When I was about 6 years old, my parents took me and my brother on our first trip. We went to the Ukraine, to the town of Skadovsk on the Black Sea. The trip was recommended by my mom's second cousin Bella who had traveled extensively in Ukraine. My parents had organized this trip in such a way that we met up with my mom's first cousin Sonya and her daughter Jenya who was about my age. Cousin Sonya, a daughter of my grandmother's favorite baby sister Lisa, with whom my grandmother had survived the blockade of Leningrad, lived with her parents in the Ural mountains, in the city of Sverdlovsk, later renamed Ekatirenburg. Jenya and I and my brother Kostya played together on the beach. Apparently, there was a sort of an amusement park there with little trains you could ride and bumper cars and a Ferris wheel that in Russian is called "the Devil wheel" and also maybe teacups that spun. I only remember this from the pictures that we have at home. Kostya got bit by a jelly fish and almost drowned in the salty water at least once. Jenya and I tried to get into as much trouble as we possibly could, running away from our mothers and pretending we were on a treasure island. There was, in fact, an island that could be seen from the shore, and one time we all took a boat excursion there. The island was called Dzharilgach, and my mom read us stories by a very good Russian children's author, Boris Zhitkov, who wrote about this island. In fact, one of his stories was entitled Dzharilgach -- and it's probably why we all remember this island so well.
My memories of this trip are vivid, but only as vivid as memories of a 6-year old could be: lacking any sort of specificity in details. I saw Jenya one more time about 5 or 6 years later when she and her family passed through Leningrad (St. Petersburg by then) on their way to Israel. Cousin Bella and her husband Mark had left for Israel earlier. And so did my mom's cousin from her dad's side, Gena, and his wife Marina and son Artem, who got a new Hebrew name Ariel upon arrival. And so did a number of my dad's cousins. I've always known that I had more relatives in Israel than back in Russia, but it was an abstract knowledge, a list of names with only vague memories of faces and character. When I came to the States and learned to use the Internet, I've started writing letters to my Israeli cousins. I've kept in touch with Jenya, with Sonya (not Jenya's mother, but a cousin from my dad's side -- I had known her the best, I had spent 2 weeks at their country-house in Ust-Narva in Estonia once and I always came to her birthday parties back in St. Petersburg), with Artem-Ariel. Ariel is a captain in the Israeli army now, stationed near Tel-Aviv. His brother Dani is 16 and still in school. Sonya has a 7-year old daughter and is getting her degree in psychology. She has 1.5 more years of school work to do and then she will need to do an extensive internship. She's already working as a supervisor of a flat where seven mentally challenged young people live on their own. Jenya's brother Misha (who wasn't born yet during our Skadovsk trip) is finishing his service in the army and is looking to go to college in Israel or maybe in the US. The only one we didn't get a chance to meet yesterday was Jenya herself -- who is on a business trip to China right now and will come back to Israel the day after I'm going back to San Francisco.
Dave writes about the details of our excursion to Golan heights and Sea of Galilee with all the family.