The Limmud Village: An International Marketplace of Ideas

Limmud FSU concluded their first ever Jerusalem event this past Friday. Held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of famed author, Sholem Aleichem, the participants spent three days engaged in more than 200 sessions and workshops on subjects such as relating to Judaism, Russian-Jewish heritage, leadership development, current affairs, culture, community building and continuity. And of course, they also networked, partied and made new friends. While the Limmud model, pioneered in the U.K. twenty-five years ago and since exported around the world, was central to the planning, Limmud FSU has carved out a special niche, in several countries, on multiple continents. While focusing on empowering young Russian-speaking Jewish adults, Limmud FSU has spread its’ wings to five republics, Israel, and in August New York. In the three years since they launched, they have reached over 8000 individuals!

I had the opportunity on Friday to sit with co-founders Sandra Cahn and Chaim Chesler and speak about what makes Limmud FSU so unique. I learned that one of the characteristics of this community is they are 90% secular, regardless of where they are now living. Program topics as diverse as Russian-Israeli relations and Jewish tradition leave attendees hungry for more.

Members of the Russian-Jewish community generally do not like to be a part of the establishment, preferring instead to find their own way. Independence is a hallmark of their personality and they are unfamiliar with the concept of volunteerism we as Americans know.

The up-shot of these traits is it allows community members to create a quality program for themselves. And particularly for those living in the FSU, the Limmud model allows access to leadership, the absence of which in their lives is a significant issue. They have been able to develop a unique agenda, bringing in the best speakers possible. As Chaim indicated, the participants truly feel Limmud “belongs to them”.

Funding for Limmud FSU comes from both private individuals and established organizations, from Europe, Israel and the U.S. Like everyone else, they are challenged in today’s economic climate. But they continue to move forward, with events this fall in both Birobidzhan and the Ukraine, in addition to Westhampton Beach, New York in August. For 2010, they will be moving away form this year’s Sholem Aleichem theme to focus on the various Nobel Prize winners of Russian heritage.

This successful and unique model of informal Jewish learning in a pluralistic setting, combined with volunteerism, networking, empowerment and leadership development, is ensuring a vibrant and sustainable Jewish future within the various global Russian-Jewish communities. We wish Limmed FSU continued success.