Organizing quality programming takes time and careful planning—one of the realities of being a fellow. While I seemed very busy in my previous posts, much of my work in November consisted of sitting in front of a computer, checking prices, calculating budgets, calling parents, moving boxes, preparing flyers and other less-than-glamorous tasks. All with a purpose though, because I was looking towards an exciting holiday season packed with fun events.
If I thought it was cold and dark in October, I was not prepared for November—and
November was cold and dark in more senses than one (but only one of which I will comment on here, even though the experience of observing the election from Finland is worth a novel of its own.) With 4 or 5 hours of daylight, there were days in a row when I felt like I couldn’t wake up at all. So this is how hibernation works, I began to think. But after beginning a vitamin regimen worthy of any hypochondriac, I slowly started to feel more alive.
After the first snow, I was convinced I wouldn’t see the ground again until March at the earliest. The temperature stayed below freezing for at least three weeks, and I had no shame in breaking out the Canada Goose—it was -10 degrees Celsius after all. And yet nobody seemed to be wearing snow boots, because that would require people to disrupt their daily routine and to admit that it was finally winter—so here I was, slipping and sliding all over Helsinki, but thankful that the snow reflected the light in a beautiful way and made the daylight last a little longer.
The darkness was depressing, and it is very Finnish to go to work, come home and stay home. When I asked my friends what people did for fun in the winter, they would pause, frown, and say something along the lines of “fun? I don’t know…” In typical Finnish humor, many people would say that kalsarikännit, which translates to “getting drunk at home in your underwear with no intention of going anywhere” is a common pastime. Since I had little intention of doing that, it was all the more important to find the light in
any small and unexpected experiences that presented themselves. I went bowling with friends one Thursday night—an activity I don’t do very often in America, either. We had a Shabbat dinner for international students from Israel, Estonia and Mexico, and I brought a few Finnish friends as well. The community held a secondhand bazaar for WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organization) and the 10 or so JDC-BBYO fellows organized a video call amongst ourselves to update each other on our work, our lives, and give each other tips and encouragement.
At the end of the month, we hosted our long-awaited Pub Night, an evening event just for young people after the Helsinki Klezmer Festival. Forshpil, a band from Latvia, which dubbed its genre “Yiddish psychedelic rock” played a free show inside the community building (which was honestly very odd to me.) The evening was sponsored by Laplandia and Moses vodka, owned by a member of our community. With the advertisement of good music and a free tasting bar, we had an impressive turnout, and succeeded to get more young people interested in fun events at the community.
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