On the heels of the 2012 London Olympics, Russian speakers across Israel are gearing up for Limmud FSU’s “Olympics” Festival in Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth).
The August 30-31 festival, which is expected to draw hundreds of young Russian speakers, is intentionally behind held in a small development town in Israel’s Lower Galilee (population 42,000) because of its large Russian population.
The volunteer-led gathering, full of workshops and lectures in Hebrew, Russian and English, will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympics massacre.
“We very much wanted to bring the project to Nazareth Illit. It’s a young city with a very big Russian speaking population – as high as 40% of the total population are immigrants from the FSU,” said Roman Kogan, Chief Operating Officer of Limmud FSU.
This was possible thanks to the active support of the city’s Mayor Shimon Gafso and Deputy Mayor Alex Gadalkin, who lobbied and secured support from the municipality to host the conference there, according to Kogan.
Limmud FSU, established in 2006, is the umbrella group for the Russian speaking Limmud conferences. Every year, multiple events are held around the world, from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova, to Princeton, New Jersey and Israel. Since 2008, these Russian-speaking gatherings have been held in Israel. Past events have taken place in Beer Sheva, Jerusalem and Ashkelon.
Since the conferences always have a unifying theme, this year’s Limmud FSU organizers decided that the Olympics would be appropriate – both because of the recent games in England and to commemorate the 11 athletes from the Israeli Olympic team murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (The International Olympic Committee refused to hold a moment of silence at the opening ceremony in London to commemorate the murdered athletes, despite pleas from the families of the victims and world leaders.)
For the upcoming Limmud FSU’s “Olympics” Festival, an opening event will take place at a central square in Nazareth Illit that will be named in memory of the murdered athletes. The event, held in cooperation with the Israeli Olympic Committee, will take place in the presence of two widows of the slain sportsmen, Ankie Spitzer, wife of fencing coach André Spitzer and Ilana Romano, wife of weightlifter Yossef Romano. Other participants will include Ben Helfgott, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who went on to become a weightlifting champion for England in the 1950’s. He is one of only two known Jewish athletes to have competed in the Olympics after surviving the Holocaust.
Limmud FSU 2012 will debut its first “White Nights” format, where participants can study and celebrate throughout the night. The conference includes workshops on everything from Jews in Sports and Leon Uris: Great American Jewish Novelist to an Israeli wine tasting.
Russian-born Israeli Alex Averbukh, former European pole vault champion for Israel, was invited to be honorary chair of the Nazareth Illit event. “It was important for me to take a leading role because this year’s conference is connected to the Olympics games and sports and I wanted to pass on this legacy to the future generations,” he said.
“The massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich is a universal tragedy to the Olympic movement and to all of humanity,” Averbukh continued. “We should always remember what happened and commemorate the events, not from the point of view of victimhood, but from the point of view of strength. We need to make sure it won’t happen in the future and that is why it is very important to incorporate its memory into the framework of educational projects like Limmud.”
Averbukh has been involved with Limmud FSU for a few years and said he is a big fan of its format. “It’s a very open philosophy, it’s not academic. Every presenter can deliver in whatever way they want. That’s why I love Limmud.” He will deliver a session on his personal journey as an Olympic athlete.
“I really want people to learn from my story – not just in the field of sports, but everyone because anyone can learn from my example on how to succeed in whatever they do in life.”