Limmud in the Baltics Goes “One Step Further”

Limmud’s unique blend of thought-provoking conferences and socializing creates a genuine feeling of belonging and an atmosphere that encourages both new ideas and new friendships.

jpg1-11By Inna Lapidus-Kinbere

Limmud promises that “Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey,” but in my case, that small step turned into a giant leap.

I first heard about Limmud in 2005 – brought to the region by the Baltic Jewish communities and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – and wanting eagerly to enrich my Jewish knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, meet new friends from other Jewish communities, I volunteered at the event. On that fateful Limmud weekend, which brought more than 1,000 Jews from the area, I also met my future husband, Boris.

I was born in Tallinn, Estonia a few years before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and I grew up in the turbulent, but exciting years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Judaism was important to my parents and I was fortunate to attend a Jewish day school. I come from the small Jewish community of Estonia, which totals about 4,000, and I was curious to meet my peers from other Jewish communities.

Boris and I dated for a year, commuting between Latvia, where Boris lived, and Paris where I was studying for the year. A year later, at Limmud once again, Boris proposed.

It’s an amazing story, but it is not unique. I know of several couples who have met at Limmud over the years, and whose young Jewish families blossomed from this transformative event. We all come from small Jewish communities in the Baltics – where some say Jewish settlement started in the 8th century – and Limmud brings us together, in a lovely setting, outside of our daily routine, to connect as a community.

For us, this has been a welcome respite over the years, especially recently from economies that were on the ropes, but now are very slowly on the mend. Additionally, these robustly Jewish gatherings have proven especially poignant, and engender deep pride too, given our tragic history in the region – near decimation in the Holocaust and decades of communist repression.

So it was with great enthusiasm that this past November, Boris and I attended a mini-Limmud in Latvia, along with our two children and 300 others in the Latvian resort town of Jurmala.

An ardent believer in the magic of Limmud, I worked with a group of 12 volunteers to organize the event.

Along with young professionals, students and young parents, we imagined, planned and delivered events and activities for participants to meet, learn, get inspired, network, and connect. Once again I was astounded by the level of participation and excitement from everyone – whether they attended sessions on Chanukah and Shabbat, Yiddish or the Jewish history of Argentinian tango, krav maga trainings or Israeli dance workshops.

Even a chess tournament – held during one of the breaks – was filled to capacity by participants who preferred to spend their free time connecting with each other! Karaoke night was another huge success, with children and adults competing for a free recording at a music studio. The winner was a talented and ambitious young adult who recorded his song, and who now attends JCC activities with his spouse.

It always amazes me how Limmud’s unique blend of thought-provoking conferences and socializing creates a genuine feeling of belonging and an atmosphere that encourages both new ideas and new friendships.

Every year that I attend Limmud, I discover something new. This year I took part in lectures about parenting, music, and Judaism, and from each one I gleaned wisdom and inspiration that will lead me one step further in my Jewish journey.

For my friends who are now young parents, Limmud is also an opportunity to offer our children another way to connect to our heritage in a warm and stimulating environment.

Today I work for the JCC in Riga, and my Jewish identity is an important part of my professional and personal life.

Still, Limmud remains a unique opportunity to connect with new and old friends, and together delve into what it means to be a Jew in the Baltics today.

Inna Lapidus-Kinbere is the director of the JCC in Riga, Latvia.