Limmud FSU Caps Off 2010 in Odessa

In just a few short hours, Limmud FSU opens its first ever event in Odessa, in southern Ukraine. For this vibrant organization, with a core goal of building Russian-Jewish identity, this is their second event of 2010 in Ukraine, and the concluding event in what has been a busy, and highly successful, year.

Located on the Black Sea, Odessa is the fourth largest city in the Oblast (province) of the same name. The city has a long, and rich, Jewish history, and the population – at its height following WW1 – was about half the total population. According to the Claims Conference, “The Jews were a thriving and vibrant community; there were 60 synagogues and Jewish thinkers and businesses flourished. Indeed, the Jews were so numerous they were able to support the manufacturing of their own goods.”

Odessa is famous in the Jewish world as the home city of such luminaries as Zeev Jabotinsky, Chaim Nahman Bialik, Isaac Babel, Menachem Ussishkin, Meir Dizengoff, Shalom-Aleichem, Ahad ha-Am, Shimon Dubnov and many others – including three Nobel prizewinners – Ilya Menchnikov, (medicine 1908), Selman Waksman (medicine 1953), Boris Pasternak (literature, 1958). Odessa has a reputation not only as a hothouse of literary icons and its own inimitable brand of Jewish humor, but also as a breeding ground for Zionism. It was referred to as the “Gateway to Zion” because it served as a major point of embarkation to pre-state Israel.

During the 1930’s the population began to decrease. Beginning in 1941, over one hundred thousand Jews were murdered during the Nazi / Romanian occupation. Stalin’s post WW2 reign further demolished the Jewish population by placing restrictions on who could return and on what conditions. In both the 1970’s, and 1990’s, large numbers left for Israel or the U.S.

Today, approximately 30,000 Jews live in Odessa out of a population of around 1 million. Despite this remaining small fraction, the city continues to be considered a vibrantly Jewish one.

And, it is to this Odessa, that Limmud FSU descends for the next three days – bringing more than 550 young Russian-speaking Jews from throughout the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Russia and elsewhere.

In typical Limmud FSU style, participants will engage in a combination of lectures, workshops, seminars and enjoy entertainment, led by led by some 60 volunteer presenters from Israel, Russia, Ukraine and the U.S.

Special guests joining the participants include Zina Kalay-Kleitman, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine, Dr Nona Kuchina and Moshe Shneerson of “Dr Nona International”, Diane Wohl, a prominent New York Jewish activist and top Odessa city governemnt officials.

Taking advantage of the rich history of Odessa, the program includes an excursion of Jewish Odessa for all participants, and a second optional excursion, “A Taste of Odessa’s Courtyards.”

Tonight’s opening spectacular, “Shalom Limmud Odessa”, will be a sound and light performance held at the Concert and Exhibition Complex of the seaport, featuring top Ukrainian singers, actors and performers, the Odessa State Philharmonic Orchestra, and guest artist, Israeli jazz virtuoso, Leon Ptashka.

about: Limmud FSU (an offshoot of Limmud, founded in the UK some 30 years ago) is a unique international movement, founded in 2006, the purpose of which is to provide a widespread pluralistic social and communal educational and learning experience for young Russian-speaking Jewish people wherever they may be – in all the countries of Russia and the Former Soviet Union, in the USA and in Israel.

Limmud FSU receives financial support from across the Jewish world; long-time organizational funders include both the Jewish Agency (JAFI) and the Joint (JDC) and individual philanthropists including Dr. Nona Kuhina and Moshe Shneerson and Diane Wohl (all three of whom are in Odessa for the event) and Limmud FSU’s steering committee’s chair, Matthew Bronfman.