This past June, CJP and JCRC ran a Young Leaders Service Mission to Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine with participants from Boston, Haifa and Dnepropetrovsk. The trip involved site visits to all of the projects coordinated through the Committee for Post Soviet Jewry and two days of service. The trip focused on the continuation of Boston’s Dnepropetrovsk Kehillah Project and the development of a Young Leader culture there. Below is a reflection written by Eric Kaye, a Boston participant from the trip and a member of CJP’s YLD Board.
As much as I thought I would leave Ukraine without a life-changing experience—that I might miss an opportunity to connect with the community at a special level and that getting my khaki shorts covered with rust-colored paint was all that I would take home—I can, in fact, say that it was truly a life-changing week. I can’t put into words all the emotions I feel when I say that I felt at home in Dnepropetrovsk. What I can put into words is that three delegations of young Jews—from Boston, Haifa, and Dnepropetrovsk—came together as one Jewish community during that week.
It sounds cliché, but this is exactly why it was so comfortable to call Dnepropetrovsk home. It didn’t matter if you grew up orthodox or reform, or how much money you make, we were all Jews and that was more important than any demographic or category we fell into. Maybe it wasn’t “home” in the same sense of what home is for me in Brookline, but it was exactly what we want “home” to be—and more. I know that something changed in my everyday life, because as soon as I returned to Boston I was sharing every story I could about Dnepropetrovsk: the people I met, the Menorah Center, the ERC, painting a door at the boys’ orphanage, going for a run, and everything that made it a life-changing week. As you read on, I hope you see how fortunate I feel to have been a part of all the amazing experiences that unfolded from June 16–24, 2011. We need more people to experience this city and the people there.
The last site we visited in Dnepropetrovsk was the Matzeva Memorial, for victims of the Holocaust. Matzeva is near an old Jewish cemetery and was dedicated in 2009, after a construction project for a supermarket uncovered a mass grave for Jews who were murdered when the Nazis stormed through Ukraine. At Matzeva, we said the Mourners’ Kaddish, took a photo, and had some time to ourselves—but before Matzeva, and before we left to go to the airport, two events took place that will forever be part of who I am as a person, and more importantly, who I am as a Jew.
Eric Kaye is a member of CJP’s YLD Board and is the Chair of this summer’s YLD trip to Israel. Professionally he works in development at the Dana Farber Cancer Institutue.