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Day 1 in Dnepropetrovsk

Posted: April 25, 2012

We arrived in our Dnep around 2 p.m. and after getting our bags (they all came through!) we got in a van to go to our hotel.  Apparently they are doing street work in preparation for hosting the 2012 European Cup Soccer (they call it football) tournament—a very big deal—but the traffic backed up so we could get a leisurely first look at the city.  Different than I expected—bigger, more bustling, with some beautiful old buildings scattered amongst many new high rises.

First, a word about our group.  A fascinating combination of people who have been to Dnep before, others never in Dnep but on other CJP missions, and some new to the whole thing.  What unites the group, in our very short time together, is a genuine openness to explore, a desire to represent whichever agency motivated them to come without any sense of competition with the other agencies represented here,  and a warmth and friendliness to all.  I can already tell that it is a privilege to be among these travelers.

We then went to the Golden Rose Synagogue, a completely new structure built after the resurgence of the Jewish community here.  (For those unfamiliar with the Dnep story, in a nutshell: pre-Soviet Union, there was a vibrant Jewish community that dates back to the late 1770’s.  Post-revolution, the government tore down or repurposed all the synagogues and religious practice all but disappeared.  After the break up of the Soviet Union, residents of Dnep sought to reconnect with their Jewish roots. The Boston Jewish community adopted them with an amazing convergence of Jewish agency partnerships.  Today Dnep has a vibrant, growing Jewish community that is widely understood as bringing benefits to all Ukrainian citizens.  More on the specifics as the week goes on…)

We met the gifted, committed community leaders and had a hard-hat tour of the partially-constructed largest Jewish community center in the world.  With no OSHA or other regulations to curb our curiosity, we took a construction elevator to the top of the mostly-built building and saw spectacular views of the city.  It confirmed my earlier sense that there are many dichotomies in Dnep.  Preserved old buildings; newly-constructed modern ones — beautiful new buildings near ones that are crumbling.  The community center complex will have 500,000 square feet of space—it combines entrepreneurial spirit with generous philanthropy.  It will house a hotel, shops and restaurants, community spaces. A new convention center will be built next door.  The leaders hope to attract non-Jewish users as well as the Jewish ones—all the restaurants will be kosher, but will offer great food attractive to all.  With the revenue from these commercial uses, the building operations will hopefully be self-sustaining.

We were treated to an amazing performance by the Beit Baruch chorus—8 women, 9 men—all well into their 80’s. The sound was truly magnificent and the performance top notch.  They had clearly rehearsed seriously: this was a purposeful performance.  They were good and they knew it—and were very proud of their work.  Then, as often happens, the chorus leader (who, by the way, is fabulous and if we had saints, he’d be eligible) said, “Oh, and when they heard your roaring applause you could see that they all got younger.”  Interesting.  Everyone clapped.  But why is that a good thing?  Why can’t we say, “and when they heard the applause they were proud of what they were able to accomplish by bringing to bear the accumulated wisdom of their years”?

We have work to do—to change the image of aging as necessarily a negative.  Indeed, keep your “will do” list of things you’ll master or engage in when you have time—and when you come to live at JCHE, we’ll be sure you get those opportunities.

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Comment by Scott Brightman | 04/25/2012

Great overview. Bill and Lauren are dear friends. Please say hi. Safe travels.