As you may have guessed, the temperature continued to drop steadily during October–to the point where it sat stubbornly and ominously below freezing by the end of the month. Although it was only around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, my leisurely weekend walks by the lake began to require new kinds of outerwear: long underwear, shoes with traction, and even sometimes waterproof pants with reflective markers. Don’t let the featured photo fool you–leaves stayed colorful for only a week or two before they began to blanket the sidewalks.
Sukkot was cold and wet. Preparing kiddush in the sukkah following services each day required mopping up the tables and chairs, sometimes multiple times a morning. The weather didn’t seem to lower spirits though, and even though only a handful of community members participated in services, kiddush was always a friendly affair with cakes, pies and plenty of whiskey.
I attended lunch at the Chabad family’s sukkah during the second weekend. If you can, imagine twenty people seated at a long table just a block away from Helsinki’s towering white cathedral. Wind blows at the walls of the sukkah and everyone is wearing hats, scarves, coats and gloves–even while eating. Everyone begins the soup immediately after it’s served, and by the bottom of the bowl, it’s cold. Yet again, there’s lots of wine, vodka and English conversation to go around. The Wolffs have a tradition at every meal they host where the guests go around the table and give a short d’var torah, speech or piece of insight–no matter how uncomfortable it makes them (all eyes on you, Finns.) When it was my turn, I said the first thing that came to mind: celebrating Sukkot under these circumstances, huddled together in the cold, made me feel like I had perhaps caught a glimpse of how my ancestors may have lived in the Baltics. After all, Helsinki isn’t so far from Latvia and Lithuania, where my great grandparents were from.
In the kindergarten, my presence is steadily progressing. Earlier in the year, only the children who spoke Hebrew at home would respond to or even acknowledge me. Now, many of the Finnish and Russian speakers have grown increasingly comfortable communicating with sounds and gestures. Some of the children have even been able to retain some new Hebrew words (like Mikael, who speaks Russian but has taken to running around the room screaming lo lo lo lo lo! Yes, he has learned the word for no.) When there is enough time, I will pull out paper, glue and scissors to tempt some of the children with a quick art project that will also engage their fine motor skills. Otherwise, we play board games, do puzzles, and I continue to speak to them only in Hebrew.
At the end of the month, I also hosted another Shabbat dinner for young adults. I was impressed with and thankful for two who showed up a few hours early to help me cook and set up. Hosting a meal for 10+ people is no easy endeavor! The menu consisted of Mongolian chicken, honey glazed salmon (I didn’t make that one), couscous salad, garlic bread and improvised Nutella brownies.
Through my engagement with the Finnish young adults, I’ve also become the point person for finding and connecting Jewish international students studying in Helsinki. We have students from Israel, Estonia, Italy, Mexico and other parts of Finland, and we’ve planned some events in the coming month for this group.
See below for more snapshots of my month:
PHOTOS FROM THE GAN:
The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.