Limmud Yalta: Day One

Arriving full of anticipation, over 1,000 Russian-speaking Jews from the 13 countries of the former Soviet Union, international Jewish leaders and guests, and presenters were ready to experience the 2nd mega-Limmud FSU Conference in Yalta, October 27-30, 2008.  From the kickoff this afternoon, the halls of the hotel were silent – everyone found their way to one of the many meeting rooms for stimulating presentations.

The choices – 171 sessions and panels with roughly 150 presenters offered over the four days of intense programming. Limmudniks could select a presentation from a broad range of topics, including sessions on the plight of Holocaust survivors, Jewish politics, Diaspora Jewry, traditional Jewish handcrafts, Torah study, and much more.

“Why Major Philanthropists Give?” a packed session, attracted a standing room only crowd.  Speaking personally, panelists discussed their belief in creating an enduring Jewish future through their gifts of Tzedakah. Mark Chais, a noted Israeli philanthropist and panelist, who served as Honorary Chair, Limmud FSU in Ashkelon, Israel, last month, talked about the importance of rebuilding Jewish communities throughout the FSU.

Chais explained, “My grandparents came from Russia.  They represented the strong intellectual tradition felt across the Russian-speaking Jewish community.  This strength makes the case for investing in the FSU and for using our resources to help young people come together in a pluralist way – right, left, center – from all sectors of the Jewish community.”

“Investing in the Jewish future,” said Matthew Bronfman, Chair, Limmud FSU International Steering Committee, “reflects my believe that we’re developing tomorrow’s leadership and building strong Jewish communities, whether through Taglit-birthright israel, on our campus Hillels, or in many other ways.”

One participant asked how the worldwide economic crisis would impact giving?  Philanthropists from Russian, Ukraine, Israel, and the United States agreed that it’s going to be a very difficult time for Jewish charities – everybody’s been affected.  From the top down, there will be less giving.  And, from the bottom up, more people will need help. This crisis puts more pressure on local sources to fund programs.  The question is, what kind of sacrifices are local organizations willing to make to keep their doors open?

Looking beyond social responsibility and serious economic concerns, one conversation focused on interpreting the word, “Jewry?”  Many thoughts and opinions, leading to a broad perspective: one people, one community based on Torah and the essence of man’s relationship with man and how to be a light unto the nations – living a moral and ethical life.

One of 42 Limmuds around the world, Andrew Gilbert, chair, Limmud International, said, “We never dreamed that Limmud FSU would be such an outstanding success.”

Closing the first evening with song, Limmudniks were treated the Chassidic Reggae, YLove, Beit Agnon, and Expressions, a talented Hillel musical group from Kharkov.

And, this was only day one!

(here’s Day Two in Yalta)

Marcia P. Neeley, a strategic communications advisor, is the former Executive Director of Marketing & Communications, UJA-Federation of New York, responsible for shaping the public profile of the organization and presenting its complex and diverse programs and projects to multiple audiences, through broad-based media and communications initiatives locally and internationally, including the former Soviet Union, Argentina, and Israel.