Alina Shkolnikov>>Mon Oct 29, 2012
The village of Raivola near Saint Petersburg in Russia is the last place one would expect to attend an early Shabat class with the local Rabbi – but it is in Raivola that such a class took part during the last weekend of September as part of Limmud FSU.

Limmud FSU imported the English Limmud model and adapted it for Russian-speaking Jewish communities around the world. This project, which addresses a vast variety of issues, seeks to strengthen the identity and the connection of its participants to their Jewish Identity. The concept of “Judaism” is very liberal from the program’s perspective – it seems to be defined by the participants. While the food is Kosher one is still allowed to have a cigarette after Shabat dinner and during the early Shabat morning religion session, led by the local SPB Rabbi, some participants choose to attend the morning Yoga class.

Every Jew should learn and every Jew can teach seems to be the motto of Limmud FSU and the teachings are as diverse as the participants: you can find orthodox Jews studying alongside absolutely secular Jews in classes on music, Israeli politics and even fashion. Each participant is free to choose what classes to attend and can come and go from each class as he pleases. It is this unique model that allows the some 350 young Jews from St. Petersburg and the surrounding area to fully participate in the festival and create a personalized experience.

But people don’t only come to Limmud to study – they come to network. It is a one-of-a-kind get together that allows Jews to meet outside of a religious framework, near their home, and share their hopes, dreams and passions related and unrelated to their Jewish identity (which is not always defined by their Jewish religion).

From my perspective as the European Program Director at PresenTense, I was most impressed by the idea of teaching and learning as equals, the subjected framework of networking, as well as the fact that many of the classes were aimed at young adults. This is what makes Limmud FSU so successful, in my eyes, and so relevant. This success is measured not only by the number of participants, but also by the number of volunteers that surround Limmud FSU. The volunteers give lectures, do all the administrative work and generally prepare all aspects of the conference. In this aspect, Limmud FSU is very much a social venture on the one hand, and a community, as we at PresenTense see it, on the other.

What amazed me most is the deep understanding Limmud FSU seems to have of the need to connect with local non-Jewish populations. This understanding, that community is not a narrow and refined idea but rather a large scale concept, once again reinforced my feeling that various organizations such as Limmud FSU, PresenTense and others are leading a growing trend of an “open” Jewish identity that works alongside other layers of one’s identity in the Jewish world today.