Bookmark and Share

Last Day in Dnep—And ½ Day in Vienna

Posted: April 30, 2012

This morning our first stop was gender-segregated.  The women visited the mikvah and the men visited the Sofer Scribal Arts where men are learning to write torahs that will be sent to many countries of the former Soviet Union.  It’s another great example of how the Jewish community in Dnep has become so strong that it can spread its impact to rebuilding Jewish life throughout the FSU. 

The mikveh was absolutely beautiful—more like a spa than anything else (except perhaps for the gorgeous mikveh in Newton—Anita you would have been so proud to hear the Boston women telling our tour guide that the one in Dnep is so beautiful and meaningful that it compares with Mayim Hayim!!)  The tour was given by Channi, the rebitzen, who spoke articulately about the function of the mikveh and the beauty it creates in the lives of those who subscribe to its rules. The ritual complete immersion in water is cleansing and spiritual and is often followed by a manicure and pedicure and other things to make the woman feel attractive.  She emphasized the special quality of love when it’s not always available.  Her practice indeed creates richness in her life. It was a privilege to gain some personal insight as well as to see this beautiful, woman-nourishing space.

Then off to Beit Tzindikht—a preschool where 80 children have day care and learning to prepare them for school.  The ages range from 2-6 and needless to say, the children were adorable.  Some of the classes are Hebrew immersion, while others are in Russian.  They proudly described their school as meeting all the requirements of Ukrainian school while layering on top the best practices from the United States and Israel.  The teachers we saw were dedicated and loving.

Naturally, they fed us a huge lunch and we discussed the latest intelligence about the bombings.  The current thinking is that it was related to the upcoming European soccer tournament to be held in Ukraine and Poland.  Some Ukrainians are threatening to disrupt the games, and this was a warning.

Then en route to the airport, we stopped at an old Jewish cemetery where 90,000 Jews were buried.  A few years ago, a developer bought the land and intended to construct a supermarket on top of the graves.  The Jewish community rallied to prevent this desecration, and today a memorial to those buried on the grounds instead graces the landscape.  The community is clearly quite proud of this accomplishment. It signals a general recognition in Dnep of the value the Jewish community is adding to general quality of life/services for all Dnep citizens.

We arrived in Vienna around 4 p.m. and were met by an energetic guide, Gerti.  She took us on a brief bus tour of the city with a walking break at the synagogue and central Jewish community offices.  We talked about the reception Jews have had in Austria—first in a ghetto, then officially tolerated and allowed to move around but not construct any freestanding synagogues, then the very sad chapter of the Holocaust, and now basic acceptance and even a recent willingness of Austrians to confront their role in it.

A few things I learned:

  • Austria is generating virtually all its electricity with renewable resources—hydro, wind and biomass.
  • The City of Vienna is growing in greenhouses almost all the fruits and vegetables needed for city residents.
  • At the time of the Anschluss, there were roughly 220,000 Jews living in Austria;  65,000 were killed by the Nazi’s—a relatively small proportion.
  • According to our guide, the reason so many Jews escaped from Austria and not other countries under the Third Reich was that early in the regime, before the Nazi’s conceived of the Final Solution, some Nazi leaders (particularly Eichmann) decided to make money and invented an escape tax—Jews were able to pay it and leave.  Later, once the Final Solution was the game plan, it became impossible to offer this and so the Jews were trapped and then, of course, murdered.

Tonight I skipped the group dinner to take out my oldest son’s college roommate who is doing an internship in Vienna.  It was fabulous to be with him and hear his perspectives (he loves my son, how could that be bad?), but unfortunate to miss the last chance to dine with a group that has nicely gelled into a warm, respectful-to-each-other team.  It’s very special to be in a group and feel equally compelled to know each member better, to hear each one’s stories.  I’ll miss this particular camaraderie, but feel blessed to have shared a profound experience with people who are capable of understanding together what we saw and did, and caring enough to advance this unique international partnership.

Go back

Add a comment

Comment by Marcia Rosenberg | 05/04/2012

Thank you, Amy, for this rich, informative summary of your trip to Dniep. I loved every minute of it. Can't wait for an opportunity to hear more about the visit in person.