Thursday, October 16, 2008

GETTING TO KNOW JEWISH CHISINAU


Breakfast at the hotel was fair. Bread, butter, three types of cheese, salami, tomatoes, some cookies, milk and cereal. Sometimes they would have eggs or this delicious Ukrainian yogurt. My sister had to mimic a lot to explain she wanted aspartame instead of sugar.
I had an early appointment at KSAK, to meet up with the director and curator of this art institute. I managed to contact them through Jon Davis, who worked at the San Francisco Art Institute, where I took my masters in Film. Kerley and I got a cab to the “Botanic” neighborhood, where the Institute was. The driver didn’t say a word the whole trip, but waited for us to get inside the building, just to make sure we were in the right place, I guess.
We first met Igor, a teacher, Lilia, director, and then at last Stephan, artist and curator. They asked about our visit there and we asked about the country’s situation, we talked about the soviet age and the idea that the communists had to build a Moldovan identity. According to Stephan, this was an illusion, because Moldova has many different ethnicities. They were surprised to hear that it took almost 2 years to finally travel there. They were all really nice and asked me to give a presentation about my work towards the end of our trip. I gladly accepted. Igor, one of the teachers, sadly confessed he earns US$ 100 a month, that there are no Apple computers in Moldova, PCs crash all the time and food and cell phones are very expensive for Moldovans. That was our first contact with their reality.
We had lunch at a fancy and touristy restaurant, called Old City, recommended by our hotel receptionist. I was a bit embarrassed to be there, felt like a rich tourist taking advantage of the fact that most locals could not afford that place. But later on my father-in-law said “You should feel good, at least you gave them business.” They charged my dad twice for the salmon and then later explained they charged for the fish weight and my dad had a big fish. Weird. But the food was very good.




In the afternoon, we walked with our guide Natasha to the Jewish Community Center (JCC), where we met Alla Chastina. We hired Alla to research documents at the Moldovan National Archives and we were meeting for the first time to talk about her findings (mostly census information, school and other documents related to the Tolpolars). She had started the research a year prior to our trip and was always very nice and supportive.

At some point the staff of the JCC unexpectedly told us that a certain Valodya Tolpolar used to be an active member of the community and had passed away a few years ago. Was he related to us? We had never heard of this name. He never married nor had children, and his brother came from Ukraine for the funeral. We showed pictures of Meyer (my great-grandfather) and they thought it looked like Valodya. They told us he used to say his family was very far away. Was he referring to us? We arranged to come back there to see a video of him, the only image they had. Very interesting.



The Jewish Library is attached to the JCC and opened in 1991 as an initiative of the Moldovan Jewish community. It is the only Jewish library in the former Soviet Union that also works as a community center. It has documents and books about the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, and books in Russian, Romanian, English and French about the Holocaust. Only in St. Petersburg they have books like these. Before it was a children’s library, but when they closed, drug addicts and homeless started to come there. Today it’s part of the Municipal public library, so they don’t pay rent. They have rooms used for dance, pilates, theater classes, etc.


We left the JCC and crossed the street to the next building, heading to the Museum of Besarabian Jews. The keeper of this museum knew a lot of the History and stories, and it was a pleasure to hear her talk. She IS the museum itself. She told us about Jews in Moldova, past and present. She said because Jews were different, they called attention to them. Different because they didn’t have the same costumes, ate differently (kashrut), didn’t work on Saturday but worked on Sunday, the children had education even if the family was poor, they didn’t accept invitation to eat at the neighbors' house (because of kashrut), what made them look not nice. The museum is small and simple, but worth the visit.


Then at 6PM we walked to the Organ Hall for a concert in homage to a Jewish composer who would be completing 80 years that day. In the program, songs in Yiddish, Russian and Romanian. It was nice to seat and rest before going to Shabbat at the Glazier’s synagogue (from Beit Chabad).


People at the synagogue were very friendly and one of the religious men knew everything about Brazilian soccer. He said it was better than Argentinean, which made me smile.
The Shabbat was a special experience, with people from all ages, including children. The synagogue is small and looks old, but it’s charming and has a very unique ceiling painting. I recently heard they are refurbishing it. Kerley sat separately from us, at the women’s section. Later she said the woman by her side was very nice and was trying to explain her everything since the sidur (pray book) was written in Russian and Hebrew, impossible for us to follow. It was 9PM and we felt we needed to leave, to go to eat and sleep. They invited us to eat with them, but it was only for men, so Kerley couldn’t stay.
So we ended up going to the Irish Pub, close to our hotel. Mauro and Kerley had the saddest hamburgers I’ve ever seen (why do you wanna have hamburgers in Moldova anyway?): grey meat, falling apart. I had a delicious lamb stew. The waitress charged twice for my bottle of sparkling water, and then explained the price in the menu was for the glass. Because a bottle contains two glasses, she charged twice. So I asked her what would she do with the bottle if I had drank only one glass, given it to the next costumer, a half-emptied bottle? She groaned at me and we paid twice.
Walking back to the hotel there were the same group of stray dogs we would encounter every night. They barked, but were harmless.



Mauro didn’t snore, and I slept like a baby while my sister was writing in her diary.

Next: more Jewish Chisinau: the cemetery, the holocaust memorial, historical sights related to the (in)famous 1903 pogrom and attending the CRONOGRAF Film Festival.

3 comments:

Kerley said...

Acho que poderias colocar a foto do Volodya. Eu mesma li o post e fiquei curiosa...

Cassio Tolpolar said...

Yes, I will put a picture of Valodya Tolpolar once we get there in the trip journey.

Anonymous said...

My mother was born in Yedinits. She had a half-brother who used the last name of Kishinevsky. When he came to the United States in early 20th century he changed it to Kay.