Monday, November 24, 2014

Moscow (Part XXIV - The Matrushka Doll Museum)


The next day, Monday, was my LAST DAY in Moscow, and I still had not gone to the Kremlin OR the Matrushka Doll Museum, but meanwhile I was scheduled to be back at The Jewish Agency in the afternoon for some meetings. I needed to make the morning COUNT.

I looked at a map and decided to take a taxi to the Doll Museum first, since it was way out of the way, to the east. Then I would take another taxi westward to the Kremlin, do a brief walk-around there, and then walk to The Jewish Agency.

The hotel called a taxi for me and told the driver to take me to the address that was given in my guide book. Yay! Matrushka Dolls!

The taxi pulled up to a very handsome building, I paid him, and I walked happily to the door.

On it was a sign that said the museum had moved, to a place completely across town.

There was nothing for me to do but laugh. So I laughed and laughed and laughed until I was almost crying.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Moscow (Part XXIII - Sunday at The Jewish Agency)


Most people don’t realize that The Jewish Agency is involved in a lot more than “just” immigration to Israel. Among lots of other things, the Sochnut, as it’s known in Hebrew, has a hand in an incredible variety and scope of Jewish education programs around the world, especially in the former Soviet Union and South America. There are children in the former Soviet Union whose ONLY Jewish education comes from Jewish Agency programs.

In Russia, as in most of the world, Sunday is not a standard workday, and so The Jewish Agency facility – classrooms, offices, an auditorium – are busy with all sorts of formal and informal Jewish education programs, which generally draw those Russians who either are planning to move to Israel, or who simply want to learn more about Jewish heritage or Hebrew language, but aren’t necessarily interested in the religious nature of the education offered by the local, mainstream Chabad.

The Jewish education offered by The Agency frames the material in terms of history and culture rather than “Jewish law,” and many participants, such as campers in Jewish Agency camps, decide to, for example, start lighting Shabbat candles and making Kiddush at home not because they necessarily believe God commands it, but because it is a beautiful Jewish thing to do that is part of our history and part of what connects us to each other. For some there is a spiritual aspect as well – or perhaps, feeling part of a community and feeling spiritual, for many people, is the same thing.

For my job as a marketing writer for the Sochnut, I write about those programs all the time; what a thrill to finally see them in action and meet the people who make them happen! And, once again – what a miracle that Jewish education was happening in the open, in Moscow! A miracle!

The first thing I did at the office was pay back Rusina. This is Rusina, my savior and one of the nicest and most professional people you could ever hope to meet:

Then, all in one day, I witnessed the following:

* Small children doing an arts-and-crafts project in a Hebrew School class that meets every Sunday

*Special needs children taking part in the class, through the “Integration” program that helps special-needs kids be mainstreamed into Jewish programs

*The parents of the Hebrew school children taking a concurrent parenting class, with Jewish subjects included

* Hebrew-language “ulpan” classes for adults, at different levels.

* A class on Hebrew, Israeli history, and math, for high school kids preparing to take the entrance exam for Na’ale (a program through which they attend Israeli high schools for grades 10-12).

*A session of the year-long training for counselors who work at Jewish Agency camps. Their course includes both Jewish education for themselves, and lessons in pedagogy and program planning. On this particular day they were studying the "motivation" element of programs - how to start things so the children are interested in participating.

*An evening meeting for doctors who are thinking about making Aliyah to Israel, with an overview of the Israeli medical system by a visiting administrator from Soroka hospital

All that, punctuated by lunch across the street at the historic, stunning ChoralSynagogue

The synagogue is magnificent, and has an absolutely beautiful restaurant (with English menus!) on the second floor. A kosher restaurant in Moscow! A miracle!

Moscow (Part XXII - The Kremlin)


Sunday morning shone bright and cold, and I was ready to see the Kremlin! My feet still hurt real bad in those boots, and because of the toe I’d squashed at the Jewish Museum, but I hardly felt sick anymore at all, I had money in my wallet, and I was on my way!

I looked carefully at the maps and saw that if I got off the subway at the “Biblioteka” stop, I could then walk through the Kremlin and Red Square at my leisure, and continue on eastward toward the offices of The Jewish Agency, where I was expected at noon.
Those of you who have been to the Kremlin already know that this is impossible: the Kremlin is a complex of buildings surrounded by a wall, and there is only one way to get in or out, through the gates on the Western side. But I didn’t know that.

I got out of the subway and noted that this stop had a few cute little shops in it, including a gift store with some nice matrushka dolls in the window. Since it’s so cold outside in the winter, Russians do a lot of their shopping underground. I wondered what the dolls would look like at the Matrushka Doll Museum tomorrow!

I walked toward the Kremlin and was stopped by a guard, who said I needed a ticket. Oh, duh! That makes sense! At last, a bit of capitalism around here!
He pointed me around the corner and down a hill, quite a walk considering how much my feet hurt me. Before joining the ticket line, I went to see what’s in the gift shop: A lot of books in Russian, and almost nothing of interest to an English-speaking tourist. Once again, capitalism *fail.*

Anyway, I got to the ticket counter and bought the cheapest ticket available, with no tour guides attached to it, just the right to walk around by myself. I also discovered that not a single one of the ticket salespeople at the Kremlin speaks ANY English. Thank goodness for the other tourists nearby who DID speak Russian! I really, really don’t expect that “Joe Moscovite” will speak English – I’m not that Western-centric – but at the tickets sales for the Kremlin? Tourism-friendliness *fail.*

I was directed to walk a bit more, lots of painful steps, to check my backpack. At this point, my memories are dim. I remember that I tried to explain in English to the bag check lady that I need my bag, because I’m not coming back out this way, I’m going THROUGH the Kremlin and won’t be returning here to get my bag. She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about, because – as I now know – it’s impossible to go THROUGH the Kremlin.
Thwarted in my attempt to enter – because really, the security guard doesn’t let in anyone with a backpack, which I understand – I now had, once again, failed in my plans AND, to add insult to injury, had to now walk AROUND the Kremlin to get to The Jewish Agency.

There was one consolation, though. On my way, I witnessed part of a little ceremony some kind that involved Russian soldiers marching just like this (actually, in the exact spot where this You Tube video was taken):

That was cool. I mean, seriously, if you are going to fly to Moscow and get sick and not have money and then not be able to get into the Kremlin, at least there are soldiers in those coats, doing that march!