I begin this entry while in the Dnepropetrovsk airport waiting for our flight to Vienna. We bid a tearful goodbye to our Israeli counterparts last night, and today we are in tears again as “our Ukrainians” see us off. The past week has brought up a great range of emotions in every Havayah member, myself included. We’ve gone from great exuberance to deep sadness to, yes, moments of personal discomfort. To call our time in Ukraine “interesting” is a gross understatement. We’ve connected with Jews from around the world, of all ages; witnessed firsthand the power of education; built bridges between cultures; and were firsthand witnesses to a revolution.
Needless to say, there is a lot for everyone to think about and digest, and many questions have arisen that do not have easy answers.
What will happen when group members return to school this week? How will they sit in history class without pondering all that we’ve experienced, felt and seen? Will they continue to form the same strong friendships that were forged during our time in Dnepropetrovsk in such short order, despite differences in language and customs?
What sort of teacher will I myself be when I return to school on Thursday? How do I go back to teaching Spanish literature after such a powerful, visceral Jewish experience? In my advanced class on Hispanic dictatorships, how can I fully convey to my students all that I’ve taken in this week, witnessing the birth of a new era for Ukraine?
How will we, as young American Jews, continue to support and connect with Jews in Ukraine and elsewhere who have firsthand experience of anti-Semitism? After spending time in “the Old Country,” from which many of our families were eager to flee, will we choose to return? How will we view Judaism outside of the American/Israeli lens?
How will those Jews who remember Babi Yar and mass killings live out the remainder of their days? Will they be proud of their Judaism and display it openly, or keep some part of it hidden?
And what will become of Ukraine itself?
These are questions that we will have to think about for a while. We are each going to have to think about all of this on our own terms, on our own time. The old adage is “2 Jews, 3 opinions,” and we’ve proved this to be true in our group discussions. I’m sure that my own Havayah experience is unique, just as every group member’s experience is to them.
Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but having new eyes.” Our time in Dnepropetrovsk has given us each new eyes and a new perspective on Judaism and ourselves. I look forward to seeing how these perspectives change us in the time to come.