An intensive three-day Limmud FSU recently concluded in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa. Over 500 young Russian-speaking adults from all over Ukraine and some from Russia, Moldova and Belarus, together with 50 presenters from Ukraine, Russia, Israel and the US, conducted workshops, seminars, discussions, round table panels and literary and cultural offerings on a multitude of topics. Odessa, with its remarkable role in Jewish cultural and literary life prior to the Second World War, was undoubtedly the star of the event, featuring its own special brand of Odessian language, literature and humor.
Limmud was founded in Great Britain 30 years ago and has spread around the globe. Limmud FSU was established in 2006 to bring Jewish culture, identity, history and community awareness to Russian-speaking young adults, not just in the Former Soviet Union, but wherever such communities can be found. Limmud FSU events were held this year in Truskavets (Western Ukraine) Moscow, Jerusalem and New York. Funding comes from a variety of public and private sources, prominent among them being the philanthropist Matthew Bronfman, Associated Jewish Community Federation of Federation, All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and others.
Among the speakers at Limmud Odessa were some of Israel’s leading figures in economics and journalism. Dr Joseph Bachar, Chair of Israel Discount Bank, addressed an overflow crowd on macroeconomics in Israel. Bachar later spoke about Israel’s economic situation at Odessa State Jewish University before embarking on a tour of the city’s Jewish orphanages, day schools and other community centers.
A panel of some of Israel’s leading media figures held a round table discussion with the active and vociferous participation of the audience, on the topic “Has Israel Lost the Information War?” The panel members, Motti Sklar, Director of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Yoav Zur, Chief Editor of Ma’ariv, Leonid Blechman, Director of Israel Television’s Channel Nine in Russian, and Yitzhak Tunik, commander of the army radio station, Galei Zahal, decided that Israel was indeed facing an uphill struggle in the face of adverse public opinion world-wide. But in the words of the panel’s moderator, Gil Litman, an editor with Israel Radio, “It is better to lose the information battle than the war itself.” Later on, the journalists split up into teams and addressed groups at both of the city’s Jewish universities – one on “Israel’s Image Today” and the other on “Should the Media be involved in Furthering Jewish Education?”
Other guest speakers at Limmud FSU included Dr Nona Kuchina and Dr Moshe Shneerson of Dr Nona International, the medical and cosmetics conglomerate, Diane Wohl, a prominent New York Jewish activist and philanthropist, and Zina Kalay-Kleitman, Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine. A press conference was hosted by the municipality of Odessa which was heavily attended by members of the local and wider Ukrainian media, as well as visits to local universities and communal institutions.
Entertainment was provided in the form of a lavish and spectacular sound and light performance, “Shalom Limmud Odessa” at the Concert and Exhibition Complex of Odessa Seaport, with top Ukrainian singers and the Odessa State Philharmonic Orchestra, with the Israeli jazz virtuoso, Leon Ptashka, as guest artist. A group from Kiev, Toporkestra, a gypsy-punk-klezmer outfit, had the crowd rocking in the aisles.
One highlight was an idea that had been dreamed up by Limmud FSU founder, Chaim Chesler. A group of eight leading professional actors from the city’s theater companies, sung – in Hebrew – a special version of the famous Hebrew ballad Mi yivneh beit beTel Aviv (“Who will build a home in Tel Aviv?”) The actors, in period costumes, took on the role of some of Odessa’s most prominent Jewish citizens: Chaim Nachman Bialik, Shalom Aleichem, Ludwig Zamenhoff (creator of Esperanto), Zeev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’am, the historian Simon Dubnov, Meir Dizengoff, and Prof. Yosef Klausner. Following their performance at JDC’s Beit Grand, the actors accompanied the 500 participants, together with the guest speakers from abroad, on a tour of the city’s Jewish sites, paying due homage at the homes of their famous characters and speaking about their lives.
On a more somber note, during the tour of Odessa, the participants were joined by 86 year-old, Yakov Maniovich, a lawyer from Odessa who now lives in Israel, who is founder and chair of the International Odessa Immigrants Association, and who led the participants on a personal tour of the memorial to the 100,000 Odessa victims of the Holocaust, which he was instrumental in establishing.