In a sign of the growing strength of Reform Judaism within the former Soviet Union, several regional rabbis and leaders of the movement led Shacharit services, gave lectures and participated in the round tables that took place at the attendance record-setting Limmud conference in Yalta last month.

The October 27-30 conference, which included over 150 presenters and more than 170 lectures and workshops, was the second to take place in the FSU and the first in this historic port city on the Black Sea in Ukraine. Over 1,050 individuals came to study together, to teach one another and to learn all things Jewish from each other. Many of them had never met Reform rabbis before, and some had been misled about the position and role that non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are playing in Jewish life.

According to Ra bbi Alexander Dukhovny, the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s head rabbi in Ukraine and chair of the Eastern European Council of Progressive Rabbis, the active involvement of rabbis, lay leaders and members of Progressive FSU congregations at the Yalta Limmud was essential. “The hunger and thirst for knowledge were even higher than for food and water,” he said. “Lecture auditoriums were constantly filled with participants; there was a marked shortage of seats in the workshops, and concert halls offered a variety of performances and concerts until 3 o’clock in the morning!

“Meeting our rabbis in person, attending their lectures and religious services, as well as communicating with members of Progressive congregations,” Dukhovny explained, “exposed the participants to the moral and ethical ideas of Progressive Judaism to the extent that some expressed interest in establishing Progressive/Reform congregations in their respective cities.”

The Reform movement was represented at the Yalta Limmud by four Progressive rabbis affiliated with the World Union: the Kyiv-based Dukhovny, Gregory Abramovich from Minsk, Leonid Bimbat from Moscow and Mikhail Kapustin from Simferopol. Leaders and members of more than 50 Progressive/Reform congregations from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine also participated. Irina Rozenfeld, a member of a Progressive congregation in Kerch, Crimea, and a rising pop star, gave a solo concert.

Rabbi Abramovich attracted many participants to his lectures with intriguing titles, such as “Jews and Pigs” and “Rabbis and Demons.” Despite their names, the lectures covered serious themes such as kashrut and superstition, and were based on text study materials. Rabbi Dukhovny used a screen presentation in his session, “Judaism on the March,” on the development of Judaism through the centuries and the essential role of Reform Judaism in saving Judaism and Jews from the time of the Enlightenment to the present day. Rabbi Kapustin’s workshop, “Free Will and Predetermination,” led to a discussion about the possibility of changing human life, predestined by God, into a mission. Rabbi Bimbat gave two lectures, “1975″ and “Autumn – 4 Seasons,” which together presented an innovative overview of Israeli culture, life, poetry, and singers.
Andrew Gilbert, chairman of Limmud International, himself a member of a Reform congregation in London, was among those who greeted the Limmud participants at the opening ceremony. He says that additional FSU Limmud conferences are scheduled for Moscow (April 2009), Vitebsk, Belarus (June 2009), Israel (September 2009) and Odessa, Ukraine (October 2009). A group in St. Petersburg is in the works.
Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny (r.) greeting Limmudniks in Yalta.

source: The World Union for Progressive Judaism