July 2016

“Welcome to Kiev.”

Three words I never thought I’d hear in my life. The KLM plane had just touched down at Borispol Airport.

I had flown with a group of women from the US. In Kiev, we met a group from Israel and Europe. Our spiritual journey to the birthplace of Chassidus was about to begin. For me, the trip was a family reunion of sorts, since I met up with my Israeli cousins and friends.


Kiev, Berditchev, Mezhibuzh, Breslov, and Uman had not been on my list of places to visit. I’d studied about the former USSR and learned about the roles these cities played in Jewish history. Over the last few decades, I’d heard the first-hand stories of visitors to this part of the world. While the experiences interested me, I never expected to travel to Ukraine.

So what changed?

A suggestion here: “I’m going to Uman in July; why don’t you come with our group?” Debbie had asked. A hint there: “It’s a healing, life-changing trip!” The emotional video on the Holy Journeys website drew me. And Hashem [G-d] created life circumstances that made the trip possible.

I traveled through time and physical space to a mystical—but very real—place. Learning, praying, laughing, crying, dancing, and singing—all the raw emotions rattled my core and catapulted me into a positive direction. With immense gratitude to Hashem [G-d], I share with you some of the photos from this trip.

Tomb of Rav Levi Yitzchok from Berditchev

Tomb of Rav Levi Yitzchok from Berditchev [For historical description, see: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1007604/jewish/A-Brief-Biography.htm.]

Berditchev Cemetery from Sara

Berditchev Cemetery (Photo Credit: Sara Melman)


 Baal Shem Tov

Tomb of the Baal Shem Tov and others (Mezhibuzh) [For historical description, see: http://www.chabad.org/generic_cdo/aid/388609/jewish/The-Baal-Shem-Tov.htm.]

Hotel in Mezhibuzh on Left

Hotel building in Mezhibuzh

Night Sky En Route to Mezhibuzh

Painting of Night Sky en route to Mezhibuzh

In Uman, we prayed and learned at the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. I was drawn to the exquisite beauty of Gan Sofia (Sofia Park).

Fountain near entrance                        Lily Pad                                        Waterfall


Photos (except Berditchev Cemetery) and painting (c) Sherri Leah Henkin 2016


Once I got out of the hot car, I felt the gentle cool breeze. Inhaling deeply, I smelled charcoal mixed with Israeli spices. I walked into the house, and quickly found a corner on the crowded counter-tops to deposit the cut fruit. I wanted to be with that barbecue smell and lively children’s voices.

My daughter-in-law set the tables set in her signature color scheme—black and white with red accents. The tablecloth is white with three-inch black polka dots. We eat off black plates, use white plastic cutlery, and drink from red 16-oz plastic glasses. In between the abundantly-filled serving plates and bowls, there are ruby red votive candleholders. This is one classy lady!

Our food resembled the diverse crowd: Israeli, Moroccan, and American dishes. From the Israelis we had homemade meat kabobs, colorful but very hot peppers, baba ganoush, and other small eggplant and pepper salads. From Morocco we had 9”x13” pans of colorful salads, each with its unique dressing: cabbage, endives, and a few others that had a Spanish influence. And from the good ol’ US—barbecue steak, chicken wings, corn-on-the-cob, and of course, hot dogs. Even the breads represented the different cultures—hot dog buns, pitas, and cut challah!

Of the family, extended family, and friends, I was the only third-generation American. Other folks were born in Egypt, Israel, Morocco, or France. So if you only spoke English, you were out of the conversation! I got to speak English, Hebrew, and even some French…at this Fourth of July barbecue!


The kids downed the food quickly so they could get into the refreshing pool water. Large floating cushions were more exciting than the food and certainly more entertaining than the adult conversation. “I call the pizza!” What?? Pizza after meat?* And then I realized that one of the floating cushions is shaped like a pizza slice, covered with cheese and tomato sauce.

“I want the swan!” And the seven-year-old swam adeptly to the oversized bright pink swan with the black beak.

“I’m headed for the Jacuzzi? Who’s joining me?” Jake called out. He may be 13, yet he enjoys a good pool party to relax! The only being that followed him, though, was Jax, the blonde Labrador…with his tennis ball. Jax dropped his ball in the Jacuzzi and waited a bit impatiently until Jake tossed it back.

By this point, the adults had moved from that classy food table to the far end of the yard, near the pool. We too, enjoyed the antics. And welcomed the shade from the lemon tree and other surrounding tall shady greenery. We settled comfortably on the chocolate brown rattan chairs with off-white cushions. Matching rattan side tables with glass tops displayed the desserts. While these dishes didn’t represent the cultures, we had variety! Home-made hot pecan-chocolate pie, courtesy of Ellen, who enjoys experimenting with new recipes. Fresh juicy red watermelon and orange cantaloupe on a tray, surrounded by one-inch sweet cherries and green grapes. Hashem [G-d], the Master Painter, creates beautiful colors. A custard cake, topped with strawberries, kiwis, and apples called out to some. And the smooth blue and red ambrosia rounded out the dessert choices.

While the kids were intrigued by some of the desserts, when the red and blue popsicles came out, the kids ran from all sides of the pool for these! “I want red!” “Gimme the blue one!” Then they hurriedly jumped back into the water, with the popsicles. Oops! The kids just broke one of the cardinal rules—don’t eat and swim. This Red Cross-trained former lifeguard looked the other way!

Whoosh! Boom! Eli, the other 13-year-old cousin, cannon-balled into the water, splashing all who sat a bit too close! No matter—the cool water refreshed us!

“Hey, Josh, when are you coming in?”

“Not today”, the 24-year-old family friend called out. Dressed in a white polo shirt and jeans, with his collegiate Dockers, Josh tried to act like the young adult. But Eli and Jake pulling at him and the seven-year-old cousins teasing him was just too much to resist…and in Josh went! “Josh’s in the pool! Josh’s in the pool” three-year-old Mickey happily sang.

The kids—and young adult—played for the next hour in the pool as the sun set. The darker the sky got, the brighter the pool lights became. The adults cleaned up. Jax kept running around looking for someone to play ball with him. Occasionally, I gave in and played “catch”, Jax-style.

At about 8:45, we heard the first firework noises. Once the sky was dark blue-black, we finally saw the tip of a white streak in the sky. By this point, the kids were out of the pool, ready for the final evening activity. Semi-dry, they gathered in the front of the house. The large cracks of firework energy and fanciful displays seemed to echo the vibrancy we had seen in the pool.

 white fireworks

  Red fireworks

Double fireworks


Photos ©Sherri Leah Henkin




*Kosher dietary laws–we don’t eat dairy right after a meat meal.