By Marina Moldavanskaya
Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator
Sometimes one decision can completely change your life. My mother was invited to her cousin’s wedding but decided not to attend simply because she had nothing to wear. Her uncle convinced her to come because he wanted to introduce her to a “nice Jewish guy” – my father. This is how my family story began.
When I was a little girl I spent a lot of time with at my grandmother’s home in a small city in eastern Ukraine. My grandmother is a ghetto survivor and her mother and one-year-old sister were killed in World War II. Now my grandmother receives medical and food support from the JDC Hesed Center. As a child, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be Jewish, but everything changed when my brother began at the Jewish World ORT School in Odessa. Since our parents grew up in the Soviet Union, they knew very little about Jewish culture and traditions. My mother spoke Yiddish and knew Jewish song and recipes but that was the extent of her knowledge. My father’s family always was very poor but he was motivated to attend college. He was never accepted because he identified with being Jewish.
When I was seven, I began at the same school as my brother and we quickly became our parents teachers on Jewish history and traditions. When I was 16 and a madricha at the Israeli Cultural Center, I attended my first Shabbaton. After three seminars and Shabbatons, I began volunteering at the youth club of the Israeli Cultural Center. When I was 18, I became the head of Beitar, an Israeli leadership development program originally founded by Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky. The Beit Grand JCC, the second JCC in Odessa, was opened in 2008 and I became a volunteer there as well. This past June, I received my Masters degree in English, Spanish linguistics and foreign literature.
It’s impossible to live in the Former Soviet Union and not feel the pain and suffering the Jewish people experienced. But living in Odessa means something more — you also see the great heritage of the Jewish people from this great city. I always feel proud to be Jewish in this wonderful city.
In my new position as the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator, I am excited to carry on the very work that allowed me to get here in the first place. In this role, I am connected to the wide array of Jewish programming in our community. I am excited to help develop projects between our two communities that will generate mutual relationships and connections between people. The future projects will create long-lasting bonds that will educate us about our Jewish family around the world as well as make the connection between Baltimore and Odessa even stronger.
To contact Marina, email [email protected].