Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Final Four (Days)

The train ride back from Yekaterinburg was the calm before the storm. What could be more relaxing than sitting in bed all day in your pajamas, with nothing to do except read a good book, watch a few DVDs, watch the passing countryside, and drink tea? Our four-person compartment was, with the exception of six sleeping hours, completely ours. It was a blissful 36 hours of peace and quiet.

Once we got back to Petersburg early Thursday morning, we transformed ourselves into crazy packing machines. We wrapped up loose ends at work: copying over files, sending colleagues last-minute reminders, organizing and labeling documents, helping submit one last grant proposal, completing and submitting our final report (nearly 40 pages long!), dropping off one last receipt for reimbursement, and unplugging all of our crazy tech gadgets in the office. As we walked out of the building on Friday night after services at Shaarei Shalom, we turned in our keys and said goodbye to YESOD, our home-away-from-home for the last year. It was a bittersweet and surreal moment.

There have been lots of goodbyes. We said goodbye to the staff of Hillel last week (before we left for Yekaterinburg and they headed to Odessa for a Hillel seminar) and, in a touching gesture, they presented us with a beautiful silver framed photo of us with their student leaders. The frame was engraved with a message of appreciation that listed all of the ways we have contributed to St. Petersburg Hillel this year. On the last night of our trip to Yekaterinburg, we said goodbye to our Country Director Jonathan Porath and the Northwest Russia Coordinator Daniella Citron. They presented us with a beautiful silver engraved kiddush cup on behalf of JDC Jerusalem and St. Petersburg. The staff of the Ural-Volga region gave us a huge bouquet of flowers and a book of photos to remind us of our trip to the Urals. On Thursday night, back in Petersburg, we had a low-key farewell party at City Bar, where about two dozen of our friends and colleagues came to toast us one last time. And we spent Shabbat dinner at the home our boss, Menachem Lepkivker, and his wife Lilach; at the end of the meal, we had a hard time leaving. The spirit of Shabbat weighed heavy in our hearts as we said goodbye one last time to the Lepkivkers, who have been a tremendous source of support for us this past year.

Saying goodbye to a few of our local friends at our farewell party Thursday night:
(from left) Lonya, Masha, Matt, Marina (in front), Olga and me

We also managed to say goodbye to many of the household items we've accumulated this year, raising nearly $340 at our moving sale. Sadly, we managed to blow most of it on a shopping spree for gifts and souvenirs to help us remember our time in St. Petersburg. We spent an amazing day with our friends Erin and Jon, who ferried us around town in their car, taking us from souvenir shop to souvenir shop, to our favorite restaurants (Troitsky Most and Tres Amigos) for one last taste of St. Petersburg, and to those we-meant-to-get-there-but-we-never-did spots. On our way home, we stopped on the Strelka (the tip of Vasilievsky Island) to see the rostral columns alight and the choreographed fountain jumping to classical music. We were also delightfully surprised by a wrestling match on the waterfront and a group of live salsa dancers. It was a beautiful way to watch the sun set over the Neva -- a perfect metaphor for our last few days here.

As I type, I am sitting in our freshly-scrubbed apartment completely surrounded by oversized suitcases. It's with mixed feelings that we are leaving. On one hand, this year has been challenging, difficult, and isolating in many ways. But at the same time, it was rewarding, enriching, and thought-provoking. All in all, it was a tremendous growth experience for both of us. The ultimate irony is that just as we finally have created a few strong friendships, as we can finally figure out how to work with the community, as our language skills have finally proven helpful, our time here is up. We have but a scant few hours left. Tonight we will see one last ballet performance, we'll try to hunt down one last blini, and then the driver will come pick us up at 4:15am tomorrow to take us to the airport.

Fortunately, we have lots to look forward to at home in the United States, most especially meeting our new niece! We are looking forward to our travels over the next few weeks to Delaware, Philadelphia, DC, Florida, Cleveland and Minneapolis as we visit with friends and family, interview for new jobs, and try to figure out where the next chapter of our lives will take us. Please don't ask the annoying question of where we're going next: just know that once we know, our beloved blog readers will know, too. This we do know: we will have to work hard to make the next chapter as adventurous as this one has been. Thanks for sharing our journey with us. We will continue to post to our blog for the next few weeks, but probably at a lesser frequency.

This past year has been a long and winding road; it's hard to believe that is quickly drawing to a close. We've learned and grown in ways that we could never have imagined. And hopefully, in small but meaningful ways, we will leave an enduring legacy behind. We are truly privileged to have been given this opportunity to serve the Jewish community of St. Petersburg.

Dosvadanya, Rossiya!

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