, they told me, in Russian, they don’t speak English. Funny global world we live in.

The Ukrainian countryside is oozing with charm; I just can’t get over it. From the robust gardens alongside each home, to the gold capped churches that come from nowhere, to the effortlessly bursting flower gardens lining fences and buildings, every view is really a movie scene. The boarding school was also simple and oozing old world charm. The several white brick buildings connected with grassy courtyards and bright colorful flower lined paths are home to the nearly 150 students at the boarding school.


The students rotated in groups throughout the day through the stations set up by the Beiteynu staff and high school students. The stations included photos with costumes, singing, paper bird making (ha, ‘put a bird on it’, this joke did not translate in the least) and sports. Only adding to the character of the campus was the goat staked in the middle of the grass covered basketball court. I was really blown away by the teenage volunteers; they were just great with the kids and by the time were leaving the children were very sad to see them go. It was a really great day.

I also began my work at the Kiev Hillel last week. I had the first “English coffee hour” which I will be doing each week. I had been looking forward to this a lot, so I had thought long and hard about a short video clip I could share with the group that would be a little something from Portland. ‘What is more Portland than Voo-doo Doughnuts?’ I thought. So I selected a clip from the very popular show ‘Man vs. Food’ where he travels to Portland. The clip opened with a segment about the stepping stone café where they serve 13 inch pancakes in stacks. I looked out at the 20+ young adults in attendance and did not see the usual laughter and amusement at these monstrosities, but rather looks of horror and discomfort. The room filled with audible gasps of shock and discomfort. Around minute 8 in the clip of people stuffing their faces, somewhere around the segment about the jelly blood coming from the doughnut man, it occurred to me this is one of those cultural differences that does not translate… Note to self: Ukrainians DO NOT find gluttony nearly as amusing as their American counter parts. Whoops.

Despite my cultural insensitivity, people were excited participants in my activity about idioms and it was overall a great start to the program. I am really hoping to improve my skills as a language teacher. I also visited the Hillel for their lively Kabbalat Shabbat service, which I will certainly make a habit of attending; they have a very vibrant and warm group of students and young adults and really have a good thing going.  In my last two news bits to report, two very fun things: Saturday evening I went for my first time to the Kiev Moishe House. This was very exciting for me because I lived in the Moishe House in Portland before I left to come here and it’s very near to my heart. I will write more about their wonderful home at a future date when I can devote a whole post to their great work.

English coffee!

Finally, yesterday I participated in a global Rosh HaShana flash mob. Read all about it here, but basically these two minute Shofar blows took place in many cities including Jerusalem, Budapest, NYC, Chicago, and Tbilisi, Georgia. Each of the mobs filmed themselves doing a short dance that will be edited into one worldwide video. SO cool and big props to all who put it together here, it was a great time!

Okay, lots of fun stuff coming up, and I promise no more posts this long. Not that you would have gotten this far in reading this if you are of a short attention span, as a close friend said to me when I directed him to my blog, ‘Are their cliff’s notes?’ Takes a true friend to tell you they don’t read your blog 🙂

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2 Responses to “A birthday, balloons, boarding school and a bunch of new friends”

  1. Jane Glasser September 19, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Amy! Your posts are not long enough to suit me. I just love reading about your life there. The pictures are wonderful, too. You are a born writer; work that into your life plan somehow. Those Ukranians look just like us–without the obesity, and now we know why. You could make a zillion dollars if you can package their culture aversion to overeating and sell it here.

    Indian summer lingers on here. We take Gabe to U of O on Thursday; will be a sad and exciting day indeed.

    Sending you tons of love, Mama Jane

  2. Larry Randel October 2, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    So did the peanut butter and nutritional yeast make it there yet?

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