Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Our Jewish Journey

Matt and I recently started the Heritage class, offered at the DCJCC in conjunction with the Federation. We decided that that it would be a wonderful springboard for our year in Russia.

Taught by Erica Brown, who is an amazing teacher, the course explores some basic concepts in Judaism: the idea of journey, ritual, tzedakah and tikkun olam. These concepts are accessible to Jews on all levels--more observant and connected Jews like us, some less connected Jews, some old, some young, some Jews by choice and one woman in our class who calls herself "a Jew in transition." The material is mostly text-based, exploring both ancient Biblical narratives as well as modern art forms, like Fiddler on the Roof, which we discussed in tonight's class on ritual.

What is so fantastic about the material--beyond the fact that it is so accessible on all levels--is that I am afforded the opportunity to see every scenario we discuss through my own eyes, through the eyes of those around the table and through the eyes of those I am about to meet: the Jews of St. Petersburg.

At our first class last week, we explored the idea of a journey, specifically how a journey can affect change in a person. What struck me is that in the bible, journeys are for those who are advanced in age. After all, Avraham was 75 when he embarked on his journey. And Naomi was no young thang either. But in today's society, it seems that travel--great, sweeping, exploratory travel--is for young adults. I hope that Matt and I are about to do and see will ferment in us an endless quest to explore the world.

I know that the next fifteen months will hold a journey beyond what I can imagine. I know that we will be affected more deeply than those who we seek to help. And I know that this is a pivotal year in our life as a newly married couple. I am so incredibly excited about what is in store for us: both the challenges and the rewards. I can only imagine returning back to Washington after a year in St. Petersburg, struggling with the same feeling Naomi struggles with in the bible when she returns to Bethlehem. I know that I will look the same on the outside, but on the inside I will be a changed person.

This is the start of our Jewish journey. May it be your will, Hashem, our God and God of our ancestors, that you lead us toward peace, direct our footsteps toward peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness and peace. And may you send blessing in our work.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Starting our Adventure

After months of consideration, Alyson and I have decided to do something crazy! We are going overseas to work with the Jewish community of St. Petersburg, Russia. This is a fascinating city--once called "The Venice of the North," it is the most-northern city in the world with more than one million residents. We couldn't be more excited for this adventure!

Last night, we got to know several Jewish professionals from Moscow. We were both impressed by their commitment, dedication, and competence. We even started discussing doing a joint program between the two cities!

This statue of Czar Nicholas I is one of the major icons of St. Petersburg. There are numerous books where the horse comes to life and gallops through the streets of SPG!

We can only hope that the Metro in SPG will be as clean, safe, and reliable as the Metro in DC!