My last stop on my JDC Odessa itinerary today, and indeed for my entire Ukrainian journey, was back at the Beit Grand JCC, Odessa's newest Jewish Community Center, built nine years ago.
Inna introduced me to Maryna London, the JCC's Program Director, who oriented me to the JCC's entrance.
Above the lobby hangs a beautiful sculpture, known as Jacob's Ladder, the image of which has become a symbol of Beit Grand. Directly below the sculpture, in what might otherwise appear to be a area in need of repair on the tile floor, is a large circle made of Jerusalem stone.
Maryna explained that a legend has developed about the JCC. If you stand on the circle, close your eyes, raise your hands, turn around, and make a single wish, that wish will come true. Inna and Maryna directed me to the circle and told me to try it out.
I stood in the circle. I closed my eyes. I raised my hands. And as I turned around I made a single wish, that someone very dear to my heart who had some recent medical testing would learn of clean results.
And then Maryna gave me a tour of the JCC.
She showed off lovely artwork throughout the building and told me of the process of working with an Israeli artist in the design. We saw an activity room where young people with special needs were being helped with a special Sukkot craft project. She opened up a door to reveal a beautiful 200-person theatre, where young children were excitedly practicing a dance routine on stage. We looked down from an upstairs viewing window on a gym full of yoga participants.
And then it was apparently my turn to become a Beit Grand JCC participant, as Maryna led me to see an art class, and suddenly I was sitting down at the table painting a votive candle holder. It was a multi-step process of painting, drying with hair dryer, lacquering, drying again, painting highlights, and so on, and the instructor was keen to make sure I did it just right. To be clear, while I did my best, painting is not high on my skill set; but we all had fun laughing about it.
For our last stop, Maryna introduced me to participants of Beit Grand's Dereh Youth Club. The teens spoke to me - many with very good English - about how participating in the club had changed their lives for the better; and I shared with them how participating in BBYO as a teen had led to my interest in dedicating my career to Jewish life. As they introduced themselves, one of the teen girls noted that she had met me at Shabbat services on Friday night at Shirat Ha-yam, where Rabbi Gris had introduced me and mentioned my upcoming journey to Obodivka.
As I was preparing to leave, she stopped me and said "Wait, I want to ask you one question?"
I wondered what it could possibly be that it was so important to her to ask.
"Did you discover what you were looking for about your family?" she asked.
A teenage girl, who had seen a stranger from America on Friday night at her synagogue, cared enough to worry if the most personal part of my journey had been a success.
And that was my final Jewish interaction in Ukraine.
As I walked out of the Dereh Youth Group, less than an hour after arriving at Beit Grand, I received a text from that person so dear to my heart. The test results came back clean.
Beit Grand is indeed a magical place.