St. Petersburg, Russia, Nov. 30 – Former Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevitch made an emotional return to the city where he was imprisoned in the 1970s to join hundreds of Jews from across Russia for the 4th Annual Limmud FSU program in St. Petersburg this weekend. The three-day Jewish learning festival featured a packed program of lectures, workshops, round-table discussions, music and a wide-range of cultural events. With about 100,000 Jewish residents, St. Petersburg claims the second largest Jewish community in Russia today.
Mendelevitch was held in a Soviet prison after being arrested for leading the 1970 “Operation Wedding,” a Soviet Jewish operation to steal a plane from then-Leningrad’s airport and escape to Israel. After gaining his freedom, Mendelevitch made Aliyah to Israel. Mendelevitch was among the main speakers at Limmud FSU St. Petersburg, recounting his experiences in Operation Wedding, recalling celebrating Shabbat in the Gulag, and describing his feelings about returning to St. Petersburg.
“I spent a lot of time in this city but only as a prisoner, so I don’t know it at all,” said Mendelevitch. “I’m certainly not nostalgic. The Land of Israel is the only place to which I have an emotional attachment.”
Participants, primarily from St Petersburg, but also from many neighboring cities and countries (including Moscow, Kaliningrad and Kazan) attended some 80 seminars, lectures, presentations, master-classes, round-table discussions and creative workshops on a wide variety of topics. The topics included Jewish spirituality, tradition and philosophy, ethical issues, current topics in politics and society, arts, music, and dance.
“St. Petersburg has one of the most vibrant and flourishing Jewish communities in Eastern Europe with a rich cultural life, and we are thrilled to be part of it”, said Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU. “This conference, like all other Limmud FSU conferences, contributes to the Jewish life in the city and leaves a significant impact on the Jewish community members while they are looking to strengthen their Jewish identity.”
Also speaking at the event was Lea Koenig, often called “the First Lady of Israeli Theatre,” who celebrated her 85th birthday with a special party arranged by Limmud FSU.