"Hello everybody!! How are you? We are writing from Kerch, Crimea and we want to tell you about some adventure. Its about some road to China on a byke to listen to Rolling Stonne on the Great Chinese Wall. If you want to go with us, please write us. We waiting for your letters. Love Alesha, Nastya, Sasha and Pasha."
On a recent visit to the Crimea I offered to run a creative writing workshop ( In Russian and English!) with the young people of the tiny emerging Jewish community in Kerch, the Crimea. Our synagogue is Twinned with this community and we make an annual visit as well as fund-raising for them. This was my second visit and my second workshop.
I began by throwing a plastic bottle on the floor with a piece of paper inside. Then I said, "What if this was a message in a bottle to the young people in our community in London. You throw the bottle in the Black Sea and it flows all the way to the Thames in London and our teens pick it up. What would you say to them?"
I had a translator - I only have a few Russian words picked up from the Rough Guide but I do know how to say cool - kruta.
They liked the idea but because of the language barriers I decided it was best to put the teens in groups and tell them to pool ideas. Alesha's group had diverse interests - to visit China and to go to a Stones concert. Other groups wanted our teens to come and visit so that they could go to the beach. Kerch although quite isolated on the far eastern top of the Crimea, is a lovely little town with a great beach.
One girl with excellent English thought they should set up a Facebook page and share photos. However, I think the Ukraine has its own ( state controlled ) version of Facebook but we are going to look into it.
Once there was a buzz in the room and ideas flying around, we got out the paper and pens and everyone started writing and some even added drawings.
All of the teens wanted to meet the young people from our community and this was their first chance to actually write a message to our teens and try to establish a link. We are hoping to take a group of Y13s from our synagogue to meet the Kerch Youth next year and I will be doing a return exercise, sending back our messages in a bottle, with the London teens in a couple of weeks.
The Jewish community of Kerch goes back to ancient Greek times and the town has a very interesting history, with many ancient remains still being excavated. But the WW2 story is very dark. 40,000 Jews were shot by the Nazis in the Crimea over the winter of 1941-42, in anti-tank ditches and dry wells. 7,000 Jews were killed from the little town of Kerch. The Nazis came twice to Kerch and tens of thousands of people died defending the town. As a result little Kerch was designated one of the thirteen hero cities of the Soviet Union by Stalin, along with Kiev, Moscow and Stalingrad. The community have only recently put up their own memorial at Bagerov Ravine where the Kerch Jews were deported and shot.
The achievement of our Twin community to revive Hebrew and Jewish culture after it had been totally suppressed is an awesome achievement. To work with these young people and to share their hopes, interests and desire to meet our youth was very inspiring.
|Shabbat morning just before this group do Bar/BatMitzvah|
|Lighting Friday night candles with a Kerch family|
|Leading a Hebrew study session on Shabbat afternoon in the synagogue|
|The Bar/Batmitzvah group in front of the Ark.|