When I was in Moscow a few weeks ago (yes, again, I know!), I had the privilege of meeting with the editor of the nationally-distributed “VES Journal” of the VOG (All-Russian Society of the Deaf). We sat down for a chat that lasted a few hours; since he is Jewish as well, we had a lot to talk about.
At one point in the conversation, a Russian saying came to his mind, and he decided to write it down for me.
A snapshot of the English-language class at School 22 in Moscow
I know – it’s been more than three months since the events of this blog post. But I still felt the need to write it up. If not now, when?
After visiting St. Petersburg in in the beginning of October and spending five days there (see my previous post on my experiences there), I then travelled to Moscow and spent a week there.
So what did I do for a week? I visited four schools for the deaf. I travelled to the offices of the Moscow branch of VOG (the “All Russian Society of the Deaf” – a national advocacy organization for the Russian Deaf community). I visited several other places of interest in order to meet new people and develop connections with them. I chatted in the subway with two deaf locals. (Flatteringly, they asked me, “When did you move to America?”) I spent Shabbat in the Marina Roscha Jewish community.
Interestingly, the attitude that I encountered with nearly all deaf Muscovites was that of “There are no more young Jewish deaf people here. No more. It’s a waste of time to look for them.”
Visiting the Students of School 31 in Petersburg
As some of my readers may have noticed by now, I am in Russia again. I write this in Moscow, after spending a successful five days in S. Petersburg. I am spending the next couple of weeks traveling in Moscow, and then in Ukraine, visiting different deaf schools and institutions in search of Jewish children.
When I started this camp project, it was with the knowledge that not only would the deaf campers benefit from such a transformative experience; the hearing staff and campers would also gain greatly from interacting with us.
So on the second day of camp, I got up in front of the entire camp and spoke with the hearing boys about what it means to be deaf. I explained how deaf people go through daily rituals, such as answering the doorbell or making phone calls. I also asked the audience if they had ever met a deaf person before. To my surprise, many of them said that they indeed had.
The world’s biggest Jewish community center
Dnepropetrovsk. The name inspires.
Some know the city as Yekatrinoslav. This was once the city where Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson served as the chief rabbi for three decades. And it is the city where the Lubavitcher Rebbe grew up, starting at around the age of seven. (The Schneerson family moved there from Nikolaeiv in 1909.)
During the Communist regime, there was suppression of Jewish activity all across the former Soviet Union. But Dnepropetrovsk, under the leadership of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, often played a leading role in providing for Jewish resources.
I’d like to share with you a lesson that I taught my campers today. I think that you will enjoy it as much as they did.
First, I called the two boys over to the synagogue, where we sat around a table. The interpreter tagged along too, curious to know what we would be talking about.
Instead of an introduction, I simply put a few slips of paper on the table, each with a Russian word or two written on it. They included Rasa (Race), Intyellekt (Intelligence), Pol (Gender), Krov (Blood), and so on.
Then I turned to the boys and asked them, “How is a person Jewish? What makes him Jewish?” Continue reading
Me with Alik, as he puts on tefillin daily in the mornings
Shabbat morning started like any other regular Shabbat morning at Camp Gan Israel Moscow. We woke up, ate breakfast, and the kids went off to play while the camp staff went to pray the morning services.
At around 1:15 PM, all the kids gathered together in the auditorium to participate in the Torah reading service. I came a little late with the two boys (because the younger one was giving me some resistance with changing into something more nicer). We entered the auditorium and took our places near the back.
The camp director came over to us and said simply, “Alik’s getting the first aliyah.” I relayed the message to Alik, who was a little hesitant. We had had a bar mitzvah ceremony on the preceding Thursday for all the thirteen year olds (Alik is 14), and I told Alik that he would be getting an aliyah for himself on Shabbat. So Alik knew what we would be doing, but he was still a little shy at the idea of getting so much attention. Continue reading