The largest ever informal Jewish education event in Eastern Europe kicked off in Ukraine on Monday afternoon with over 1,000 participants from former Soviet Union states.
Inspired by a very unique formula and environment for Jewish learning and idea sharing, the “Limmud FSU” conference will host over 200 talks and workshops with 140 presenters. Running over four days, it will cover a diverse range of topics with sessions running from early morning until late at night.
Taking place in the historic town of Yalta on the Black Sea, the Limmud gathering aims to bring together and empower young Jews from an array of FSU countries including Russia, Moldova, Belarus, the Baltic states, central Asia and the Caucuses.
“The success of Limmud shows the vibrant Jewish life in the FSU,” Chaim Chesler, founder of the organization. “Half of the money raised was local, we have nearly 300 volunteers and 75% of the speakers are local.”
One of the aims of Limmud is to strengthen Jewish identity in an open and pluralistic environment with Jews of all backgrounds and experiences.
Sandra Cahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU, told The Jerusalem Post that many participants were coming for the first time to a Jewish event and felt a little uneasy at first, but after a day, she said they found their place with Judaism.
“One of the most wonderful byproducts of the Limmud experience is that everyone finds there own place in their own particular Jewish journey,” she said. “There’s a comfort level where no matter how much Jewish background you’ve had, you feel you belong, no one is judging you and by the end of the process you feel part of a collective Jewish community and proud about being Jewish.”
Among the presenters is former prisoner of Zion, Yosef Begun, who will share his personal experiences as a refusenik and his journey to Israel in a film he produced.
Other local participants include Arkady Kovelman, professor and chair of the Center of Jewish Studies and Jewish Civilization at Moscow University, Dimitry Maryasis, an expert in the foreign economic relations of Israel, and Evgency Stananosky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress.
From Israel, writer David Markish, the son of the famous Russian-Yiddish writer murdered by Stalin, will present a session on Jewish literature in Yiddish.
Soon after the conference kicked off on Monday afternoon, sensitive subjects such as alcohol, drugs and smoking in Judaism, the issue of who is a Jew and the problems of conversion in Israel were identified as the hot sessions to attend.
With Jewish culture framed as the strong theme throughout the conference, sessions were held Monday on Jewish life in Galicia in the 18th and 19th century, a look at Jewish theater in Lvov, the history of Jewish music from the first temple until today and Jewish life in Crimea.
Among the subjects on offer for Tuesday are Israel’s 21st century foreign policy challenges, and another looking at the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
The relationship between Jews from the FSU and Israel will also be explored as will Zionism in the modern world and if Israel would work as a halachic state. The life of Theodor Herzl and how the Israeli and Jewish media look at FSU Jews are also scheduled.
Also on Tuesday, a panel will examine Jewish education based on the premise that it is “in crisis” and also a panel looking at the ethics of Jews in business, and Jews in power. The exploration of love, sex and passion in the Bible will be the job of Rabbi Naftali Rotenberg, from the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, in his session.