sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

April 11, 2012

The Childhood I Didn’t Have

Filed under: History, politics, society, Soviet Union, Ukraine — edge of the sandbox @ 11:30 am

Some mothers are nostalgic for their childhoods (via Instapundit):

The older my kid gets, the more I realize her childhood will never be like mine. It doesn’t matter that I’m raising her a mere 16 miles from my childhood home.


Childhood Then: Mom taught you to avoid that empty house down the street.

Childhood Now: We teach them to avoid high fructose corn syrup.

And so on.  I grew up half a world away, so I don’t expect to relive my own formative years through my children.  I can give a few free range reasons my childhood was so sweet, but mostly I just envy my daughter.

I remember really wanting to be in a Soviet version of pre-school, for instance, and finally, when I was 4, my parents and, more importantly, grandparents conceded.  But when I got there, I hated it.  Looking back at it, the pre-school was hopelessly understaffed, the food horrible and the kids mean.  Still, when my daughter started bugging me about pre-school, I took it seriously.  We chose a pre-school with loving teachers, and I pack her lunch.

What’s important for me, is that it’s a Jewish pre-school, so she gets to learn about her heritage and develops some sort of spiritual and moral foundation.  When I was growing up, I knew scant little about Judaism.  There were no functioning Jewish houses of worship in Kharkov, a city of about 1 million, about 60,000 of them Jews, which was primarily an ethno-racial category.

Passover was the only Jewish holiday about which I had a clue.  In part, it was because the Russian word for Passover, paskha, also means Easter.  To be sure, nobody I knew celebrated Easter either, but there were more mainstream references to it, so it stuck.  My grandparents had channels through which to get matzos, and so we had huge wonderfully crunchy sheets of matzos, about twice as wide and twice as long as the standard American supermarket variety.  We ate them along with bread.  Initially I was under the impression that matzos is just regular food.  For some reason I wasn’t debriefed on the Jewish nature of it.  I told some girls in the neighborhood about it, and my grandma grew pale as a sheet when she found out.  Not that it wasn’t obvious that we were Jewish, but I wasn’t suppose to flaunt it.

Kharkov Choral synagogue opened its doors in 1914 and didn’t serve as a house of worship for long.  The building survived wars and revolutions, and in the 70s and 80s it housed a sports club.  When I was a teenager and became interested in religious matters, mainly because they were taboo, I went exploring with a girlfriend of mine.  We walked through the space, and, sports equipment or not, had no clue how to imagine what was supposed to happen there.  I knew what a Christian service would look like from literature and films, and there were a few functioning churches, too.  About the Jewish service I heard that there would be a rabbi and a cantor, and that the cantor sang.  I also knew that Jews pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  Everything else was a mystery.

Kharkiv Synagogue

Restored in 1991 and now run by Chabad, Kharvov synagogue is the second largest functioning shul in Europe. Unfortunately, most Jews have left.

My daughter was listening to Passover stories at pre-school.  Turns out, she and her buddies have a favorite plague, the frogs.  She told me that they all laughed about frogs falling out of the sky.  And before friends of family came over for the seder, she practiced hiding the afikomen (matzo wrapped in napkin to be found by kids for a prize) in advance.  She hid it in her closet.  Wow!  I guess this is what a normal Jewish childhood is like.

Freedom is a good thing.  Next year I’ll have to do some of this for the seder.

And did you know that California banned kosher for Passover Coke?

In absolutely unrelated news, pre-school is on Passover break this week, hence light blogging.  She’s hanging out next to me singing “Happy parsley toupee” to the tune of a certain children’s song

AND just to let you know, I am experiencing the I guess I am a robot problem.  WordPress might have a funky drop-down menu, but at least the comments work.



  1. I love this: “turns out, she and her buddies have a favorite plague, the frogs.” ; ) Enjoy Passover Break!

    Comment by pjMom — April 11, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

  2. (and as for the robot problem, it depends on what kind of mood I’m in if I perservere or not!)

    Comment by pjMom — April 11, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

  3. Our kids are everything aren’t they? I could do no less when it was time for mine to step out into the world. Scary stuff too!

    Happy Pesach. Happy yontif.

    This is all I know, courtesy of my Jewish Sister-in-law. Hope you enjoy! Love your blog friend.

    Comment by calihurder — April 11, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

  4. you will know this: I have a box of “kosher” salt. The grains are larger than the regular kind, but so are the grains of salt from Essex. Now, what makes that salt ‘kosher’?? The maker is “Sifto”, and the box says it is “Gourmet Kosher Salt, Coarse Crystals. AND it is a product of Canada, and “Kosher for Passover”. What makes this ‘kosher’???

    Comment by heathermc — April 11, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

    • You probably think I’m a better Jew than I actually am. I had to google that one. It’s basically large-grained salt that can be used to draw out blood from a butchered animal in (accordance with kashrut laws, there has to be no blood in meat). Small-grained salt will dissolve and run off the meat:
      If they are going to market their salt as kosher, they will have to get certified, and there are several different companies that can do that.
      Generally, large grained salt is more pure and better for cooking because it retains moisture.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — April 12, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

      • thanks for that. I can see that large grained salt may be better in dealing with meat. And I now get that getting certified is another process, though. There are several large grained salts available, but Sifto sells the Kosher kind, which must mean that somewhere someone has a job doing the certifying. Actually, I now like large grained salt now. I started with salt from Maldon, which was the site of a viking/anglo saxon battle back in the day…

        Comment by heathermc — April 12, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

      • I learn something new every day. Often from you.

        Comment by AHLondon (@AHLondon_Tex) — April 13, 2012 @ 6:51 am

  5. Not growing up in a Jew-hating Totalitarian nation your daughter, fortunately, will not have any idea what things were like. But I think the greatest “danger” if you want to call it that to Judaism in America is that most people don’t care what religion you are so, as a result, you kind of become a-religious.

    Probably why so many Jews many gentiles in the U.S.

    Kind of ironic.

    Comment by Harrison — April 12, 2012 @ 12:13 am

  6. That was “marry” not “many.”

    Comment by Harrison — April 12, 2012 @ 12:13 am

  7. I’m glad I didn’t miss this post. It was a joy to read. God bless you and your family.

    Comment by Conservatives on Fire — April 12, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  8. It is interesting that the synagogue you picture is maintained by “Chabad”… some of this group were murdered in Mumbai a couple of years ago.

    Comment by heathermc — April 12, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

  9. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her mom. If more parents took the interest you do in your child’s well being, the world would be a much better place.

    Comment by Conservatives on Fire — April 13, 2012 @ 7:45 am

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