Nestled in a valley in the Carpathian foothills lies the town of Truskavets, Ukraine. And here, not far from the border with Poland, on a snowy March day, Limmud FSU opened its first conference targeted specifically to the Ukrainian Jewish community. Drawing a cross-section of participants of all ages, 550 individuals gathered for an intensive three days of what Limmud does best: providing a pluralistic ground-up learning experience for the community, by the community.
As typical with all Limmud events, there was a diversity of sessions and presenters. The latter ranged from Dr. Yael Blau, a Ben-Gurion University professor who is the granddaughter of S.Y. Agnon to Yuval Rabin, a software engineer and son of the late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to Alexander Duchovny, chief Rabbi of the communities of Progressive Judaism in Kiev and the Ukraine to Dasha Privalko, Hillel’s CASE Regional Development Director for six FSU countries. In total, almost 80 presenters kept the program moving daily from 7:30 am until way past midnight.
Each year, Limmud FSU focuses on one aspect of Jewish life. This year, the theme is based on Jewish-Russian and Israeli Nobel laureates and their many global contributions since the first prizes were awarded in 1907. Limmud Ukraine, as the first Limmud FSU event of 2010, kicked off Limmud Nobel, for which events are already being planned for Moscow, Jerusalem and WestHampton, New York.
Roald Hoffmann, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1981, sent a powerful video message to the participants on Judaism and Science, and concluded with a plea to remember that “spiritual things are of immense value”.
The program was not just limited to the ‘serious’. Workshops were as varied as yoga, filmmaking and Israeli dance. The evening cultural programs included the Ivano-Frankovsk Puppet Theater, entertainer Yakov Yavno and disco parties into the wee hours. Igor Schupak, Limmud FSU Ukraine’s program chair tells us, “Sometimes, the problems around us (and within us) are so serious that it is difficult to treat them seriously. Moreover, Jews have always tried to smile, and laughter through tears has become a Jewish trait. In that spirit, Limmud is a feast for the Jewish soul and mind. Here in Truskavets we are open to both jokes and serious issues. Indeed, Limmud is the most engaging program for discussion of the most important Jewish issues of today.”
In both the countries of the FSU and among the Jewish-Russian demographic in others, Limmud FSU has tasked itself with the mission of helping to restore a tradition of lifelong Jewish learning while providing opportunities to strengthen Jewish identity. No small task; but with the diversity of locales, a full range of sessions and presenters at each conference, along with the opportunities to interact with a wide range of participants, exchange ideas, and acquire new knowledge and experiences, a strong foundation is being laid. Limmud FSU is quickly becoming an indispensable part of Jewish communal life within and for this demographic.