Seder in Crimea
The following letter was sent by Leah Lipsyz to friends "on planet earth" (as one of Leah's sons calls the United States now that the Lipsyz family has moved to the Crimea to be the Rebbe's emissaries there).
...When we arrived at the airport in Kiev we ran to get all of our luggage before anyone else did. The porter told us to go on through, and we "understood" that he was going to get the baggage through quickly. After two hours we were finally "cozily" seated in our own private Intourist bus. Filling up most of the bus were our 64 pieces of luggage. We squeezed into the front rows, with dreams of a comfortable ride gone. We traveled from that rainy afternoon until 7:00 the next morning. We were stopped 15 times and had to pay $60 in "fines."
Finally we arrived at our "temporary" quarters. Entering the courtyard of the shul we were met by Bubba and Liza (our upstairs neighbors), Reb Shimon (the head of the Jewish community), Rex (Bubba's dog), Iza (the cat who adopted the shul), and assorted others. Around noontime, we were unloaded, the Intourist bus gone, and I got up the courage to check out our lodgings.
The first thing that I encountered was the "kitchen": a 4' x 6' room with a counter and two hotplates. Then came a hallway with a teeny refrigerator, another cabinet, and a small enamel sink. Next came the living-dining-boys' bedroom. A wide doorway led to our bedroom, which featured a "sofabed" chairbed, and cabinet.
After unpacking all the boxes we could unpack and moving the remainder of the boxes into a "storage" area, we discovered that the space the boxes had been in was (sort of a) kitchen! The room itself had a sink with no plumbing, several broken cabinets, and -- just what every kitchen needs -- a bathtub! We outfitted the tub with a hinged door and it became a counter with storage below.
We spent the following day frantically looking for appliances to buy. If in America you can "let your fingers do the walking," here your feet do the running from "krome" (department store) to "krome" where people sell whatever they can get their hands on. We found a refrigerator which would have been great except it didn't work. In the next store we saw a freezer, but the man who owns it wasn't there. In another, we heard, "We're closed, come back tomorrow."
Finally, the next day, we found two freezers, a refrigerator, and an oven. Meanwhile, Rex somehow got a nice, juicy roast out of the outdoor locker we had been storing the meat in, and called his friends to join the party.
...At 12:30 in the afternoon, on the eve of Passover, everything was finally set up and we were ready to start cooking at a frenzied pace, when the water went off. I quickly taught Itchie [Leah's husband] and Zushe [her son] how to clean the fish outside. I was already a mayven, having done it the previous Friday. The kids peeled vegetables until the seder. At 5:00 people started coming. The seder wasn't called until after 9:30; they obviously don't know from Jewish time here. Soon there were a bunch of people in the courtyard who had washed up and were peeling horseradish! I lit candles and kept on preparing. People kept on coming -- over 200! Our only advertising had been word of mouth.
...Laundry is a whole other issue here. A few days before Passover I sent our laundry to a company to get done, but I got it back all wet and terribly wrinkled (except the things I didn't get back). The next time I needed to do the laundry, I tried the lady who cleans the shul. When she finally got around to it, she tried to take the "rich Americans" for a ride with the price. So there I was, a few hours before Shabbat, washing our clothing by hand in the bathtub. As there was no more room on Bubba's clothesline we put the remainder of the wet clothes in a garbage bag. "Make sure nobody thinks this is garbage and throws it out!" I said.
Then I took an icy bath; sometimes the water heater works and sometimes it doesn't. At candle lighting, 15 teenagers showed up unexpectedly. So we lit candles, davened, made kiddush, washed, ate, and sang. And I forgot about everything else. On Sunday morning Bubba took us to see her 92-year-old uncle's house which was for sale. It's the best house we've seen. If we can break down walls, and build up and out, we'll have a Chabad House. Cost--$15,000. Renovations--$20,000. Anyway, we came home and I saw the boys still needed to clean up before they could go to the park. I told each of the older boys to throw out one of the bags of garbage. "And don't forget to bring back the bags," I reminded them. Crazy as it sounds, when we throw our garbage in the dumpster, neighbors go out to retrieve the bags, jars, etc. to wash and reuse. And while they're doing that, our garbage ends up on the street. Since our American garbage is easily identifiable, we have to clean up their mess. So we dump out the garbage and throw the bags in after.
That night, when the kids were in bed, I started to pack for Itchie who is going to America today to raise money to buy Bubba's uncle's house. I picked up a wrinkled shirt and asked "Where is the rest of the ironing pile?" And then it all came to me... in my fog of not feeling well earlier in the day, I'd told the boys to take out the garbage... only one of the bags wasn't garbage... it was the ironing that I'd put on the side before Shabbat! We lit a candle (there aren't street lights on most blocks) and went out to see if the new shirts could possibly still be there (of course they weren't) and Itchie started laughing. "Hey, we look like real Crimeans now, looking in the garbage!" he chuckled
So I immediately thought of the Michoel Streicher song that has almost become our theme here: "When things aren't moving the way you've planned... don't give up, you've got to laugh it up, you've got to put your trust in Hashem."