The End of the Journey

It's 9:30 am at Kiev Airport as I await my connecting flight home to JFK. I've been awake now for over 27 straight hours. Having a 7:00 am flight from Odessa, I chose, instead of getting up very early to catch an Uber to the airport, to instead simply skip sleeping altogether, in the hope that would put me in a better position to sleep for most of my 11 am flight out of Kiev and begin to get my body back on schedule (not that I ever fully adjusted in the first place).

Sometimes a trip feels like it went by very quickly; sometimes it seems to take forever. As I end my journey to Ukraine, I feel as though I have been away from home for a long time, and that it all flew by way too fast. It's kind of like my experience with my first daughter's bat mitzvah; we planned for so long, and then all of a sudden we blinked and it was gone.

But I leave feeling incredibly grateful that I was able to take this adventure, that I was able to connect with so many of our partners in the Jewish communities of Kiev and Odessa, and, of course, that I was able to climb my family's Mount Everest, making the long journey to Obodivka to walk in the steps of my great grandparents.

There was much I didn't focus on in my blog. I saw some beautiful cultural performances in gorgeous opera houses and theatres with some of the most uncomfortable seats I've ever sat on. I had some wonderful Ukrainian and Georgian food, without straying terribly far from my diet. I found Kiev and Odessa both incredibly non-touristy in a way that was at the same time delightful and frustrating. And the current exchange rate of U.S. dollars versus Ukrainian hryvnia resulted in prices so low I sometimes felt like I was taking things. A program booklet at the operetta theatre, for example, was the equivalent of eighteen cents.

But most of all I leave with two powerful feelings -

1. I am more appreciative than ever, both personally and professionally, of the miracle that is the global Jewish Federation system. Meeting Hesed clients Konstantin and Irina in their homes, having lunch with mothers and daughters from Project Kesher, seeing the incredible Anatevka project and its Jewish refugee residents, and knowing that, through my (and our) support of our annual campaign, I am (and we are) already actively supporting all of them - whether through an allocation to the JDC, the Jewish Agency, or Project Kesher directly, touches me deeply. What makes it even more amazing is knowing that I could travel to so many other countries in the region, and throughout the world, and have equally powerful experiences.

2. That, if one sets their expectations properly, time travel is possible. The drive to Obodivka was, for me, a journey to a different era. Greatgrandparents who I only knew as being quite old - when I was quite young - suddenly became teenagers walking through a rustic shtetl in a way that felt real and tangible. Standing by the burial place of my relatives Yussel and Chaim and saying Kaddish, I could imagine myself at their funeral...or imagine I was giving them the funeral they never had. Carrying around an old clay milk jug, I could see myself as a young person in 1912 with dreams of going to America.

Except, at this moment, going to America seems very bittersweet. In my eight days in Ukraine, I made friends with names like Dmitriy, Vlada, Inna, Diana, Anna, Irina, and Maryna. I participated in Friday night services and dance groups and craft workshops and warm home gatherings where I was invited back. And, with all my cultural activities, I really wanted to see a Russian opera.

My sense is this won't be my last visit to Kiev or Odessa, or for that matter Anatevka or Obodivka. Perhaps I'll go back with my father. Or perhaps we'll put together a mission from our community. (Please let me know if you'd be interested.)

But, for now, I'm going to go home, head back to the office to speak at our Sweets in the Sukkah Emissary Welcome Program and at Merkaz both tonight (with whatever energy I have left), and start thinking about our Community-Wide All-Star Staged Reading of Fiddler on the Roof, which is scheduled for December 3. We'll dedicate the funds we raise to help those organizations and their participants that I met this past week. And I'll bring the spirit of Anatekva and Obodivka with me as I read and sing the part of Tevye. I can hardly wait.

It's time for boarding now.

And I think the journey may just be beginning.

To life.

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