Photo from Limmud FSU 2014 New Jersey (eJP archives)

Photo from Limmud FSU 2014 New Jersey (eJP archives)

Among the approximately 1.7 million Jews living in New York and the US East Coast are nearly 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Reaching out to this Russian-speaking population, is Limmud FSU whose annual festival opens today in New Jersey.

The event, like all Limmud FSU events, is organized, planned and managed entirely by volunteers and is a unique opportunity for young Russian speakers to connect or reconnect with their Jewish heritage and identity; to create their own educational and social program; and to meet up with hundreds of people like themselves who share the same interests and concerns.

Limmud FSU, founded nearly ten years ago by Chaim Chesler, brings together young Jewish adults in all the countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as those with Russian-speaking backgrounds in the US, Canada, Australia and Israel. It has revolutionized pluralistic Jewish engagement of Russian-speaking Jews by involving them in a full array of debates, workshops, intellectually-stimulating presentations on a multitude of topics, controversial round-table discussions, musical performances, theater and dance, festive Shabbat celebrations and much more. Among the presenters are leading academics and scholars, prominent politicians, journalists, writers, artists, entrepreneurs and musicians from around the world.

“Limmud FSU was established as a branch of the global Limmud initiative, known for its stimulating festivals of Jewish learning and cultural exchange across the world,” says Sandra (Sandy) Cahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU. “We empower Russian-speaking Jews to connect with their communities and feel inspired by their identity through our educational conferences held in a fun, exciting and relaxed atmosphere.”

Among the presenters and guests in New Jersey will be many local and international celebrities, among them Matthew Bronfman, the entrepreneur and philanthropist; Abe Foxman,  National Director of the Anti-Defamation League;  Israel Tapoohi, President of Israel Bonds; Greg Schneider, Executive Vice-President of the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany;  Victor Shenderovich, famous satirist, writer and radio host; Igor Irten’ev, a Russian-Israeli poet;  Alexander Genis, writer and literary critic; Iryna Rosenfeld, Ukrainian-born Israeli vocalist; Eric Goldstein, Vice-President of the UJA Jewish Federation of New York; Rabbi Mordechai Becher of Yeshiva University;  Prof. Fania Oz-Salzberger, the noted Israeli historian and many more.

The event will open with an art exhibition “Private Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell,” featuring the art of Zinovii Tolkatchev, a Red Army soldier and witness to the events, marking 70 years from the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Second World War. “I did what I had to do. My heart commanded. I couldn’t refrain from doing it. My conscience demanded it.” (The exhibition is made available through the generous support of the American Society of Yad Vashem.)