Our first official stop was at “Beit Grand” – the new Jewish Community Center of Odessa. It is less than five years old. The old Jewish Community Center is called “Migdal.” Beit Grand houses – among other programs – the Chesed Center and a Kindergarten program for children up to 6 years old. It’s a great facility. Odessa has approximately 35,000 Jews and approximately 7,000 of them receive services from the Chesed Center.
Anatolyi – on the left – is the director of the Chesed Center. He has over 300 home care workers who visit Jewish seniors daily, help keep their homes clean, provide food and medicine and basically let these people know someone cares. Many of the seniors are professionals who lost everything with the fall of the Soviet Union (20 years ago) and their children left for Israel or the US. Without the Chesed Center, they’d have no one. Anatoyi’s personal story was also very compelling. He knew very little about his Jewish identity until after serving in the Soviet Army and the fall of the Soviet Union. His major source of information was his grandparents. Inna – on the right – is a representative of the American Joint Distribution Committee. She has been our guide here in Odessa.
While visiting Beit Grand, we also got a little show from the senior choir who sang us some songs in Hebrew and Yiddish. We exchanged a few words in Yiddish, but really it was the language of music and dance that connected us. Despite the language barrier, we tried to ask what kept many of these seniors here despite the fact that their children and grandchildren have left. At the end of the day, this is home.
There is much to be optimistic about. Through the kindergarten and another program called “Mazal Tov” (for newlywed couples and new parents), a new generation of Jews is learning about their heritage and re-connecting with Judaism.