Monday, February 25, 2013

An update from Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC-Ethiopia

Yesterday we met the next spine group all together, gave them our pre-surgery talk, the parents and patients over 18 signed permissions, and we had a group prayer.

We'll get their Ghana visas on Tuesday, and hope they can leave later this week, depending on ticket availability. Patient Yohannes (far left) is a medical student, so he may take 1/2 the group with him. He's never flown either, but he is more worldly.

I told my assistant, Berhanu, who is flying with them, that  I'd send out these photos with the title "Coming attractions." He is unfamiliar with that phrase in English, and he said "Yes, coming tractions."
Perhaps he's closer to the truth - many will need traction before surgery.

Patient details to follow!

All my best,

Rick and the JDC-Ethiopia team

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

JDC Strategic Partnerships Mission to Kazakhstan and Turkey

The JDC Strategic Partnerships Mission. Somewhere near Almaty, Kazakhastan
Meeting with the Consul-General of Israel in Istanbul

Most public buildings, schools, etc. in Istanbul, need to have hard-hats under seats in case of earthquakes

Istanbul in the morning, looking over the Bosphorus
Aya Sofia
The Basilica Cisterns, underneath Istanbul

The wonderful Day Center at Hesed Almaty

Food packages for elderly clients in Hesed Almaty

Amazing and dedicated volunteers at Hesed Almaty, helping to put food packages together for those in need

An international photo exhibit and competition by young members of Hesed Almaty - the photos were beautiful, and the message of cooperation and recording shared heritage was inspiring

Photo from the competition

Almaty in the morning. Not warm.

Guny village, about an hour from Almaty

Traditional Kazakh cooking class.

Yurt village

Food preparation (there's a hole underneath the pot where you add blocks of wood and build a fire)

Not the-vegetarian-option

Lunch in Guny

Dancing class in Hesed Almaty

Arts and crafts in Hesed Almaty

Singing group in Hesed Almaty

Downtown Astana

A warm and lovely welcome in Hesed Astana

Yelena, Director of Hesed Astana

The Pyramid of Peace in Astana

The Pyramid of Peace in Astana

Astana Opera House

Bayterek is the most famous landmark in Astana. The legend behind this tower as a symbol is that it represents a poplar tree, where the magic bird Samruk laid its egg.

The view from the top of Baytarek

Khan Shatyr, a giant shopping mall complex, shaped like a nomad tent, another building designed by Norman Foster. Underneath the tent, an area larger than 10 football stadiums, is an urban-scale internal park, shopping and entertainment venue with squares and cobbled streets, a boating river, shopping centre, minigolf and indoor beach resort.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jewish Renewal in Kazakhstan

I've just spent the last week in Turkey and Kazakhstan on a JDC Strategic Partnerships/Ambassadors Circle mission and wanted to share something that made a deep impression on me. 

At dinner the other night in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I sat with two young leaders of the Jewish community. Michael  and his wife Yelena are very involved with the Almaty community. He is a building contractor and she is a graphic designer. They're both in their early forties and they both volunteer in the Hesed, our federation-supported welfare center. In Almaty the Hesed also functions as a JCC, and they sit on the Board.

Here's the story: Michael grew up knowing he was Jewish. It wasn't a particularly significant part of his life. His mother actually listed their nationality as "Ukrainian" rather than "Jewish" on their internal Soviet passports. She had lived through nasty anti-Semitic attacks in Ukraine before the family moved to Kazakhstan, which has a low level of anti-Semitism. When Michael and Yelena married, religion wasn't really an important topic for either of them, and in a country in which there are high levels of intermarriage, he thought nothing of marrying a nice non-Jewish girl like Yelena.

But as their two children started to grow up - they're now 12 and 16 - Michael increasingly felt the need to connect to his Jewish roots, and to get his children involved in their Jewish heritage.

Yelena had no objection; she grew up with no connection to anything religious, and as the children participated more and more, she and Michael also started to get more involved. The Hesed reached out (as many do) to the parents through the children. And since Michael and Yelena's generation grew up with no connection to Jewish knowledge or community, the Hesed became their Jewish home.

After some years, Yelena finally plucked up the courage to tell her parents that her children were now actively involved in the Jewish community, and that she, too, was becoming involved through them and increasingly seeing herself as part of the community. It was at that meeting that she learned, from her mother, that both her parents were actually Jewish, and so was she! "It hadn't been important for them," she said, "and they never knew how to explain it to themselves or to me." It's a very common story in the former Soviet Union, where so many Jews were cut off from Jewish life for some seventy years.

But here's the final part to the story that made it all so worthwhile.

After dinner with Michael and Yelena, I sat in the Hesed and watched as dozens of teenagers talked, sang and led discussions on Jewish identity. There we were, in the middle of Kazakhstan, inspired and moved by their commitment to Jewish life and learning. And in the middle of the performance of "Heyvenu Shalom Aleichem," as I was watching five beautiful young women sing in harmony, another young member of the community leaned over to my seat and said, "do you see the girl in the middle - Yulia? With the red hair and the black-brown sweater? I think you just had dinner with her mom and dad - Michael and Yelena ...."