Starting the day with a jog on the edge of the Black Sea, it was on to serious sessions, i.e., discussions about Modern Zionism, the Medical Aspects of Jewish Philosophy and Psychology, or Torah – many choices for Limmudniks. Young Jews across the FSU want to know about their Jewish identity, and attending this Conference in Yalta represents a way back to their Jewish roots.
In the former Soviet Union, religious identity was considered an ethnic or cultural affiliation more than a religious one. This explains the inherent tendency in Limmud FSU’s programming to include the influence of Jewish themes in the arts, music and, of course, literature woven through today’s sessions. Israeli dancing and hand-on art workshops sparkled with creativity and individual expression.
Picking up the thread of Monday’s serious discussions about social responsibility and the global economic crisis, panelists from the United States, Israel, Ukraine, and Russia, addressed the huge challenges involved in working in the FSU today. Raw, honest, and controversial, panelists from major Jewish agencies, including Keren Keyemet-Israel, the Jewish Agency (JAFI), and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), addressed this quagmire of growing proportions. With diminishing resources, all agreed that the focus for these on-the-ground organizations is clearly on welfare – food, fuel, and medicine for the most needy.
Suggesting another way to address this crisis, one panelist proposed rethinking age-old work plans under different political and security realities, country by country. Obviously sensitive to today’s extreme economic situation, panelists acknowledged the need to look beyond their traditional organizational lines, and, perhaps, regroup with coordinated leadership to deliver essential humanitarian services more effectively.
In another session, eminent Jewish educators talked about the serious concerns in the field of Jewish education, citing the critical need to change the current paradigm. “Failure to deal with Jewish education will resonate in the paucity of future Jewish leadership and undermine the strength of Jewish communities worldwide,” explained Allan Hoffman, Director, Education Department, Jewish Agency for Israel. “How do we crack the culture of multiple interests and create the will and intensity necessary to sustain Jewish life,” Hoffman continued.
Throughout the day, participants attended stimulating, often fiercely debated dialogues, centering on issues relevant to Jewish identity and historic Jewish roots. On a different note, Joseph Begun, a “prisoner of Zion,” or refusnik, spoke with passion about his difficult path from his repressive life under the Soviets to his new life i Israel, following a dramatic film he produced about his struggle.
Less intense, the talented, stunning, and vibrant, Taglit-birthright israel brought its outstanding musical troupe to the Limmud FSU stage to celebrate “Israel at 60,” with all the dazzle and cleverness of a sold-out Broadway production. Beautiful to watch, this performance raised the roof of auditorium and created a strong feeling of connection with Israel today and the unique place of Israel in our hearts and minds.
Closing the day with cool, intimate jazz – Neshama Carlebach, a well-known international singer, and daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who changed the face of Chassidic musical tradition with his songs.
(this was Day One in Yalta)