Limmud FSU Jerusalem Winds Down

Asher Weill

Three frenetic days of activity have finally finished at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem, as Limmud FSU Jerusalem 2010 came to an end. The opening ceremony, was held in the presence of President Shimon Peres, and many of the highlights of the festival were broadcast live on three media outlets, the website of Limmud FSU, the Jewish Agency and on ejewish philanthropy. At the closing ceremony on Friday 23 July, Chaim Chesler, the founder of Limmud and chairman of its organizing committee, handed over the (virtual) flag of Limmud to Vadim Kirbichov, the deputy mayor of Rishon leZion who heads the immigrant portfolio in his city. Rishon LeZion is a candidate to host the next Israeli Limmud FSU festival in 2011.

The 1200 young Russian-speaking participants in Limmud (including 300 new immigrant soldiers, most of them from the former Soviet Union studying in the Nativ educational program organized by the Jewish Agency together with the army,) listened avidly to nearly 150 different sessions. The huge range of topics on offer gave the participants their first serious dilemma – how to choose between the – often competing – events. For example, Dr Nona Kuchina and her husband Dr Moshe Shneerson, lectured about the cosmetic and medical products developed and marketed by their firm, Dr Nona International. But at the same time, Prof. Dan Laor of Tel Aviv University was giving behind-the-scenes insights on Nobel prizewinner Shai Agnon.

If you chose to listen to chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky in conversation with David Horowitz, editor of The Jerusalem Post, you would have missed the speech by Minister of Science and Technology, Daniel Hershkowitz. Or if you listened to the Chairman of Discount Bank, Yossi Bachar, on macro-economics in Israel, you would have missed Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz talking about his life work, the translation of the Talmud. But this is all par for the course at Limmud and some people were complaining that they were hungry because they didn’t want to take the time off for lunch and dinner, and in so doing, miss something important!

On of the undoubted highlights were one-on-one interviews, such as that with Yaron Deckel talking to Leader of the Opposition, Tsipi Livni, Gilad Adin interviewing Matthew Bronfman on why he invests in Israel, Gilad Adin interviewing Maj.Gen. Elazar Shtern on conversion in the IDF, and Chaim Chesler hosting the fifth president of the State of Israel, Yitzhak Navon on David Ben Gurion. Another highlight were the round table panel discussions, in which participants could hear pre-eminent experts or insiders on a variety of topics. Eitan Haber, director of the Prime Minister’s Office under Yitzhak Rabin (and the man who made the dramatic public announcement following Rabin’s assassination on 4 November, 1995,) Herzl Makov, Director of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s and Yitzhak,Shamir’s bureaus, and Efrat Duvdevany, Director of the office of President Shimon Peres and an aide to Prime Minister Rabin, shared with the audience some fascinating personal vignettes from behind the scenes on working with such leaders.

Another panel discussed the thorny and controversial issue of conversion which is so much in people’s minds at present because of the bill before the Knesset drafted by MK David Rotem. Panels of media figures including Shaul Maizlish, Danny Abeve of Yediot Aharonot, Lilly Galili and Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz and others discussed two loaded topics – Jews and the media, and: Are the Jews of Israel and the Diaspora still one people? The participants in both lively debates, failed to agree on answers. A group of prominent philanthropists who are leading supporters of Limmud FSU discussed whether the world financial crisis has affected giving in the Jewish world. Matthew Bronfman, chair of the Limmud International Steering Committee, together with Nona Kuchina and Moshe Shneerson, Miriam Barkai of the Pincus Fund, Aaron Frenkel of the Lloyds Investment Group, New Yorkers Diane Wohl and Sandra Cahn ( co-founder of Limmud FSU), agreed that although there might have been some pull back, the prime factor behind the decision to back a charity is the degree to which they feel a deep personal commitment, and this remains unchanged.

Children were not forgotten either: while their parents tackled some of the substantive issues facing the Jewish people today, children of all ages participated in dance and movement groups, paper cutting – an old Jewish folk craft, puppet making, modeling wifh fimo and a host of other excitements..

The three days were spread over three different venues – the Kiryat Moriah educational campus of the Jewish Agency, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and the house, now also a museum, of Nobel laureate for literature, Shai Agnon. Agnon was one of the 26 Nobel prize winners originating in the Tsarist Empire, the Soviet Union and in Israel, who were honored at this Limmud, which like all the others this year, was held under the theme of Jewish Nobel prizewinners, including of course, three Nobel prize winners for peace, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and President Shimon Peres.

The Gala Opening ceremony was hosted by Limmud FSU Jerusalem’s co-chairs, the eminent Habimah actress, Evgenya Dodina, and the television and radio commentator, Yaron Deckel. In addition to President Peres, other speakers included Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora Affairs, Tsipi Livni, and Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency. At a reception for invited guests held before the opening, the audience heard from Minister of Education, Gideon Saar, Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, Director-General of the Jewish Agency, Alan Hoffman, and Carolyn Bogush, Chair of Limmud UK – where Limmud had its beginning thirty years ago.

At a special event to mark thirty years since the mass immigration from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s-1990s, Limmud FSU awards were given to five immigrants and one institution, for their contributions to Israeli society. Yelena Yaralova received an award for her contribution to Israeli theatre, Tatiyana Belokonenko for the plastic arts, Alex Averbuch, the world-class pole vaulter, the award for sport who was given his crystal plaque by Minister of Culture and Sport, Limor Livnat, Ira Ginzburg for design and graphics, and the IDF program Nativ for its general contribution to Israel society through educational work for new immigrant soldiers.

After the Festival was over, Gil Hovav, a leading Israeli television personality and culinary journalist had this to say, “To see all these people with a sparkle in their eyes, thirsty for knowledge, and with an infectious excitement, was a privilege and a moving experience.” Carolyn Bogash from Limmud International added, “…it was so clear that everyone was having an incredible time There was such a strong, energetic and enthusiastic feeling around the event, and how wonderful to see so many young people really engaged in their learning.”

Limmud Jerusalem was the third Limmud FSU event to take place this year, being preceded by one in Truskavets (near Lvov, Ukraine) and in Moscow. The next one will take place in less than three weeks time in Hampton, Long Island, New York, where more than 700 young Russian-speaking American Jews are expected to participate in a one-day Limmud on 15 August. Details of this will be found elsewhere in this website. Still to come in 2010 is Limmud FSU Odessa, Ukraine, and in 2011, others in Saint Petersburg and elsewhere.