More than 700 young Russian-speaking Israelis Celebrate at Annual Limmud FSU Israel Festival

The international educational organization, Limmud FSU celebrated its bat-mitzva – 12 years of educational activities in Israel – with a three-day festival this past weekend in Ashdod, a city which has a large population of Russian-speakers. The pluralistic conference, run entirely by volunteers, attracted more than 700 young Russian-speaking Israelis, most between the ages of 20-45.

The high-level program encompassed more than 150 lectures, workshops, round-table discussions, master classes and artistic performances given by 100 presenters, on a wide range of subjects of Jewish interest, as well as a special program for children.

(l-r) Dorit Golender, Aaron Frenkel, Prof. Aviad HaCohen, Chaim Chesler, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, MK Avigdor Liberman, Matthew Bronfman.

The festival, held in partnership with Ashdod Municipality, hosted some noted public figures, including Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, the former Deputy-President of the Supreme Court; MK Avigdor Liberman, former defense minister; Limmud FSU Chair of the International Steering Committee Matthew Bronfman; Limmud FSU President and EAJC Chairman Aaron Frenkel; Dorit Golender, Vice-President for Community Relations at the Genesis Philanthropy Group; musicians Leonid Ptashka, Gil Shochat and Roy Young; painter Sasha Okun; and many more.

Among the festival’s highlights was the inauguration of an exhibition in honor of Justice Rubinstein, curated by Prof. Aviad HaCohen, Dean of the Sha’arei Hamishpat College of Law. Among dignitaries attending the event were former Supreme Court judges.

Photo: eJP archives

The festival also featured a memorial to the late Russian cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space who died in October. The event featured a message from the American astronaut Garrett Reisman, who was a guest of honor together with Leonov at Limmud FSU 2011 in Beersheba. At the 2011 event, Leonov had noted the cosmic character of the Israelis, striving to survive in any circumstances. “It is indeed symbolic that these words were said in the city built in the desert, thanks solely to the efforts of the Jewish people.”

Following the Festival, Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler told eJP, “Limmud FSU’s Bat Mitzvah celebration in Israel was truly a special milestone for us, and an almost unimaginable one – mainly because of the amazing way it has grown from a small local event in 2008, to the huge festival of learning that it is today. The best proof of its reach and scope is the registration – within a few minutes of opening, the event was already sold out, the waiting list was extremely long, and once a slot was vacated, it was immediately filled by another happy Limmudnik. In our wildest dreams we never thought it would happen.”  

Co-founder Sandy Cahn added, “The Limmud FSU festival in Israel is truly a unique event, which has grown steadily during the years and has now become the leading cultural phenomenon for Russian-speaking Israelis. Everyone knows about it, and everyone is eagerly waiting for the next annual event. Over the past 12 years, which is not a very long time, we have become one of the most important events for the local community, which is nothing short of amazing.” 

The 2019 Limmud FSU Israel Festival was supported by the Municipality of Ashdod, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Mif’al Hapayis, KKL, the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany, and others.

It was mounted by a devoted group of volunteers under the direction of Limmud FSU Executive Director Roman Kogan and project manager Ira Zdanovych.

Photos courtesy of Alex Khanin and Limmud FSU.