by Larisa Popovskaya
From October 5 to 8, Limmud Odessa brought some 500 Russian-speaking Jews from the Former Soviet Union together to celebrate the birthday of Israel’s national poet Hayim Nahman Bialik, who was born in Odessa, and to drink in the atmosphere of Jewish unity under the special Odessa sky of Ukraine.
This Limmud event took place in Odessa for the third time. You may well ask “Why Odessa?” but the answer is clear. Odessa is one of the cradles of modern Israel with its contribution of so many ideas, future writers and statesmen to the future state. One of the classic homes of Eastern European Jewry, Odessa is the spirit of so many Jewish immigrants, so the question should actually be: where could be more suitable than Odessa?
Limmud in Odessa is a part of the world-wide Limmud family, but with a very special Ukrainian and Odessan spirit. What is Limmud? It is pluralism, volunteering and Jewish learning. But here in Odessa there is a very special sense of humor, anecdotes which could only have come from Odessa, slang that you will hear only here and, of course, the parties, music, dancing and sightseeing, but above all, Jewish study.
The Limmud participants arrived in the picturesque district of Arkadia, which is near the sea. The weather could have been better at the beginning, but Limmud brought the sun to Odessa. The last two days were sunny and warm. The events began with Havdala at the close of Shabbat and sessions went on until two in the morning. The following day, participants arrived from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and even from the USA and Israel. With five or six lectures taking place at the same time, participants had a great choice. Many very well-known people from the FSU are among Limmud’s regular presenters, among them the famous Russian actor Benyamin Smekhov, the writer Victor Shenderovich and others.
The age of the participants this year ranged from two to the mid 80s, but, of course, there is no limit. Every year more and more young people come to Limmud and they bring their parents and even grandparents. Participants choose their own program. The youngsters went to hear the Israeli reggae band Kozmo or participated in an intellectual game; others attended lectures on old Odessa or the art of Marc Chagall. Those who preferred to listen to a klezmer band from Odessa, could do just that.
Like all Limmud events, it is volunteers that make things happen. It is not typical of the Soviet mentality to do something for just a thank you, but Limmud makes miracles happen. Volunteers organize the audiences, volunteers interpret for non-Russian-speaking presenters, volunteers solve all problems and are always ready to give a helping hand.
Presenters surprise veteran limmudniks with new topics and enthrall newcomers with amazing lectures. This year’s sessions, starting with Jewish fashion and going on to secrets of family life and bringing up children, were very different from each other, but united in their Jewish connection. And don’t forget Israeli dances, morning yoga, master-classes for handmade arts and crafts, humor sessions, business training workshops, and much more.
Four active and unforgettable days in Odessa have come to the inevitable end. Warm hugs, parting from new and old friends, last good byes and “see you next Limmud.” 500 people prove once more that Limmud is the popular recipe for Jewish learning among this and future generations.
Larisa Popovskaya, 25, is from Kiev (Ukraine) and is currently studying in Moscow.