Over 1,100 participants gathered in Moscow, Russia, last week for the largest Limmud FSU Moscow event to date. Considered to be one of the most prestigious of Jewish cultural events in the former Soviet Union, Limmud FSU conferences provide a festival of Jewish learning featuring a packed program of lectures, workshops, round-table discussions and music along with a wide-range of cultural events.
by Maryna Gaidak
Just a week ago I started working as a volunteer chair of the PR committee for the Limmud FSU Ukraine conference this Fall. Following a very productive trip to the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk and meeting with members of the organizing committee, I traveled to Limmud FSU Moscow. I have never attended Limmud before and with that in mind I entered backstage something I knew nothing about but which definitely promised to be a unique experience.
After check-in I decided to stroll down the halls of “Klyazma” – a venue on the outskirts of Moscow, which seemed to be built especially for an event like this. It took me only a couple of minutes to realize how massive it is, and I was stunned to find out that Limmud Moscow 2013 gathered over 1,100 participants, 27 volunteers and over 100 presenters. It promised to be a thrilling experience.
As people were arriving and the place became more and more crowded I witnessed something very special about Limmud: while there are so many differences between participants representing different ages and backgrounds, there is definitely very much that unites us. People of different ages, literally from 0 to 80, came together for an educational event and I am sure it has something to do with a particular form of Jewish thinking, the existence of which, by the way, was proved to us by psychoanalytic Svetlana Bimbat, who held a practical class on this issue.
Mikhail Libkin, a long-time Limmud participant and one of organizing committee chairs for the Moscow event, told me that this year they tried to bring in something new to the event: “Our main idea was to discover new names in the Jewish community of Moscow. We kept a percentage of well-known presenters, but tried to give not as known speakers a stage where their voice could be heard. They are new, but definitely professional and this let us raise our level”.
Following registration I received the Limmud book, which traditionally contained a detailed description of everything that was going to happen in the next three days. What neat news it was to find out that this year’s conference in Moscow had something to surprise participants: a Limmud Moscow smartphone application! I immediately installed it and there I was, walking around with up-to-date program information, reminders about sessions that I had a chance to add to my “Limmud wish list”, a chat for participants and lecturers and access to all program materials. This was definitely a sign of utilizing technology to improve the quality for participants. So I hurried to my first Limmud lecture ever to get an experience of Jewish education without borders. As a former student I was particularly attracted by the idea that I didn’t have to stay in class if I was not enjoying the topic (which is impossible at Limmud), but gives you a feeling of freedom of choice while knowing that the lecturer will not be offended when a few people leave the class. In 100% of cases this happened because there were too many interesting lectures going on at the same time and everyone wanted to get at least a sneak peek of everything. Limmud never sleeps and at 1 o’clock in the morning I found myself chitchatting in the lobby with some volunteers.
One, Larisa Popovskaya, 24 years old and a student of multimedia journalism at National Research University’s Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told me: “Starting from 2007 I have only missed one Limmud FSU conference. I love the pluralism here. One can attend a wide range of classes starting from ceramics master-class to serious philosophical discussions. My main reason for choosing to become a volunteer is a special kind of responsibility, which makes you feel a part of the event and gives a chance to be involved in more communication with participants, organizing committee and speakers. Right now I will be taking part in organizing the next Limmud Ukraine conference because I like to feel that I can do more than just participate”.
It was also my first experience to meet, and speak with Chaim Chesler, the founder of Limmud FSU, whose energy and enthusiasm for Limmud FSU are unmatched: “This is not only the largest Limmud FSU ever, but the largest Jewish gathering for a weekend in Russia, which is mainly secular and pluralistic, covering different aspects of Jewish life and religious beliefs. There is nothing like this in the former Soviet Union.
I am very proud that after seven years we have reached maximum capacity. To make it bigger we would have to find a larger venue, which I believe does not exist.
There is another new phenomena here this weekend; seven young people from Israel paid to come to Moscow to participate. We have delegations from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and United Kingdom. Limmud Moscow has become a center for Limmud FSU that reflects different places – this is impressive. We are developing new events around the world with one coming in Vitbesk, Belarus next month, which is already sold out. Limmud FSU is the product that participants want. Why? Because it is developed by them and belongs to them”.
Nowadays formal education is simply not enough and the high speed of modern life leaves us almost no time for gaining knowledge in different areas. This makes Limmud the right place to be at. The gathering of a high level of speakers along with an interesting and challenging public, gives participants an alternative vacation full of networking, family events, interesting lectures, insightful discussions and fun. The only disadvantage I found is that Limmud is never enough. As it became a “must attend” on the calendars of thousands Jews around the world, so it will become in mine. Next stop: Belarus.