Friday, December 09, 2005

On Becoming Jewish

I honestly have been trying to avoid speaking so much about Jewish related topics here. The reason for this is simply that I don’t want this page to loose either its sense of diversity or purpose. I also do not wish to be pegged as being evangelical, or as might be understood by those opposed to Jews, and we do have them, as trying to be superior. It is just that these days I have got a lot of involvement with the Jewish community here in Pinsk, a lot of my day is taken up with these things and therefore as far as stories go, there is consequently a lot of Jewish stuff.

I must also add at this point that my friends in said Jewish community would have absolutely no problem if all of my personal blogs were about the temple or other such things. Rabbi Fhima after any amusing incident always asks me if there is going to be a blog about it (and frowns if I tell him I am thinking of other things). Rabbi David Altman directly asked me (after hearing about my Sharek piece) to write out a story about a pair of dogs he remembers from growing up in Azerbaijan. And even Lieberman is getting into it lately wondering aloud about our new possibilities for the Karlin Gazette on-line.

So, I don’t know what to tell you; today is about Jewish stuff. I simply can’t help it. So here goes...

R’ David Altman’s story of the black dog and the white dog

We had these two dogs when I was growing up. One was black and one was white. It is not like in America where the dog lives with you in the house, they were just two dogs who always went together and played together and we fed them and they were part of our lives. I think that we gave them names of Alpha and Sneaky. And we loved these dogs and they were with us and we played with them. But you know when dogs are loose on the street sometimes the government kills them. They do this either by taking them away and maybe injecting them with poison or maybe, you know, they just drive by in their cars and shoot them. And so sadly enough this is what happened to Alpha and Sneaky. And after they were killed we were very sad because we loved these dogs and felt that it was wrong to kill them. But, you know, what was done was done and there was no arguing with the government about the shooting of dogs. And so after a few days everything was normal and life went on.

“But then a few months later, we fund that two more dogs, again one white and one black had come to play near our house. My mom, she was very emotional about things and sometimes could not tell the difference and she thought that these were the same dogs. In any case, all of the children were happy to have dogs again and so we all played with them and fed them and kept them for our own. These two we named Belky and Chorny, you know black and white in Russian.

“But then after a couple of months the government killed these dogs as well. And of course we were all very sad because we loved these dogs. I don’t know why they do these things but they do. But then after a couple months, another two dogs came around! Again they were black and white; again they were always together and playing together. We named these Galka and Belly. And it was my mom who said that this was perhaps something from G-d. I don’t want to say anything about this myself. I don’t think anything needs to be said. But you know the government is always taking things away, but G-d, maybe he knows what is really supposed to be. And in the end, you know, he always finds the way…”

Tomorrow we have a double Bar Mitzvah at the synagogue, two boys from the boys school will be reading from the torah and this is a very, very cool thing. Both of these boys attend the Bais Ahoron boarding School, a miraculous entity here in Pinsk. The vast majority of the boys and girls who attend Bais Ahoron come from broken homes or impoverished and abusive situations and gives the children a second chance at life. Aside from receiving both a Jewish education and the required Belarusian state curriculum, the students are also clothed fed and housed by Bais Ahaon and are placed after graduation in situations abroad which will lead to better lives. It should be noted that this is the only predominantly Jewish school in the whole of the country. Egor will be missing school to go to the Bar Mitsvahs.

And speaking of Egor, for some reason he is really, really interested in things Jewish these days. I don’t know where this comes from, but I have been talking him over to the synagogue for Shabbos services and he really seems to like it. And it is odd the things that pop out of him about this. The other night, I was in another room and I was overhearing the murmur of a conversation between Tatyana and Egor. But in one moment, I noticed something strange in the rhythm of the conversation. I couldn’t hear the words you understand, but all languages have their own rhythms and styles and body language, but this little snippet was absolutely Hebrew and more to point was a Brucha!

“Excuse me,” I said to them after jumping up and running to the kitchen, “What did you just say?” Tatyana explained that Egor was showing her what she had learned at the synagogue. “Ok, but what did you say?”

“I said: Baruch ata Adonai, eluheinu melech haolam…”

“Oh…” said I, “Cool. I was just checking.” I thought my heart was going to stop. Yours would too. Now listen, I have never even slightly pushed him for this. In fact, it was he who asked if he could come with me to temple services and not the other way around. Believe me, I am telling you the truth: I did not do this; he just likes it.

Unfortunately though, the idea that you wish to become Jewish is not without its pitfalls and Egor discovered the other side of the coin a few days ago while coming home from school.

An older boy who was with four friends started agitating Egor and his friends as they were coming home from school the other day. And though this is nothing new for boys of any country in the world, this particular moment turned ugly for Egor when the leader of this group decided to attack Egor specifically. Unfortunately to go along with the physical attack was the verbal epithet “Evrai Srani”, or basically, Shitty Jew. The older boy screamed at Egor that he had seen him walking to temple with me and that he was wearing his Yarmulke. The boy beat and kicked Egor who fell in the snow and covered up. All the while a girl nearby kept crying out Evrai Srani, Evrai Srani, Evrai Srani. Egor lost a tiny piece of his front teeth in the altercation.

In the emotional telling of this story by the way, Egor decided to throw in that his teachers had stopped calling on him in class. “I raise my hand to give an answer, but they never call me any more.”

“Are you saying that this is connected to what that boy said about you? Are you saying this because people are starting to see you as being Jewish?”

“I don’t know.” I don’t know either, but obviously in his mind both perceived persecutions were connected.

Interesting situation. For myself, I was more interested in that Egor did not try and fight back. “There were five of them.” Is what he said, but I reasoned that they were attacking anyway and he might as well get in a few good licks as long as the war was on. Anyone can argue with me about this advice, but as far as I am concerned, I would have no argument with the delivery of a broken nose or a kick in the gonads, especially for five against one.

But the next question of course was how this would affect Egor’s interest in Judaism.
“I don’t know.” Was how Egor responded when asked this question.

“Do you still want to come to temple?”


“Ok… you’re not afraid?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Ok… but, you know you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You are not the only person who has felt anti-Semitism in the world. Not by a long shot. In fact many, many, many people have died just for being Jewish. Are you sure you are Ok with this?”

“Yea…” There was a pause while Egor thought about something really hard. And then, “Adam…”


“Can I still go to the Bar mitzvah on Saturday?”

“Of course. But I need to ask: Are you sure you are not doing this just to get out of school on Saturday?”

Thanks again for all of the responses on the BHTimes page.

More soon…


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