Friday, 15 November 2013

Message in a Bottle

"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.
Everyone wrote something, in either Russian or English and I asked them to leave a space under each line for translation. Lera wrote, "I am sixteen and like listening to music, drawing and painting. I like extraordinary and weird people! I think we will have a lot of fun if we get together. I am a cheerful and positive thinking person."
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.
Under the Soviet Union all religion was suppressed. The Kerch Jewish community re-emerged in 1997 after the fall of the Soviet Union along with many other communities across the Ukraine and there are many twinnings like ours.
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.
We will be sending our Message in a Bottle back to Kerch very soon and I hope it is the beginning of many more messages flowing between the Thames and the Black Sea.
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.


Sue Purkiss said...

What an interesting and worthwhile experience! And huge credit to you for running a workshop for people who spoke a different language - I would have quailed at the challenge!

Miriam Halahmy said...

They were so lovely Sue and some of them spoke English. I had fun trying out my Rough Guide to Russian!

Ann Turnbull said...

This is such an inspiring post, Miriam. Thank you!

Richard said...

Thank-you for such a fascinating and inspiring article.

The rebel in me suggests that you need to read the Petrovitch trilogy before your next visit. It teaches you how to swear in Russian. ;-)

Geoff Short said...

Brings back happy memories.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Fascinating post, Miriam! Are you actually going to put a message in a bottle and see what spends or are you gung to cheat a bit? ;-)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Whoops, that's "see what happens" and "going" not "gung"!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Yes of course Sue!?!