Emma Pearlman

Reflections on Estonia

Posted: June 9, 2016

So, today I’m sat at home, reflecting on the fact that last week I was in Estonia.

To get to Tallinn from Helsinki, you take a ferry. It takes two hours and it was a surprising chilled out ride and gave all of us a chance to reflect on what we’d done in Finland, and what we might see in Estonia.

On disembarking, we did exactly what you’d wouldn’t expect – all our luggage was bundled onto a mini bus, and then we were able to walk to the hotel.  It did seem odd; given how many times you get told not to leave things unattended!

After lunch we headed over to the community centre site, which also holds the school and synagogue – this building (Beit Bella) was built and dedicated in 2007 and was the first since the destruction of the original building in WWII. We met various members of the staff at the centre, and had the opportunity to visit the Jewish Museum which is also housed there. It might be small, but in this case, small is beautiful. Our guide was able to translate most of the text in the exhibits – currently it is in both Russian and Estonian, but will soon be updated to include English. I believe they also have audio guides for those who currently want English. We were told that on a recent open evening for museums, approximately 400 people came through the doors.

The following day (Friday) was spent on our Estonian service project. Dividing into groups, some of us made challah, some made challah covers and those of us left over, and that includes me, were involved in decorating Shabbat candles.  Given that I’m at best ‘artistically challenged’, and our teacher only had a few words of English we had need of our wonderful translator to explain decoupage. But even so we managed to produce something, and I was actually quite proud of the results.

The results of our morning’s efforts were then packed up in nice baskets, along with fruit and chocolate, and again, with a translator, in small groups, we set off to deliver our bounty to elderly members of the community. The gentleman my group visited was very interesting – he had been evacuated from Tallinn as a small child further into what was then the Soviet Union, and they’re temporary home was bombed out, they escaped with just the clothes they wore from the resulting fires.  After that he received an education, and became a boxing champion at university, a fact that was to come into good use later on when as an engineer supervising prisoners rebuilding factories destroyed by the Nazis. He then went onto work on Nuclear submarines, before returning with his late wife and family to Tallinn.  Now, his grand children live abroad, and he was incredibly proud to tell us about them and his family in Israel.

But the real Shabbat miracle occurred with another group, they had gone to see a military veteran, who on discovering that one of the group was Israeli told them of family that he had lost touch with. But not for long, my Israeli friend asked for the address he had to be translated from Russian, and he was able to find someone in Israel who knew them and put them back into contact!

After that we went to the kindergarten, to see the children go through their Shabbat programme, which I have to say was beyond cute. Many people may have seen it here in the UK with our own kindergartens and primary schools, but it was somehow comforting to know that however different and diverse a Jewish community may be, there are somethings that still stay the same. Plus they gad the most amazing challah with streusel on the top – I tried to find someone who would get me the recipe, but I’m told the secret ingredient is that the chef at the kindergarten simply loves the children! Either that, or she won’t tell

Our Shabbat programme involved dinner with members of the local community. A nice moment – after Kiddush was made, but before hamotzi, one of the gentlemen called all the men out of the room, they returned a few moments later with flowers for every lady in the room, an incredibly touching gesture and a way to remember Estonia.

Shabbat morning saw us on a walking tour of the Old Town, which is stunning, and has many beautiful medieval buildings, and a gorgeously decorated Russian Orthodox church. Sadly, none of the Jewish buildings in that part of the city have survived until now.

Later in the evening, one of the community leaders, Gennadi Gramberg came to give us a talk on the history of the community (info can be found on the community website - http://www.ejc.ee/). That was followed by going out for dinner with more of our peers from the community, which included Havdalah.

Our Sunday, and final full day, saw us visiting Kadriorg Palace and ground, which was built by Peter the Great of Russia for his wife Catherine and their family as a seaside palace. Now it is an art museum and park.

The afternoon saw us returning to the community centre. We met with local Madrichim over pizza and found out about the youth programmes in the Baltic. But that wasn’t the best part of the day – that was seeing the completion and dedication of the first Torah scroll specifically for the Estonian community (http://estonianworld.com/life/estonian-jews-celebrate-new-torah-scroll/). That morning it have been taken on a symbolic journey around former Jewish sites before being brought the community centre for the final verses to be completed, two of the gentlemen of our group were invited to ‘write’ a letter, which was an incredible honour for them.  It was an amazing atmosphere and party, which looked like it was due to take advantage of the long summer days and run on late.

Sadly, we had to leave as we were scheduled to have dinner with young families and as that included their children, it meant leaving early so that the kids weren’t out too late. It was a fun evening; our hosts had made a music quiz for us, and what really made it was that they were so pleased to see that we were interested and willing to engage with the community that they had brought us some small gifts – I’m now the proud owner of and Estonia mug!

Monday was a travel day – you’ll be pleased to know that going home was much easier than getting there.

Overall, I’m glad I went, I met so many incredible people, heard wonderful stories and got to participate in what may well be a once in a lifetime event for the community with the Torah scroll.

What lessons can we learn – well the first thing is how united the community is there, while the Rabbi may be Chabad, the community is so small that every Jew is made welcome.

Secondly, they have fantastically well-developed programmes for their youth, young adults and families.  It’s something I’d like to find out more about – because I think it could be implemented here as well. A lot of them seem to be social and cultural, rather than religious based for the adults, and it helps keep people together and involved. The future leaders will come from this.

And lastly, at the risk of sounding like I work for Tallinn’s tourist board, I’d say go visit. There is a museum as I mentioned, and a kosher restaurant, apparently it takes 25 min to walk from the cruise terminal.




Reflections on Finland

Posted: June 2, 2016

Reflections on Finland


I wish I could make this complete, but as I’ve already shared my horrendous travel story with the group, it has to go here too.

First up – shout out to the parents who got out of bed at 3am to take me to the airport for a 5.55am flight to Amsterdam. So far so good, I check in quickly, there’s no queues for security and I head to the gate. Boarding is on time, everything looks great, then the Captain announces that there is fog in Amsterdam, and we have a potential wait of 1 hour and 45 min. I am meant to have 1 hour, 35 min on the ground in Amsterdam, but, he says the flight time is actually 55 min. So, I figured not a problem, it’d be tight, but I’d make it.


We take off at 7:40, an after an hour still haven’t landed, the Captain announces we are running out of fuel, and will be going to Rotterdam to refuel, and will then have to file a new flight plan and get a new slot for Amsterdam.  Anyway, it seems to take forever for this to happen, so I get my phone out, turn it one to see I’ve been rebooked onto the 2pm flight to Helsinki, so I message people to let them know what’s going on.

Eventually get to Amsterdam, where I manage to get my new boarding pass, and head to the gate, armed with a large bottle of water.  Then they cancel the Helsinki flight with no reason given.  Short version, I queue for over 3 ½ hours to be told I’m going to Prague for a connecting flight to Helsinki – the next day.   Another queue gets me into a hotel for the night, and I manage to make it to Helsinki the following day, 36 hours after I started, tired, hungry but ready to meet people.


I missed out on visiting the synagogue and the school, so I can’t say anything about those places sadly.  However I did get to meet people in time for our service project in Helsinki, which involved manual labour – just what I needed at that moment in time!


The old cemetery in Helsinki needed cleaning up – short version was it was incredibly overgrown, and there were a lot of leaves and branches all over the place. So we set too, and attempted to clear up. I think we did make a difference, it did look better afterwards. One thing to note is that there are the graves of Finnish soldiers killed in WWII, I didn’t know that they had actually fought against the Russians alongside the Nazis, and then fought off the Nazi’s afterwards. Several had been awarded an Iron Cross, but refused it.

The following day we went to Suomenlinna Island – I’ll leave you to look up the details, but believe me when I say it’s a beautiful place. And also has a place called the “Devil’s Church” which was actually a room used by Jewish soldiers.


Following on from that we visited the care home for the elderly. It could have been depressing, given that we were told that several of the residents were cognitively impaired, instead, it turned into an impromptu karaoke session to try and entertain the residents, I’m not sure all of us could a) sing and b)knew the words, but we tried at least, and after that we had the opportunity to meet a former Finnish soldier who had not only fought the Russians, but had fought with the IDF in 1948. It was inspiring to meet this man, and realise he was a genuine hero and part of history.

So – what have I taken away from this experience so far, and what have I learned that I could pass on to the community in Manchester. Firstly, the community in Finland might be small, but it is vibrant and people want to be involved. There are vibrant Youth programmes that develop future leaders from the teenagers/students in the area. Maybe this is something that the working group dealing with Youth issues on the Rep Council can look into.

Secondly – sometimes all it needs is people to volunteer their time, they don’t need to lead a group, just lend a hand and pitch in, like we did with the cemetery, or give an hour of their time to visit people at The Fed. I’m sure all we need to do is find the opportunities and ways to make them known, but I do know that is a lot easier than it sounds.

Also, Finland is a beautiful country and its people are very welcoming, and most speak great English. Go, visit, have a great time!


It’s on to Estonia now, so stay tuned.





Thoughts from before my trip to Finland and Estonia

Posted: May 19, 2016

There really isn’t long to go now, and I should think about packing the suitcase I’ve left open on the bed in my spare room.

Perhaps I should explain that statement, in a few short days, I’ll be boarding a plane to Holland, and then onto Helsinki to meet up with a group of people from various places, such as the USA, Australia and Israel to meet with and see for ourselves what life is like in the Jewish community there, and then onto Tallinn as well.

It isn’t a holiday, let me make that clear from the start. But there are fun things planned, nights out with our Finnish and Estonian contemporaries, trips to see the sights and so on.  The plans include meeting members of the communities and their institutions – schools, community centres, kindergartens, facilities for the elderly and also working on service projects, for example in Helsinki they need help cleaning up the cemetery, while in Tallinn (and those who know me will say it is designed for me!) we get to bake challah and deliver it to those who need it. Guess I better pack my apron, I’m sure I can explain looking like a slice of pizza will enhance the taste!

I’m not sure quite what to expect from this, it’s the first time I’ve done something like this that has involved the service aspect, it’s one thing to come from the outside, look in and then go away again, but this feels like there might be a chance to make a lasting difference to people’s lives. And also, to learn from what happens in the Baltic, I’m sure there are lessons that can be learned, techniques that can be brought back to Manchester with me.  Maybe that lasting difference will be found back in England too.




Jun 9, 2016 2:22:37 PM
Jun 2, 2016 2:21:26 PM


Emma Pearlman
Joined: January 28, 2013



bg page