By Larisa Popovskaya
Limmud FSU travels around the world and every year this educational festival comes to Ukraine. This year is unusual. This year is the first time Limmud has come to Lviv, the cultural center of today’s Western Ukraine and the former center of Jewish life in this region, which was then called Lemberg in German or Lemberik in Yiddish. The city is awash with Austrian architecture, narrow streets of the Middle Ages, the Ukrainian language, Catholic churches, European pavements, Ukrainian cuisine with Polish and Hungarian influences. The Western culture of coffee and a strong national self-identification of local citizens also makes Lviv one of the most interesting and diverse Ukrainian destinations. Jewish life was rich before the Holocaust, every third person who inhabited the town was Jewish. Today the Jewish life of Lviv is deprived of all former glory and scale if compared with its past, but still there is a lot to be proud of: synagogue life, klezmer festivals, Jewish cultural events for youth and more.
Limmud came to Lviv at the suggestion of its participants. A new city, with new presenters, and new topics to discuss. But Chaim Chesler, the founder of Limmud FSU, was frustrated by the beauty of the city and the generous hospitality of the local government administration on one hand and yet on the other, no meaningful recognition (except for a few memory sites) of the slaughter that took place here during the Holocaust. One of the highlights of Limmud was hearing the dramatic story of Holocaust survivor Kristina Chiger, who had been hiding in the sewage of Lviv after the destruction of the ghetto. Chaim personally found the sewage entrance and entered it. His only comment on my question “How was the sewage?” was “Smelly” – pointing out that the air was filled with combinations of raw sewage and of roasted coffee from the numerous nearby cafes.
The majority of volunteers and organizing committee members came one day prior to prepare the hotel for the conference. One sleepless night for volunteers and then Limmud Lviv started for everybody. A long-time Limmudnik Olga Bard, who has volunteered for several years said it makes her feel warm inside to participate in a such great Ukrainian Jewish event, especially in Lviv: “Limmud Lviv is special for me, because it is a beautiful city with long history and a wonderful example of different nations living together for centuries.”
Coming back to the first day of Limmud, I had a small flashback: an unbelievable registration boom for this Limmud caused many people to independently rent apartments and hotel rooms in the neighborhood of the two hotels being used. As the conference started, we found the rooms where Limmud took place were named after the shtetls – today they are just small towns or villages – that used to surround Lviv: Stryi, Zhovkva, Nemyriv etc.
The topics covered excluded Ukrainian politics. The only politics discussed: Israeli. Many new local presenters spoke on Lviv-connected topics. This year was rich for musical performances, especially klezmer music, as Lviv is the cradle of klezmer culture. There were several Klezmer and Yiddish performers from Ukraine, Russia and Moldova and even from Germany. Mark Kovnatsky, the violinist from Germany, is originally from Moscow. It was his first time at Ukrainian Limmud, but earlier he was a presenter at international Limmuds for 5 times. “I really liked the level of the presenters and organization of the event. There were many colleagues of mine and it is always wonderful to perform together with them. I tried to attend not only musical performances, but also the lectures of Limmud famous presenters.” Mark added: “Lviv is magnificent. I’d like to come back to Lviv and Limmud again.”
Among famous presenters there were the comedian Klara Novikova, the satirist Victor Shenderovich, the ironic poet Igor Irteniev and many others. The lectures were about Judaism, Israel, Yiddish, Gulag, Holocaust, history, Lviv, music, cinema, psychology, art, Internet. As usual one can choose where to go and what to listen, because this is what Limmud is about. The workshops included postcards and candles making, intuitional painting, Shambala bracelets making, Ashkenazi cuisine receipts, photography, Hassidic nigunim, theater and so on.
The opening ceremony in the evening was amazing, it was the ball with the dress code and classic dances. Then the mayor of Lviv gave a speech and the concert of famous Ukrainian A Capella band Pikkardiyska Tertsia began. But this was not the end – nightlife of Limmud is always active: intellectual games, concerts, movies and always – a disco.
The next day of Limmud was filled with activities, which didn’t leave any chance for those who wanted to see Lviv. Yulia Nevolina, a first time participant of Limmud from Kyiv, Ukraine, is happy that she came: “Limmud is a concentrate of culture, arts, humor, I feel as cozy as at home here. Limmud inspires me by its democracy. I like to feel equal with everybody else and I adore the freedom of choice at Limmud. Choosing Lviv for hosting city was success.”
Both religious and secular people united to light the candles for Shabbat. Those who chose to go to the local synagogue went, others stayed at Limmud service and the others continued to attend lectures in the beit-midrash.
The last full day of Limmud was astonishing and full of surprises. Many concerts, Yiddish and Russian Jewish songs, different lectures, Havdala and the closing ceremony in the building of former arsenal with the performance of Klezmasters band from Moscow and Israeli singer Marina Maximilian with LayerZ band.
Our foreign participant Misha Gorn from New York, USA, was born in Tomsk, Russia, and this was his first time at Limmud Ukraine, but his seventh Limmud FSU. “I am a volunteer at Limmud FSU New York, but I like your Limmud more. The level of presenters is higher than in NY, because we do not have so many educated Russian-speaking lecturers, and there is no budget to invite presenters from Ukraine and Russia. Also you have much choice of lectures in the parallel and your volunteers take Limmud and the responsibility more seriously. The atmosphere of Limmud is very positive, people are very friendly. Moreover, Lviv really influenced the atmosphere of the festival. I hope to come to Ukrainian Limmud once more.”
The last day has come. The last parallel of lectures ended and the guided excursions took people through the different routes to the city of lions which is called Lviv. Everybody was smiling and a little upset, because the Limmud days of joy and education came to their end.