St. Petersburg, Russia, October 25, 2013 – Hundreds of young Jews from around St. Petersburg will gather today for the multi-day Limmud FSU Conference, the third to be held in that city. The participants are primarily from St. Petersburg – the second largest Jewish community in Russia – but include many from neighboring countries and cities (like Moscow, Kaliningrad, Saratov, Belarus and Ukraine).
Among the presenters will be prominent historians, scientists, artists, politicians, businessmen, educators and musicians mainly from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Israel and America. Some of the exciting names at this year’s conference include famous Israeli actress Helena Yaralova who is originally from Kiev, well known poet and philosopher Lev Rubinstein from Moscow, children’s author Michael Yasnov, historian Ilya Altman from Moscow and fashion designer Liliana Modigliani.
Like all other Limmud conferences, Limmud FSU in St. Petersburg is egalitarian and pluralistic and is organized and run by local volunteers who are passionate and enthusiastic about the Limmud mission of strengthening Jewish identity and bringing Jewish learning to Jews of all backgrounds.
About Jewish St. Petersburg: Under the reign of Alexander II in the 19th Century select groups of Jews gained legal access to the Russian interior, including the imperial capital. Under the policy of selective integration, “useful” Jews, such as, physicians, army veterans, university graduates, and wealthy merchants, were permitted to live outside the Pale of Settlement. By the end of Alexander II’s reign, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in St. Petersburg legally, making it the largest Jewish community outside the Pale. There are estimates that an almost equal number of Jews were living in the city illegally at the time as well. According to the 1897 census there were 17,254 Jews in St. Petersburg (including 310 Karaites), constituting 1.4% of the population. Despite its small numbers, the St. Petersburg Jewish community played an important role in Russian Jewish life, in part due to the wealth of individual members and their influence at the court.
In 1917, all residence restrictions on Jews, which had allowed only Jews who worked in St. Petersburg to remain there, were abolished, and the city became a center of the organizational activities of all the factions and parties of Russian Jewry. However, there remained periods of pronounced anti-Semitism. Though mass emigration in the 1980s-90s reduced St. Petersburg’s Jewish population, the city re-emerged as a vibrant Jewish community after the fall of Communism, with a full range of educational and religious facilities, including a Chabad House and synagogues, a Jewish private University, five day schools, a Reform synagogue, many JCCs, and large range of international and local organizations, such as the Israeli Consulate General, Israeli cultural center, The Jewish Agency, JDC/The Joint, Hillel, Family Center “Adain Lo” and many others.
“St. Petersburg has one of the most vibrant and flourishing Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and we are thrilled to be part of it”, said Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU. “We are sure that this conference, like all other Limmud FSU conferences, will contribute to the Jewish life in the city and will leave a significant impact on the Jewish community members while they are looking to strengthen their Jewish identity.”