Why were we not meant to live in St. Petersburg? Well, a great rabbi (can't remember who, it's been a long day...I'm quoting Yehiel Poupko so it must be bad....just kidding!) said this because of St Petersburg's proximity to the Arctic Circle (check out a ...map) the time of daylight is absurd for figuring the time for morning, afternoon, and evening prayers. Why does this matter? Well, we are travelling with a group of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis...hence, we pray a lot. And we do it generally on the clock of the Orthodox. So...today we were up and at-em at 7am, at the synagogue by 7:30am, where we ate a lovely breakfast (but who eats salad for breakfast? where's the oatmeal???) followed by what was perhaps the coolest service I've ever been to.
Why was it cool? Well, first of all, it was a big huge sanctuary, a little like Plum Street Temple (very Moorish) in Cincinnati. And there were only the 30 of us in it. Secondly, we all davened together, men and women, with no one really complaining or saying a word about all the women in tallit (and even the two in tefillin!!!). It was great (well, it caused some problems later, but for the moment it was great). Then we had a little talk about the history of the synagogue, which was built some time around 1880, I haven't got my notes with me. We met with the shul's rabbi, a Chabad rabbi, and he spoke for just a few minutes. Then we got onto our bus, and we took a little tour of St. Petersburg. Okay, well, we got out of the bus once, and took some pictures of a big statue of Czar Nicholas II, the one who conscripted little Jewish boys into his armies. Great guy.
Then we took a tour of the YESOD, a new JCC-type thing that is under construction. This was definitely the Ýour JUF Dollars At Work portion of the show. We all put on hard-hats and it was kinda cool, but still just a building under construction.
Then came a really great part of the day. We were divided into small groups and we went to visit elderly Jews who receive services from the local Chesed (Jewish welfare agency). My group met with a woman named Mariam, and she was 89 years old. She had never met a woman rabbi, let alone heard that women could be rabbis!!!! We spoke to her through a translator, a young woman who works for JDC named Kate. It was so interesting to have that conversation. Mariam lived in a communal apartment, which she shared her kitchen and bathroom with another woman. At one time there were many others as well, now some of the apartments are offices. She was awfully spry for 89 years old and showed us pictures from her recent birthday party. I know that she appreciates the services she receives from the Jewish community, and it was really a blessing to meet her.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. We were all so tired! I saw a lot of things and talked to a lot of people, we saw agencies, etc. We did go to the Jewish Agency (Sochnut) here, and it was really neat to speak Hebrew with Russians and to watch Russians learning Hebrew. What a change from the Soviet period.
Then we had a nice dinner where we met young Russians who are involved with Hillel and the Sochnut. One young lady was a high school student who told us flat out that she was making Aliyah in September because Israel was her destiny. It was amazing to hear her story.
Okay, then we went for a walk after dinner and I have two more minutes on my internet cafe payment!!!! Love you all....more St Petersburg tomorrow, followed by flight to Moscow in the evening. Stay tuned!!!!
St. Peterburg's weather