So in Moscow....we got up early, but not quite as early as in St. Petersburg. We were able to daven at the hotel which bought us some morning time, and then we went to the synagogue to eat a kosher breakfast, which wasn't quite as good as the breakfast in St. Petersburg....but there was fresh fruit, which was in short supply for us! Over breakfast, we met with Sam Amiel, the Deputy Director of the Joint Distribution Committee in Moscow. He filled us in on some of the amazing projectst that JDC funds in this region, including a great deal of elder-care/support. (Poor guy had the flu and we were all parental with him...)
Then we got what I think of as a pretty cool experience. We went to the US Embassy in Moscow and we had a private audience with the Ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow. I thought it was great that he had time for us, even in the midst of all his other stuff. He sat with us and gave us a briefing on the state of things in Russia, and spoke specifically about the Jewish community. He also answered questions from our very question-y group! He also made an off-hand remark about being Jewish, which we all didn't know and gave him a certain level of credibility in our eyes on all the Jewish issues....
After this, we got our passports back (oh yeah, and we used the nice American-style bathrooms....don't even ask about Russian bathrooms. Sometimes there is one communal toilet paper roll on the wal...so you have to take it in with you when you go into your stall. Forget and you're out of luck!) and went to the Armory Museum, part of the Kremlin. It had all the crown jewels, etc, and it was nice to be out of the cold. Did I mention that it was cold in Moscow? Well, it was. Much colder than in St. Petersburg, but I think this is a function of fluke!
We had lunch at the JCC Nikitskaya, a Jewish community center. We shared lunch with a panel of Russian-Jewish academics, pretty much the only Jewish Studies folks in all of the FSU. They were very interesting and our group had a lot of questions for them abotu the state of Jewish education here in the FSU, but the program was really too long...this was a problem with the food delivery system in this "restaurant."
Then we went shopping! That was cool -- it was fun to be a little bit touristy instead of just educational. I bought some fun trinkets, and many people bought these cool Russian "fur" hats -- use your imagination and picture a Russian hat.
After that very brief shopping trip (and i do mean brief, like 40 minutes tops), we got back on the bus (so many bus trips!) and went to one of the coolest sites we've seen.
It was called a "Family Home" -- and it was an (orthodox) family that had decided to open a kind of orphanage (except it's not, it's a home, they told us). Basically, this one family took in about 40 different kids from all different ages and situations, ages 4-17, Jewish kids who were in the social service system for various reasons. The kids were amazing, and the work that this couple does with them is outstanding -- giving them a home and love. There was an adorable 4 year old named Ariel who was hanging out with us and then we met a pair of sisters who played their domra (http://www.instrumentworld.info/info.php?id=domra), a Russian guitar-like instrument, for us. It was incredible to see all these kids thriving and growing in a loving Jewish environment.
Then we were back at the JCC for dinner with the Israeli ambassador to Russia, Arkady Melman. It was quite a difference from our very formal meeting with the American ambassador -- he was much more informal and he didn't seem to hold anything back from us. Oh yes, and there was some more of that great Russian vodka on the tables. That made the meal even better!!!! (because there wasn't much to speak about the food....oy!)
After that wonderful conversation with the ambasador, it was off to bed with an early wake-up ahead. Moscow is a fascinating city with so much to see. We all felt a little overwhelmed by it all. Insterestingly -- capitalism has come in the form of casinos. They were everywhere with all sorts of glittery lights -- picture shmaltzy las vegas type stuff....anyway, it was strange to see!!!