Over the course of four days, I traveled to Minsk,
Grodno, and Lida, leading
in Progressive com-
munities under the auspices of the FSU Pesach Project,
a partnership between HUC-JIR and the World Union for
Progressive Judaism. By far the most powerful day was the
time we spent in Lida. After arriving by bus from Grodno,
cantorial student Rayna Dushman and I met a community
member for a tour of the city and its Jewish sites.
As we stood in the parking lot of an apartment complex.
Our guide gestured around us, saying, “This used to be
a Jewish cemetery.” Were it not for the memorial by the
Jewish community, no one would know. We drove a little
bit out of the city proper, to a monument on the side of
a road, across from a forest. This monument, Igor told us,
marked the spot where all of Lida’s Jewish children were
killed on the day the Nazis liquidated its ghetto in the
spring of 1942. Their parents were marched into the
forest across the way.
Here, we didn’t need a monument to see what had
happened. Mounds of earth rose unnaturally from the
ground in a forest clearing, now covered in grass and
wildflowers. These were the mass graves, memorialized
by a Soviet-era plaque to Lida’s citizens, with no mention
of the reason they were killed: because they were Jews.
we pair the salt water of Jewish tears with
the greenery symbolizing springtime, rebirth, and
Lena, a member of the
Lida Jewish Community, sang the “Four Questions” beauti-
fully. We applauded the children’s choir, recently returned
from a choral competition in Minsk, who proudly sang for
their parents and community. The children of Lida needed
no prodding to make the connection between the ancient
story of the Exodus from Egypt, and our people’s more
After spending Pesach in Belarus I have a much deeper
and more complex understanding of Jewish peoplehood.
In the traditional text of the second blessing of the Ami-
dah, it says ‘Blessed is God, who gives life to the dead.’
The revival and rebirth of Judaism in Belarus, the move
from children’s graves to children’s choirs, is a vibrant
example of the potential for rebirth and renewal in our
Rabbinical Student/Los Angeles
Rabbinical student Miriam Farber
and cantorial student Rayna
Dushman (center) celebrate
Passover with Mark Damzhalsky
and Lena Mihalkevich of the Lida
community in Belarus.