The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Lithuanian Excursion

A rumor began to circle around Yeshivah . . . bochurim are needed in Lithuania . . . in Lita . . . in Lietuva (when you write it in three different languages it looks cooler) So, having done time there before (Pesach) I figured I would go back to my old stomping grounds for another romp with the Litvaks. I got an e-mail from Rabbi Krinsky (from here on out Rabbi) with my schedule.

About camp: Friday, shabbos and Sunday, most
of the kids will be with their parents.
We have planned a program for the adults.
It is something likethis:
we arrive at 10:00. there will be swimming
for the men at 1:00-2:30.until then, please plan some
games... then they should get ready for shabbos.
Licht bentchen is at about 3:30. mincha, lecture, maariv.
You are responsible for kids during lecture.
Please plan game or whatever
...then shabbos meal.
There will be farbrengen. Plan something for
that time.Shabbos there will be some lectures,
davening... plan some games, stories...Motzei Shabbos,
and Sunday as well.
So I packed a few story books and was off.
Little did I know that I would be getting myself
into a whole new adventure . . .
The Lithunaian Excursion
The bus ride was quintessentially Polish. The seats were to small, people made noise, and we stopped at places named Biawistok (that W is really one of those L thingies).
At three in the morning we pulled up to our stop . . . Druskininkai (a small spa town known for its sanitariums, beauty, and a place where a whole bunch of slavs/balts (Polaks, litvaks, Russkies, and BelaRusskies, and Israelis (in the summer) show up -The Frierdiker Rebbe also visited Druskininkai.

Druskininkai in all of it's wonder
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When we pulled up it was snowing outside and dead quite. I took off my baggage and, almost as an afterthought, asked where I could find a taxi -I waived my hand in the air and said "Taxi! Taxi! Taksi!" (That's how you say "Excuse me fine sir, but where could I find a reasonable taxi at this hour of the night?" in English, Polish and Lithuanian) The driver then told us to put back our bags (I say 'us' and 'our' because I was traveling with my friend, Zalmen Zarchi) and get on the bus. He then drove us to a gas station, got out, and called a taxi -all of this while another 30 or so people were still on the bus!
We made it to our hotel (Galia on Dubintas 4) and fell asleep.
Friday - 22 Kislev.
The next day I got up, davend and began wandering around the town with my map looking for the place to eat. After enjoying "pizza" for breakfast (Bread with some tommato/red pepper paste and a cucumber (?)) I was told I needed to help shlep. So schlep I did. I dragged boxes, bottles of milk etc. Meanwhile a guy wandered over to Zalmen Zarchi and began to point at his (Zalmen's) beard. "S. Claus! S. Claus!" (For records sake, yes his breath did smell of Mashka). All of our movement attracted the attention of a family living in the apartment next to the bus. They watched us with interest, and then, feeling sorry for how cold we were (or perhaps finding the sight of a bunch of Krinsky kids rather cute) they offered us cups of hot coffee and cake from their window. . .
Suddenly the menorah came out of the bus -Our friend then turned to it and, with the same enthusiasm as he pointed to Zalmen's beard, began to shout "Menorah! Menorah!"
It turns out that he was Jewish; so, to make a long story short, I schlepped him a couple of blocks to the hotel and put tefillin on him -a Karkafta.
Erev Shabbos went on . . . and then *knock* - *knock* - *knock* :
The Rabbi's wife.
"Could you do us a favor?"
-My first thought: If they have to ask for a favor, it aint easy.
"There's a little boy coming -6 years old- with my husband. His family isn't coming and he needs a place to sleep . . . could he sleep in your room? He's very quite."
-My second thought: If she needs to stress that he's quite, he isn't.
"I have to ask my roommate -I'll let you know."
Zalmen said yes and I let her know.
"Thank you and he's all yours."
-My third thought: OH NO!

A few minuted before shabbos there was a knock on my door and there stood a cute little Russian kid -Misha.

Misha's Gelt -He wanted 2 Litas instead (around 80 cents) Posted by Picasa

He came in with a large black bag and took off his coat.
Reaching into his little bag he pulled out a little Yarlumka, tzitzis and two little shoes from a smaller plastic bag. Helping him place his extra things on a shelf, I ushered him out of the room with one of my 4 Russian words "Davay" (Lit. Give, but it can be used as Nu, Let's go, come on etc.) We began to walk; he held my hand and smiled innocently. We walked to the "Shul" (Hall where all of the meals were etc.) We arrived for Mincha, Misha took a siddur and stood next to me while I davened . . .
The meal went well and we all headed back to the hotel in the hopes of getting a goodnight's sleep . . . after all it was Shabbos Mevarachim. Boy, were we wrong!
As soon as Misha came in he wnated to watch T.V.
"Niet, Niet!" I told him. "Sutchas Sabbato" (No, no! Now is Shabbos."
I gave him a little bit of cake instead. I helped him say the Brachos and then played with him a little bit by pointing to different places in the room and having him run to them . . .
Then I asked him how to say sleep in Russian:
"Spatz." he said . . .
So I told him, "Sutchas Spatz!" (Now is [time] for sleep!)
"Niet, Niet," he cried, "Ya Chatshu Televizia!!" (I want T.V.!)
"Niet Misha, Nie na Sabbato." (No, Misha. Not on Shabbos.)
He then went wild . . . running around; he turned on the lights as well as the T.V. . . . I took him and told him "NO! Nie Na Shabbato!" He then began to turn off the lights . . . and upon seeing or protests he began to flick them on and off . . .
See no other solution I took him into my arms and began to twirl him around . . . Nie na Shabbato . . Nie na Shabbato (Not on Shabbos etc.)
Misha then told me, "Sutchas nie Sabbato!" (Now it isn't Shabbos!) But my continued spinning took his mind off the T.V.
I put him down, sent him to the bathroom and began to get ready for bed . . .
When he came out I tried to get him to bed again, but he put up a big fuss until I sat next to him on the bed and held him . . . at last he fell asleep.
Shabbos went by (and besides for having to walk Misha back to the apartment Shabbos afternoon . . . put up with his snow balls as he went along, and trying to stop him from watching TV in the hotel) and ended.
Motzie Shabbos I told Misha that since Shabbos was over we could now play in the snow . . . after ten minutes of a solid snow fight I was ready to go back in . . . but how do you tell a kid who speaks no English that he needs to quit . . . saying no didn't work -He told me that it was Shabbos, and therefore he couldn't go inside. Try what I might I couldn't get him in, and could barely stop him from throwing snow balls at other members of the Shabbaton. When at last he came he began to ring every doorbell in the hall as we made our way to the room . . .
The Getchka Posted by Picasa

At last I got him to the Melava Malka for dinner . . . there I played Clarinet for the crowd (My First public show!) and in general made myself usefull by schlepping for the Rabbi, and speaking to the guests (Mainly three guys who showed up near the end . . . Levi, Natan, and Yerachmiel)

By the Melava Malka
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The guys Posted by Picasa

When I brought Misha back to the hotel, he again wanted to watch TV . . . we made a compromise of sorts, he had to sit in bed with the blankets on him and the lights out. At first he wanted to watch MTV (which was in German), since it had a cartoon on -but knowing the cartoons that they would show on MTV, I finally got him to change the channel. Out of luck there actually happened to be something Jewish on -Jakob the Liar (Dubbed Lithuanian).
Until he fell asleep and the T.V. was turned off, I was able to determine the following things.
1. Lithuanian is some weird, crazy sounding language.
2. Lithuanian commercials are all played twice and for a very long time. In one break there were: 6 misc. commercials (frying pans, yogurt etc.) 3 toothpaste commercials, and 4 Vodka commercials.

The next day was Camp day. I told a couple of stories (In Yiddish for the Krinsky kids, and then had them translated into Russian), played tag, and then got them all ready for the big event:
Going to the Spa!(?)
Druskininkai is famous for it's Spas, and mud baths . . . so going to the spa was one of the big gimmicks for the guests of the Shabbaton

the spa
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Rabbi taking a break
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I had to take Misha first for his "bubble bath" and afterwards I'd get my own "procedure".
When Misha got into his bathing suite I saw that he had a bruise on his shoulder and several smaller ones on his leg.
I pointed to the bruise and asked "Kak?" (how?)
"Moi Papa . . ." (My father . . .)
Misha sat in the tub full of mineral water as bubbles came in from a little tube in the bottom . . . he was happy . . . but knowing why Misha was so wild (due to lake of love/ abuse) didn't make me so happy . . .
Then it was my turn for the underwater message (Someone told me to get it).
It consists of sitting in a tub of this salty "mineral" water (People actually pay to drink that stuff!) and being sprayed by a hose with a pressure nozzle. It does feel good, but I could have done it in my own backyard. I was later given the chance to do a full "procedure" . . . with all of that crazy stuff like smearing honey on your back, sitting in mud, and jumping into cold water after baking in a sauna, being whipped with willow branches . . . but I passed.

The day went on and we prepared for the grand Menorah lighting.

Big Z. shlepping the Menorah Posted by Picasa

a group shot Posted by Picasa
Lighting menorah Posted by Picasa

The lighting was held outside of the "Jacques Lipchitz" Museum (Yes, he was from Druskininkai -and Yes, he had a connection with the Rebbe -But no, I won't say it here so . . . -you will, Yes, go ahead and look it up for yourself for once . . . -and Yes, it I'm only saying that you have to go look it up because I don't remember the details!)

We then schlepped all of the stuff from the hall onto the bus again, and then packed up and moved to a second building owned by the hotel.
A few brief stories about camp:

Lighting the Menorah with my Russian (Lithuanian, but you get the point) campers; Misha, Menachem Mendel (with my kasket), Dovid, and Levi Yitzchok.

One night I tried to make a big thing for the kids . . . so I took them to the top floor of the hotel (It was like a little indoors sun-deck), told them some crazy story that I made up on the spot ( A bunch of kids were walking in the forest, they met a big, big, big bear . . . ran into a hut and met a little, little man, with a long, long beard etc.) then when I gave a signal I had Zalmen turn off the lights, had the kids run down the three flights of stairs and around the block through the snow etc. They then got back and were treated to Pop Corn. It worked. Sorta. Dovid lost his Yarmulke, so he took mine, Kalmen Krinsky needed to wear my Kasket, and Misha dumped snow on my good hat, the popcorn was burnt, and nobody listened to my directions outside.

Lighting menorah in druskininkai Posted by Picasa

By the Druskininkai Ghetto Posted by Picasa

Misha wanted to watch T.V. the whole time, so when he left the room we hid the box and told him that it was broken. When I stepped outside I found one of the supposedly empty rooms with the door ajar. Inside sat Misha watching T.V. He'd gone to the front desk and told them that he was being moved into the empty room -and the lady actually did it for him! When I finally got him out he ran to play . . . or so I thought . . . until I walked to the front desk -where I say Misha standing by and watching the one T.V. that I couldn't turn off -the Hotel staff's!
I must give it Misha, he's darn smart! Once he asked for candy . . . I told him there wasn’t [any for him]. He asked to be picked up . . . but I know why -he knew they were on a high shelf and in my arms he'd be able to see them.

With the older campers
With older boys I used to do something else . . . I'd tackled them to the floor and ask them:
"G'dye! G’dye?" (Where? where? [Will you be next year?]) Until they'd say Yeshiva!

LOST (but not in Hawaii)
I took the kids swimming one day, and in the middle of a darn good water fight realized something . . . Misha was gone.
After searching for him for probably close to an hour (and involving the staff of two hotels) I found him wandering outside.

Finding Misha Posted by Picasa

But how could I tell him that he'd done wrong? Telling him merely 'No!' and 'bad' in Russian would merely upset him with out letting him no why I was displeased. So I took him to the pool and let him swim.
He took off his clothes save his underwear, jumped into the pool, and when I finally got him out, he pulled on his long underwear and pants (which were wet from snow beforehand) . . . poor Misha had only come to close to a week of camp with one set of clothes! He stunk and was wet . . . but what could I do?
On the third night of Chanukah I met my (drunk) Karkafta again. Upon recognizing me and seeing the Menorah, he held my hands and began to repeat (as was later translated for me) "G-d Bless you . . . G-d Bless you . . . from the depths of my soul . . ."

Trying to get Misha to sleep Posted by Picasa

The last night of camp I came into my room only to find that Menachem had decided to make raid on it!

The older boys wouldn't open up their door, and to make maters worse Menachem had my Yarmulke -leaving me with little choice other then to sleep with my kasket on.
Zalmen fell asleep and as I prepared to sleep myself along came Mendel and Kalmen Krinsky, both afraid that the older boys would make a raid on them (they'd told Kalmen that they would put toothpaste on his forehead).
I set up two make shift beds (Like we'd made for Misha in his room) one of the two chairs pushed together, the other of two pillows. When I turned into my bedroom I found its door to be locked! I knocked, but Zalmen was asleep. So I tried knocking louder. No answer. I gave a good bang on the door. No response. I went outside through the balcony of another room and gave a good clap on the window. Zalmen remained still. I went back in and began to bang the door and shout my dear (sleeping) friends name . . . no go! Pound as I may the door remained unopened. The lady downstairs at the desk came up to make sure that no emergency was taking place, yet Zalmen still slept. I lay down on one of the pillows on the floor . . . slowly drifting off to sleep. But in the middle of the night Kalmen jumped up and began to scratch himself and dance as if he was being eaten alive by army ants . . . he was walking in his sleep! I picked him up and put him on his "bed" he drifted off to sleep.
Being awake I again tried getting into my room. -With out a fuss it opened! Too tired to wonder why I went strait to my bed . . . . .

My travels Posted by Picasa

The next day I got up late . . . Camp was over and we needed to get all of the campers onto the Vilna bus -which left in little over an hour! Making a mad dash I schlepped all of the kids into the taxis . . .
We got on the bus (which was to take the kids home and Zalmen and I to Vilnius for the day) when the Rabbi came onto the bus with a bunch of last minute orders, and in the middle a request:
Why not stay longer? (We were planking to go back to Druskininkai that evening and return to Warsaw)
We thought for a second and told him:
"What have we got to loose by staying here? There's nothing going on in Warsaw . . . why not. But please take our baggage (which we were planning to leave in the Hotel until we returned that night)"
We arrived in Vilna, and awaited the Rabbi's arrival. He came and I asked him about my bags.
"They're not here."
"What do you mean they aren't there?"
"Didn't have room in the car."
"When will we get them?"
"I don't know . . . but I do know that we have ten minutes to get on the road and on to Klaipeda!"
We got piled into the car, and the Rabbi took off . . .
"You have no idea how late we are!!! We have three solid hours to get to Klaipeda and buy large menorah candles -its 3:00 now and the lighting is at six! Get ready to fly like you've never flown before."

lighting in Klaipeda
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Singing Posted by Picasa

Saying L'chaim in Klaipeda Posted by Picasa

Baruch Hashem we made it there . . . late . . . but there.

The next night we made the Grand Lighting in Vilna with a Choir from Eretz Yisroel . . . (Only part of the made it on time . . . but it’s a long story (bad weather etc.))

The crowd by the lighting in Vilna
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Lighting with a head of state Posted by Picasa

the crowd Posted by Picasa

There and back again

The next day was Erev Shabbos . . . and we still had no clothes!

So early in the morning I took the 90 minute bus ride to Druskininkai, picked up the bags from the hotel, and turned strait around and caught the next bus out (I was in Druskininkai for only 25 minutes or so).


Shabbos was Musical . . . imagine davening in a minyan with 25 Chazzanim . . .that’s right –nobody wanted to Daven at the amud, and when someone did go up he made sure that everybody heard his voice . . .

We went on a tour of Vilna with choir. The tour guide was a local who spoke Hebrew –I found it rather ironic that while explaining how the Gra established the Lithuanian derech halimud (Pshat) while b’shas ma’ase being M’chalal Shabbos B’farhesia by taking his books with him. (I just want to make clear –R’L vR”L- I don’t think poorly of the tour guide; he is a tinuk sh’nishba etc.)

Motzie Shabbos:

I made dinner for M’lava Malka (One of the choir members gave me a keychain that says “With appreciation from the Mayor [of Modi’in –he gave them to the choir to give to special people that they meet]) and Zalmen Zarchi went to light the Menorah in the Town square . . .

After awhile I began to wonder what was taking Zalmen so long . . . suddenly Rabbi Krinsky ran in:

“Who here knows how to work with hydraulics? Zalmen got stuck on top of the cherry picker! ”

In the end the fire department was called in to take down Zalmen. Keep in mind that it was New Years Eve and that the whole downtown was swarming with drunken Lithuanians –all of whom took pictures of poor Z.

That night there were so many fireworks (besides the normal big ones there were hundred of the little ones that can be picked up in Tijuana) that I thought that the Russians were trying to retake Vilna . . . the chickens next door were freaking out as well.

The choir eating malava malka
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My Menorah of Kelishkas -aint it Chassidish? Posted by Picasa


We went to Kovno with the choir Sunday morning . . . on the way stopping off at Trakai Castle

On the ice Posted by Picasa

And IX Fort . . . the place of destruction for most of Kovno’s Jews; over 30,000 people –may G-d avenge their blood!

The Death Gate Posted by Picasa

The Kovno deportations Posted by Picasa

The memorial Posted by Picasa

The slobadka dorm Posted by Picasa

An old building in Kovno Posted by Picasa

The Choral synogauge Posted by Picasa

In the shul Posted by Picasa

snow in kovno
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Kovner Yidden
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By the lighting I met many people who remembered me from my Seder in Kovno.

all the cameras that the Choir members gave me to use for them
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Chazan Yehuda Rotner Posted by Picasa

Back in the Chabad house one of the singers slipped and broke his arm . . . may he have refuah shliema!

When we got back the Rabbi told us that the cherry picker downtown was fixed, and that as soon as the operator woke (and sobered) up his wife would call us to light the candles. By 1:00 we gave up waiting and went to sleep.

VILNA Monday:

I know I’ve been cheep on words for the second half of the article . . . it’s darn late here . . . so don’t expect a change for the rest.

The Gra's (Vilna Goan) Kever Posted by Picasa

Reb Chaim Ozer
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We also went to Panar –the forest where many of Vilna’s Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers (May their names be blotted out!!) . . . here over 100,000 people were murdered between 70-90% of them Jews!

(For those who don’t know, the Jews of Lithuania, White Russia and Ukraine were for the most part shot into pits by Mobile Death squads (the Einsatzgruppen) not in death camps.

In Panar the Russians had dug several large pits to make oil wells, but they never finished due to the German invasion. Due to the locations close proximity to the train tracks, relative isolation, and large pits, the Germans selected it for their diabolical plans. (They also used the fact that the town had been a country retreat for many Jews as a twisted psychological calmer to their victims)

Right by the train
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Sign from both Communist and Modern Eras. The Communist sign was written only in Lithuanian and Russian and said only that 100,000 Communist citizen shad been murdered by the Facists –no mention that they were mostly Jews or that the locals helped.

Panar Posted by Picasa

Monday night I went shopping with Zalmen, and who do we see in the mall other then the Rabbi and his wife!

busted Posted by Picasa

A good-bye treat
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Zalmen ( shirt), Levi (middle) and Kalmen Krinsky

We got on the bus at 11:00 and made our way back to Warsaw . . .