First Man to Walk in Space to Appear at Limmud FSU Be’er Sheva

left to right: Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornyenko, Alexander Kryukov, Director of the Russian Cultural Center, Astronaut Garret Reisman, Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Chaim Chesler, Founder of Limmud FSU, Sandra Cahn, Co-Founder and Matthew Bronfman, Chair, Limmud FSU Steering Committee.

Limmud FSU Beersheba was launched Tuesday night at a special reception co-hosted by the Russian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv together with Limmud FSU. The guests of honor were two Russian cosmonauts: Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space and Mikhail Kornyenko, and his partner in space, the American-Jewish astronaut Garrett Reisman. All three space pioneers will be speaking at the Beersheba Festival. This year’s Limmud FSU is devoted to the topic Space, Science and Technology, which was especially chosen to mark the 50th anniversary of the first flight in space by the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in 1961.

The ambassador of the Russian Federation, Pyotr Stegniy, opened the event and greeted the audience, pointing out that this year is being celebrated in Russia as the “Year of the Russian Space Odyssey.” The three cosmonauts, speaking in Russian (including the American Garrett Reisman – even if with a self-confessed “New Jersey accent”) expressed their delight in being in Israel and said they had been overwhelmed by the warmth of their reception. In introducing them, Alexander Kryukov, Director of the Russian Cultural Center, said that the breakthrough in space actually heralded a breakthrough in many fields of human knowledge and understanding, and the presence of two Russian and one American astronauts, as well as the presence in the audience of Rona Ramon, widow of Israel’s own astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was evidence of the degree of international cooperation that exists today, not only in space exploration but in countless other fields.

Matthew Bronfman, Chair of the Limmud FSU International Steering Committee drew a parallel between space exploration “Space without Limits” and Limmud – “Knowledge without Limits.” Echoing his thoughts, Sopha Landver, Minister of Immigration Absorption added that Limmud FSU was incontrovertible evidence of the thirst young Russian-speaking people have for learning about their roots, culture and national identity. Rona Ramon thanked the Russian Cultural Center for inviting the Russian cosmonauts and praised Limmud FSU for bringing everyone together.

At the close of their remarks, the space pioneers were moved when Brig. Gen. Roman Yagel, President of the Israel Union of Soviet War Veterans, Partisans and Invalids of the Second World War, mounted the stage and bestowed on each of them a commemorative medal. Not to be outdone, Mordechai Kirmygarov, President of the World Union of the Jews of Central Asia presented them with silver plaques to mark their visit.

Opening today, Limmud FSU Be’er Sheva (the fourth Limmud FSU festival in Israel) will take place for the first time in the capital of the Negev. Some 800 Russian speakers are expected to attend and will choose between a packed program of lectures, panel discussions, workshops, round-table meetings, exhibits, film showings, artistic performances, and much more, given by some 60 presenters from all over the country. Among the speakers will be Silvan Shalom, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee; Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and the Diaspora, Moshe Arens, past Minister of Defense; actress Helena Yarova; journalists Eitan Haber and Yaron Deckel; Gil Hovav speaking about his great-grandfather Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the popular singer, Maria Maximilian Blumin and other performers. Special visits for participants will be made to the Ilan Ramon Center, the Air Force Museum at Hatzerim and the Old City of Beersheba.