Some 800 people came together this past weekend (November 17-19) for the first ever Limmud FSU West Coast conference in the San Francisco Bay Area, the largest event geared towards the Russian-speaking community in the region. The participants – mostly the children, and grandchildren of Soviet-era Jews – included over 120 elementary school age children and teenagers. Most of those attending were previously unaffilaited with the Jewish community.
“The Russian-speaking Jewish community in the West Coast is flourishing, and this milestone – a record number of participants in our first ever event in the Bay Area – is the proof of it,” Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler told eJP.
The event, as are all Limmud progrms around the world, was volunteer planned and run, and offered a smorgasboard of structured and random learning, along with fun opportunities throughout the weekend.
Conversations with many singled out the sense of community – and being a part of – along with engaging in new experiences as the weekend’s highlights.
With an emphasis on technology, the program theme was “Inspire” and included standing room only presentations by WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, the first American Jewish astronaut Garrett Reisman (his 3rd Limmud!) and Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, among others.
Though many presentations focused on the intersecting worlds of social media and technology, the historic global struggle for Soviet Jewry during the 1980’s and 90’s, played an undeniable role.
From a pre-event conversation between former US Secretary of State George Shultz and Natan Sharansky, to recognizing the contributions of those born in the former Soviet Union to the hi-tech world of Silicon Valley, ‘Russian-ness’ and a sense of family were celebrated throughout the three days.
A highlight for many was the Saturday night program billed as a “Stilyagi” happy hour. Featuring bright, snappy dresses, skirts or trousers and narrow ties, the singing, and dancing, went well into the wee hours of the morning.
Commenting to eJP following event, Limmud FSU co-founder Sandra Cahn said: “This event’s strong lineup and remarkable attendance is another testimony of the powerful appeal of Jewish learning in a pluralistic, dynamic and engaging environment”.
From Limmud FSU’s first event in North America eight years ago, to annual events in New York and Toronto, to last year’s 1st West Coast event in Los Angeles, Limmud FSU is “aiding to rekindle the Jewish spirit within the [North American RSJ] community and supporting its growth in a welcoming environment.”
Now, as Limmud FSU begins its second decade, it’s “onward and upward!”
The event was generously supportted by Koret Foundation, Jim Joseph Foundation, Fooksman Family Charitable Fund, Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG), Israeli Consulate General of the Pacific Northwest, World Jewish Congress, Claims Conference, Jewish Community Foundation of East Bay, Ukrainian Jewish Encounter and other donors and partners.