“Great,” he says. “We have a date. I’ll be waiting for you at my home on Wednesday at 7 pm.
“You might want to take a cab,” he adds.
Meet Ilya Shikavitch Gorenshtein.
Ilya greets us with a big hug, as is the custom among the Jews in Rostov. After showing us the garden, “my wife’s pride,” Ilya takes us through his home. Room after room, we are met with an abundance of sunlight and traces of Jewish pride. “Let’s go down to the basement, the important part of the house.”
Ilya opens a door and reveals a small room lined with wooden shelves. There are shelves for his wine and whiskey collections, dried fruits and herbs. And then he points to a huge jar. “There’s your Esrog, Yanky.”
After Sukkos, Ilya collects all the best Esrogim from Shul. “Citrons are very uncommon here. I like to slice the skin thin and let it sit in the vodka. It’s delicious. It’s only in there for a day, but open it and take a whiff!”
We walk down the hall.
“We were thinking of making a gym down here, but in all honesty, it probably wouldn’t get much use. Instead, I made myself an office, but it’s more like my sanctuary.”
As we enter, we are greeted by an eloquent wall display of Ilya’s ancestors, photos dating back a hundred years. There’s a built-in wall of bookshelves, proudly housing Ilya’s library of books and other mementos, such as his grandfather’s silver Kiddish cup.
In comes Ilya’s son, carrying a tray of local fruits. “I’m sorry I can’t give you a proper feast,” Ilya says. “Our kitchen isn’t entirely kosher yet.”
My eyes continue roaming the room, amazed by all the Jewish pride on display. “Can I get you a cigar, Yanky?” Ilya asks.
“I can’t remember the last time I turned one down.”
I light my cigar. Ilya lights his pipe.
“Let’s start with the red currant vodka. Then we’ll have the black currant. We can try the citron, but it still needs more time.”
We sit back and talk about life, local Jewish history, the Jewish soul.
“Ilya,” I said. “If today’s youth were to ask you for a word of advice, what would you like them to know?”
Ilya’s face turns serious.
“We must always remember and respect our heritage.” He pauses and looks around the room. “We must honor what our ancestors have given us and maintain it with pride, even when it isn’t popular. If we were able to do it during Soviet times, we could do it today.”