Over 500 Young Jewish Adults Converge in Odessa for Limmud FSU Conference

Jewish Writers in Odessa 1910; (l-r) Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Sholem Aleichem, Ben-Ami, H.N. Bialik; courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Jewish Writers in Odessa 1910; (l-r) Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Sholem Aleichem, Ben-Ami, H.N. Bialik; courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Odessa, Ukraine, October 6, 2013 – Over 500 young Jewish adults from across Eastern Europe are in Odessa for a four-day Limmud FSU program. This annual event is a festival of Jewish learning featuring a full program of lectures, workshops, round-table discussions, music and a wide-range of cultural events.

Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU, tells eJP, “Limmud FSU is about the Jewish identity strengthening process in the lives of the Jews living in the Diaspora.”

Hailing from many countries including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Russia, participants are attending seminars, lectures, presentations, master-classes, round-table discussions and creative workshops on a wide variety of subjects. Some of the topics included in the program are, Jewish spirituality and philosophy, ethical issues, current topics in politics and society, the Arab-Israel conflict, Bible and Talmud, music, dance, and even the secrets of Jewish cuisine. Among the presenters are prominent historians, scientists, artists, politicians, businessmen, educators and musicians from Israel, America and the FSU.

Odessa, once the second largest Jewish community in Russia, was home to over 200,000 Jews in 1939 and lost most during WWII. Currently, Odessa claims about 30,000 people who identify as Jews; however the number is thought to be higher as many Jews won’t publicly identify as such due to the country’s history of anti-Semitism. Despite Jews being counted as just 1% of Odessa’s population, the city is still considered to be a very Jewish city, with its unique humor, slang and culture. It was an important Jewish center at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th Century place for the Zionist movement. Prominent Jews from Odessa include Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Revisionist Zionist leader who founded the Jewish Self-Defense Organization; and writer Isaak Babel who made Odessa’s Moldavanka district famous thanks to his book “Tales of Odessa.”

According to Sandra Cahn of New York, co-founder of Limmud FSU, Odessa is a city renowned not only among the Jews of the Former Soviet Union, but also among those in the United States, Israel, Europe and Asia, as a symbol of free spirit, humor and creativity.

The main theme of this Limmud FSU Conference is “Tel Aviv-Odessa”, dedicated to celebrating the 140th anniversary of the birth of Chaim Nachman Bialik, a pioneer of Modern Hebrew poetry and recognized as Israel’s national poet. Ayelet Bitan-Shlonsky Chief Curator and Director of the Bialik Complex in Tel Aviv will be the keynote speaker at tomorrow night’s official opening event.

Other celebrities of Jewish heritage with roots in Odessa include, American Illusionist David Copperfield, whose paternal grandparents are from Odessa; Sylvester Stallone whose Jewish great grandmother Rose Labofish fled Odessa to escape pogroms; and Dancing with the Stars’ professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who was born in Odessa.

Limmud FSU Odessa is held in partnership with Nativ – the Israeli Culture Center, KKL – JNF, Claims Conference, Embassy of Israel in Ukraine, Odessa City Hall, JDC, Jewish Agency For Israel, Beit Grand Jewish Cultural Center, Migdal Jewish Community Center, Hillel Ukraine, Tkuma – Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies and CAF Russia Foundation.