Russian-Israelis Inaugurate Historic Limmud in Jerusalem

The Limmud FSU Jerusalem 2009 conference and festival began with a burst of excitement and energy yesterday, as 750 Russian-Israeli young adults and others gathered in the heart of the Jewish capital for three days of educational sessions, dialogue, entertainment and social events aimed at building a stronger Jewish community.

“It is a special and wonderful gathering every time we bring this community together,” Matthew Bronfman, chairman of the International Steering Committee of Limmud FSU, said in opening remarks to participants and dignitaries. “To be here in Jerusalem, together with all of you, is a great honor. Keep the experience with you and use it to make us all a better people.”

Limmud FSU Jerusalem 2009, taking place at Beit Avi Chai, marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of famed Jewish and Yiddish author, Sholem Aleichem. More than 200 sessions and workshops on issues relating to Judaism, Russian-Jewish heritage, leadership development, current affairs, culture, community building and continuity will be offered by the time the event ends on Friday.

Natan Sharansky, new chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel and an icon within the Russian-Jewish community worldwide, addressed participants at the official opening of the conference. His appearance was one of his first to a public audience since he took his new office, and he used the opportunity to underscore the importance of Jewish community-building efforts and the important role of Limmud FSU in that realm.

“Jewish communities go in different directions,” he said. “We have to build bridges between Jews all over the world and make it the same as if we are one family. We have to learn our heritage and we have to go learn and study what it means to be a Jew. The process must bring us to the same root, the same culture and the same Jerusalem.”

Besides Sharansky, prominent representatives from the realms of government, business, arts and culture, media, philanthropy and entertainment joined participants on Wednesday and will be present through the week.

Participants from throughout Israel, some who had immigrated to the Jewish homeland just months ago, said the Limmud experience is powerful and immensely valuable.

“This is one of the few opportunities for the Russian speakers in Israel to be together in one place and to discuss all the questions they have about their Jewish identity, about their interactions with the local culture, and their successes and failures,” said Michael Pellivert, 26, who lives in Jerusalem and immigrated from Georgia.

“Limmud is one place where this interaction can take place.  Russian speakers here in Israel always want to intertwine their Russian identity and their Jewish and their Israeli one.  This is one of the places where such a trial can get results.”