I'm clearing out my desk and shelves from the collected memorabilia of nine years in the Joint. And there's a growing pile of things I'm taking with me:
1. My cigar-box covers from Cuba. So the story is ... you can't really "buy" empty cigar boxes in Cuba anymore, because the government is afraid of counterfeiters getting good boxes and putting bad cigars in them. But the artwork is beautiful. And having staffed over 20 missions to Cuba I picked up some lovely art; the cigar-box covers are my favorites. Incidentally, did you know why some cigars have the names of famous works of literature? Because cigar-rollers were illiterate, and they would have the news, stories - and great books - read to them at times. Hence "Romeo and Juliet" and [The Count of] "Montecristo."
2. My Kassam rose. Created by a terrific Israeli artist, Yaron Bob, who was helped by JDC to set up his business. Yaron turns the pieces of kassam rockets that fall onto Sderot into beautiful metal rose sculptures. It is literally turning the worst things you can imagine into works of art and beauty.
3. A bottle of "Red Moscow" (Kraznaya Moskva) Perfume. I kept going into the homes of elderly women in former Soviet republics and smelling the same spicy floral fragrance. After a while I figured out what it was, and then I learned that pretty much everyone smells that way because that was pretty much the only perfume you could buy for much of the Soviet era. So everyone's mom, grandma, neighbor, smelled like Red Moscow.
And because the alcohol content is so high ... well ... we'll leave that story for another blog post.
4. A nametag from a JDC educational conference in Vilnius, Lithuania. There were 1000 participants at this conference - a local Limmud - and JDC was helping to put it together. The conference was in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Lithuanian, with a massive array of subjects. Israeli history, Lithuanian Jewish history, Jewish gastronomy, culture, the weekly parasha, public speaking, fundraising, you name it. It was an amazing experience, and a privilege to see the rebirth of Jewish life in Vilnius.