Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kayaking in Virzhiniya

Jews of my parents' generation were obsessed with knowing which celebrities were Jewish. In an era before people flaunted their ethnic roots and when anti-Semitism was a real concern, they relished a quiet pride in those Jews who had "made it" in the greater world (the actor Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz!). My generation was clearly influenced by our parents' habit: Jewish celebrity name dropping is one of the main elements of Adam Sandler's execrable Hanukkah Song. I even have to admit I'm a little guilty of playing this game myself (Scarlett Johannson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and of course Natalie Portman - if you are reading this you are welcome to come over and study Talmud any time. And bring Mila Kunis too).

Which brings me to Boris. I bumped into Boris when I was launching from Columbia Island Marina with a couple of friends on a cool December morning. Our goal was to paddle up to Fletcher's Cove Marina and rendezvous with a Meetup Group outing being organized by our friend Deke. Boris was there indepedently and launched behind us, but he did wind up catching up with us once we met up with Deke's group. Initially all I knew about Boris was that he was paddling a gorgeous work of art - a strip-built baidarka style kayak. Museum quality stuff, and not a kit like my Shearwater.

Deke's group was composed of a bunch of fairly inexperienced paddlers and some stand-up paddle boarders. We paddled up river together past Chain Bridge, but when Deke took the group up into the squirrely currents at the base of Little Falls I decided to hang back and have a snack. Taking that group into challenging currents in the cold waters of December seemed foolhardy to me and I just didn't want to be in the middle of it. For the record, the group did wind up with someone in the water -it was Deke himself who fell off his SUP; fortunately he self-rescued without incident.

Meeting up with Deke's group at Fletcher's
Boris came back downriver past me as I was enjoying the sunshine and my Powerbar. He hadn't really been with either Deke's group or mine to begin with and so wasn't waiting around for them. I myself had little patience for sitting around waiting for the group to return from around the bend and so the two of us decided to break off and return together to Columbia Island.

As we paddled back I learned that he was a Soviet Jew who had been part of the major Soviet Jewish emigration wave which took place in the 70's through 90's (just like Mila Kunis!). He had lived in Israel until eventually work took him to the U.S. - to Brooklyn, and finally Silver Spring, Maryland. As we paddled and talked he figured out that I was Jewish too. He was thrilled and amazed to discover another Jew on the water, and one who shared Brooklyn and Litvak roots at that (my mother's family, if you trace it a few hundred years, is from Boris' home city of Vilna). He excitedly exclaimed, in his Lithuanian/Russian accent, how unusual it was and how rare it was in all his years of kayaking to run into another Jew on the water (I have found this to be true as well).

Having basked in ethnic bonding all the way down the river we exchanged numbers, promising to kayak together again. It being the last day of Chanukah* we wished each other a chag sameach (happy holiday) and went on our ways - two modern day Noahs, each with our own little personal wooden arks.
Boris' & my kayaks
 *Chanukah is the transliteration I prefer for the Hebrew word חֲנֻכָּה. When referencing Adam Sandler's song I use the spelling he used in the title. Actually, I'm kind of keen on YIVO's choice of Khanike because of its Yiddish flavor and the clever use of the less common "kh" to indicate the "חֲ" sound.