By Larisa Popovskaya
Limmud does not stop. The world is anticipating every Limmud that happens all around the globe. I wouldn’t be surprised that the first event that would take place on Mars or in space would be Limmud. But let’s come back to the Earth.
September time, year 2014, the Republic of Belarus, in the city of Vitebsk. These are the coordinates of the most recent Limmud FSU. More than 700 participants from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Israel and the US came to the birthplace of the famous Jewish painter Marc Chagall to celebrate the best Jewish educational holiday ever. Moreover, in Belarus Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s grandparents and the founder of modern Hebrew Eliezer ben Yehuda were born. This year the son of Ariel Sharon – Gilad Sharon – and the grandson of Eliezer Ben Yehuda – came to Limmud for special ceremonies dedicated to their famous relatives.
Limmud itself starts in the morning of Friday, September 12. Usual 5-8 lectures at the same time, old friends meeting at the lobby, people going to the lectures held in 2 Belarusian theaters and at Vitebsk arts museum, always active Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler – who hugs almost everybody at the lobby – big group of Israeli journalists, who are always taking photos – I would call it an ideal Limmud start. Chaim says that the atmosphere at Limmud Vitebsk is built by several factors: it is the native city of Marc Chagall and his teacher Yudl Penn, it is the town of Yiddishkait and many Israelis were born on the land of Belarus.
Then we are having the opening ceremony. That’s something, I should say! The beginning that could be used for Oscar ceremony, children singing national Belarusian songs, dulcimer orchestra performing Hava Nagila and 7-40, the pleiad of famous Russian artists with dramatic poems reciting and singing, performance of famous Israeli and Russian stand-up comedian Ilya Akselrod and Israeli band The Shuk. Ilya, born in Minsk, Belarus, became famous as a comedian in Israel and then in Russia. This is his first Limmud outside Israel:
“Here I have met interesting people that I can talk to in informal atmosphere. The audience is welcoming and I felt really comfortable performing. As for Vitebsk itself, I liked it. Limmud here is based on Jewish culture of historically Jewish town, the atmosphere of which unites limmudniks.”
It wouldn’t be Limmud, if there is no Shabbat celebration. As always the participants can choose the ceremony or the lecture that they want. The Shuk presents a musical Kabbalat Shabbat. Moreover, it is already the Limmud tradition to have the intellectual games on Friday night. It’s the best time for communication and new acquaintances. That’s why participant from Minsk, Belarus, Natalia Shapiro adores Limmud: “I like that many of my friends and fellows come to Limmud for entertainment and education. I love the choice here. Long life to Limmud!”
Saturday is the apogee of Limmud. Lectures, workshops, book presentations, discussions, round tables, dramatic performances. Israel, USSR, Yiddishkait, Jewish art, Jewish humor, Jewish mother, finances, dances, theater – there are no limits of topics at Limmud. The participants are grateful for this choice. Natalia Kravchenko, the participant from Gomel, Belarus, is the first time limmudnik: “Limmud is a meaningful Jewish event for my personal education and for staying tuned with the local and international Jewish community. It is hard to pick up the session, because the choice is diverse. Vitebsk presents a very high cultural level of the city from the point of view of its organization.”
The evening program is stunning – Havdala and The Shuk with the concert. Simon Erez, the drums of The Shuk, has been at Limmud in Israel and Moldova: “The atmosphere at Limmud is great. People from FSU are active, they appreciate music. The concert at Limmud Belarus was one of the best we had. I feel here like a rock star.” Of course, there are late evening sessions and small concerts, but mostly people meet at the lobby and bar area to celebrate second and unfortunately the last night of Limmud Vitebsk.
Sunday morning is relaxed time, when some people are already leaving the hotel, the city and even the country. The volunteers of Limmud feel less stressed, many of them do not have the work to do (Mazal tov!) and some of them are even ready to give an interview. Natalia Gurevich, the volunteer from Minsk, is also the first timer. My question about coming to Limmud as a volunteer for the first time ever was met with amusement: “It’s much more fun! It is the opportunity to take active part at Limmud and not being passive. The responsibility is not bending me. I am very happy that I am a volunteer, but if I were an ordinary participant, I would definitely attend more sessions (smiling).”
Two sessions run fast and it feels like The End, but there is a big surprise – the one man show called “Singing Mikhoels” performed by famous Russian artist Mark Rozovsky from the Moscow Near Nikitskie Gates theater. Almost two hours of songs and monologues on the stage of the Vitebsk Dramatic Theater make some people cry. Everything ends with clapping hands to the Limmud organizing committee and volunteers. Curtains!
Authors’ note: It is only a coincidence that the interviewed women were named Natalia.