NYU Bronfman Center - Ukraine - 2011

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Family and friends-
As we rush to get ready for Shabbat with our Ukrainian friends in Kiev, we want to wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and let you know you are all in our thoughts. We spent our last day in Lvov and took a night train to Kiev. As much as we hated to leave the Lvov community behind, we were all very excited to finally get to the capital. We will blog about the details of the last few days after Shabbat, but wish to leave you with some thoughts in the meantime.
After our time in Lvov, the group is beginning to understand how our mere presence and eagerness to help can make such a difference in the lives if the Ukrainian Jewish Community. We know that we cannot fix all the problems they face in the short time we have, but the mutual respect, appreciation and bonds between the American and Ukrainian communities are growing stronger every day we spend here. As we enter Shabbat, we look forward to experiencing the customs and traditions of a Ukrainian Shabbat.

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Lvov, days 1-3

Greetings from Ukraine! Today is our third day on the ground here in Lvov, but we’ll back track a little and fill you in on our adventures thus far.

We met at the airport at 1:45 on Sunday, fresh and ready to spend the next hours boarding planes, shlepping luggage, gorging on airplane food and awaiting the unknowns of Ukraine. We landed in the Lvov airport, which looked more like a mansion then a transit station. We were greeted by Aryeh and Stephanie (Hague) Pelcovits, NYU graduates of 2010. Walking out of the airport, we were met by our Ukrainian peers singing Shalom Aleichem and holding welcome posters and balloons. The warm welcome, bright sun and smiling faces of our new friends were the perfect beginning to an incredible trip.

Our first stop was at the Janowska Concentration Camp, where our Ukrainian peers led a ceremony to remember the many thousands who perished there. It was an intense note to start on, but the memorial enabled the group to commemorate the Jews who suffered and motivated us to take our work even more seriously. After the visit to the camp, the Ukrainian peers took us to their Hillel Center. The center is located in an old synagogue, and the Hillel has only one room for meetings and functions. We felt the stark differences between the Lvov Hillel and the Hillel houses we are used to in the states, and appreciated how hard the Ukrainian Jewish community needs to work in order to provide their youth with even the most basic of resources.

After the Hillel visit, we ate dinner, did an ice breaker back at the hostel, and fell into bed for some much needed shluf.

Our second day began with a tour of Hesed Aryeh, the Jewish cultural center of Lvov. The center is a beautiful space, optimized to help the Jewish community in as many ways as possible. There is a museum, exhibiting the Jewish life of Lvov before and after the war. There is a day care center for children ages 0-4, a medical clinic, dance studio, art studio, library and function rooms. After the tour, the group- Americans and Ukrainians- spent the afternoon refurbishing the backyard of the center. We painted the fence in multicolors, laid down brick on the crumbling walls and painted a mural on the back of the building. We ended with a reflection session, which was centered around a discussion about the meaning of community and Jewish peoplehood.

The day concluded with dinner and a tour around the Jewish landmarks of Lvov, led by our Ukrainian peers. Afterwards, we bonded with our peers with an evening out on the town, experiencing the Lvov night life.

Our third day in Lvov began with group visits to the homes of Jewish community members of Lvov. Each group got to meet a community member or family of the Ukrainian Jewish community, learn their story, and help out on a repair project. We all spent the day helping these community members in different construction projects on their homes. After we finished, group leaders Erica Frankel and Gaby Schoenfeld, JDC Jewish Service Core fellow Aryeh Pelcovits and student coordinators Ariel Ennis and Sam Cohen led another reflection session. This session was centered around the significance and value of short term service trips, and how we can make our group work as meaningful as possible. After the session, we ate dinner and headed out for our night activity, an excursion with our Ukrainian peers to a Russian Banya (bath). The Banya included a sauna, water slides and a pool. We headed back to the hostel for some more much needed shluf and currently await the next adventures that face us in the morning.

Stay tuned for pictures of our activities!

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Orientation 2: Getting to know Kiev

Our Second orientation started off with a one hour lecture from Professor Gennady Estraikh. Professor Estraikh talked to us about the history of Ukraine in the context of Jews as well as Soviet influence. He described Ukraine having a history of “not being a country.” Kiev for the most part was under Russian and Soviet control from the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church until the collapse of the USSR.

Estraikh compared the two cities we will be visiting. He described Lvov as a Ukrainian city while Kiev was more of a Russian city. Russians and Ukrainians do not get along and there are often fights amongst the two groups living in Ukraine.

The Jews of Ukraine are also divided. There are Ukrainian Jews, Lithuanian Jews, and Polish Jews living in Ukraine. Estraikh said the Jews felt their children were intermarrying when they married a Jew of different descent.

Estraikh ended of by saying that Ukraine does have a fascinating history and it is a beautiful country. He encouraged us to emerse ourselves in the culture and enjoy the experience. I think we can all agree that is going to happen in a couple of days.

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The Crew!

Hey guys!!!

Our trip is only a few days away and if you’re anything like me, you still need to pack your suitcase, buy toiletries, exchange some cash, and memorize some last minute Ukrainian phrases (“Hello”, “Excuse me”, “Do you speak English”, and “Don’t shoot! I’m an American!”).  Just kidding about the last one…

Regardless of all the last minute stresses, I am crazy excited to head to Ukraine with such a fabulous set of students! And just how fabulous are we? You can judge for yourselves! Feel free to check out a mini profile of all (well not all, but most) participants taking part in this Kiev trip!  To save you from the future awkwardness of not knowing someone’s name, below please find a picture of each participant and what he or she is most looking forward to during this trip.  Also, if you’re looking to make small talk as we’re flying 4,500 miles to our destination, there is one thing we all share in common: a love for Disney! So what are you most looking forward to in Kiev?  And what Disney character would you be?? Check out what we have to say!


Erica Frankel

I am looking forward to practicing my (very limited) Russian and doing important service work alongside our very talented student participants!

Disney character: Flounder, from the Little Mermaid


Ariel Ennis

I am most looking forward to singing Katy Perry with Ukrainian Polka bands.  This should be a unique cultural experience and one that will undoubtedly enhance the trip.

Disney character: I would be the monkey from jungle book


Sam Cohen

I’m excited to learn a lot about a new community, and to travel with people I know in order to help people I don’t.

Disney character: I’ve always loved Dick Van Dyke’s character, Bert, in Mary Poppins…he’s always having fun and he has such a positive attitude.


Michael Finkelberg

I am most looking forward to speaking with and helping residents of the former Soviet Union, and getting a sense what life is like for them.

Disney character: Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast


Doreen Tivon

I’m (not most, but really) looking forward to learning about Ukrainian culture, especially their arts and food.

Disney character: Miss Bianca from Rescuers Down Under because of her fabulous style and grace.


Yehudit Teichman

I can’t wait to experience what Jewish life in Kiev is like and meet the people living there and get to know them better. I’m also really excited to learn about Kiev before the war and what the Jewish community was like.

Disney character: I would be Pocahontas, because I have always wanted to stand on a cliff and have my hair blow in the wind and to have a grandmother willow.


Lindsay Geier

I’m most excited to learn about the history of the Jewish community of Ukraine.

Disney character: I would be Pocahontas, because I can paint with all the colors of the wind.


Justin Silver

I’m most looking forward to coming into contact with a new Jewish community and helping out where I can.

Disney character: I would be Simba from The Lion King.


Ilana Greene

I am really looking forward to spending time with some great people in a place that I’ve never been before, while doing some good for the world. (is that too short / nondescript?)

Disney character: I kind of wish I could be Mary Poppins. I’m not really able to articulate why at the moment though.


Rebecca Belkin

On our trip to Ukraine, I am most looking forward to working with our Ukrainian peers at the Hillel there and finding out about how Judaism plays a role in their life.

Disney character: I would probably be Sebastian from The Little Mermaid


Jessica Kasmer-Jacobs

I’m looking forward to connecting with both generations of Jews in Ukraine — old and new.

Disney character: I’d be Tinkerbell. I’ve ingested so much Red Bull, I actually have wings.


Michael Kasdan

I’m most looking forward to working with such an amazing group of individuals. Everyone has something unique to contribute and many have continued to inspire me throughout my time at NYU.

Disney character: Donald Fauntleroy Duck


Hannah Katz

I’m most excited to learn about Eastern European Jewry and spend time with some awesome people.

Disney character: I love the little dragon-ey dude from Mulan!


See you all Sunday!


Till then, enjoy some Ukraine-inspired tunes:

Gogol Bordello – Start Wearing Purple

The Beatles – Back in the U.S.S.R.




Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Where the Magic First Came Together: Orientation 1

Hello Everyone! (Or should I say “Привіт всім” or “Привет всем”)

We are all psyched to be heading to Kiev and Lviv only hours from now! Orientation 1 was a huge info session: Who is going on this trip? What is this trip about? Where are we even going? I learned a few things about our Bronfman/JDC trip to Kiev at the first orientation meeting.

1)    One of our group participants has been a member of a circus act! (Thanks Ariel and Sam for awesome ice-breakers!)

2)    There are at least four Ukrainians who make an interesting blend of traditional polka and pop-sensation Katy Perry with their rendition of “Hot N Cold.” Highly recommended: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcoekyMCWzg

3)    The JDC does seriously awesome work all over the world and we are unbelievably lucky to be participating in some of its programs in the former Soviet Union.

We are very excited to be heading out to Ukraine (not The Ukraine) and will keep you posted about our adventures!

Until next time…

Peace. Світу. שלום. Мира.