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Russian speaking Limmud Australia bound

An American Jewish astronaut who learned to speak Russian while training with cosmonauts walks into a lecture hall filled with Russian-American Jews. No, it’s not a priest-and-rabbi-style joke, but a real-life event that exemplifies the spirit of the Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) educational conferences.

From: Alina Dain Sharon and Sean Savage/JNS.org

And the first Limmud in Russian in Australia is planned for March next year.

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At Limmud FSU’s 2010 conference in New York, former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman addressed the crowd in Russian—to the audience’s delight. Many of the young FSU-immigrant Jews living in the United States still “have a strong cultural affinity for being Russian” and speak Russian when they get together, even though they may live in the same apartment buildings or work in the same businesses as mainstream American Jews, explained Sandra Cahn, one of Limmud FSU’s three founders.

At the same time, Limmud FSU—whose concept is based on the model originally established by the British-Jewish educational nonprofit Limmud (a name derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to learn”)—is “trying very hard to get [FSU Jews] involved in mainstream American Jewry,” Cahn toldJNS.org.

Besides its annual conferences in the U.S. and Israel, Limmud FSU is now expanding further around the globe. The organization hosted its first conference in Canada from Oct. 24-26, and an Australia conference is planned for March 2015.

Cahn, Chaim Chesler, and Mikhail Chlenov—who are American, Israeli, and Russian, respectively—cofounded Limmud FSU in 2006. Chesler worked as the executive director of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry in the 1980s and later became the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s FSU branch, at a time when about 70,000 Russian Jews were emigrating daily.

 

At Limmud FSU’s 2010 conference in New York, former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman addressed the crowd in Russian—to the audience’s delight. Many of the young FSU-immigrant Jews living in the United States still “have a strong cultural affinity for being Russian” and speak Russian when they get together, even though they may live in the same apartment buildings or work in the same businesses as mainstream American Jews, explained Sandra Cahn, one of Limmud FSU’s three founders.

At the same time, Limmud FSU—whose concept is based on the model originally established by the British-Jewish educational nonprofit Limmud (a name derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to learn”)—is “trying very hard to get [FSU Jews] involved in mainstream American Jewry,” Cahn toldJNS.org.

Besides its annual conferences in the U.S. and Israel, Limmud FSU is now expanding further around the globe. The organization hosted its first conference in Canada from Oct. 24-26, and an Australia conference is planned for March 2015.

Cahn, Chaim Chesler, and Mikhail Chlenov—who are American, Israeli, and Russian, respectively—cofounded Limmud FSU in 2006. Chesler worked as the executive director of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry in the 1980s and later became the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s FSU branch, at a time when about 70,000 Russian Jews were emigrating daily.

 

While IFCJ’s efforts have drawn some skepticism from those who believe that the organization is hyper-focused on aliyah due to Christian fundamentalist theology, which encourages Jews to settle the land of Israel in order to bring the messiah and Christian salvation, Eckstein called that “such a false perception.” He noted that only $20 million of IFCJ’s $140 million budget is dedicated to aliyah.

“We are talking about people who are giving up whatever small things they have in order to help the Jewish people,” Eckstein said, describing IFCJ’s Christian donor base. “There will always be those critics who try to undermine that and give false motivations.” He added that the donors are predominantly Protestant evangelicals whose giving is motivated by the call in Genesis 12:3 to bless Israel and the Jewish people, especially the needy.

In Moscow, Limmud FSU participants now pay between $250 and $600 to attend the organization’s events. In lower-income areas of the FSU, such as Moldova and Belarus, the fee is about US$30. The events in New York and Toronto cost approximately $300 to attend, and in Israel admission is roughly US$105. There are long-distance travel subsidies available for Limmud FSU conferences.

While Limmud FSU takes into consideration “the economies of where the [host] countries are” in determining prices for conferences, the organization believes participants should pay at least something to attend in order to give Limmud FSU a perceived value and to inspire attendees to become active in their Jewish communities.

Cahn said that both event participants and volunteer organizers “really grow with each Limmud [conference]. … We want them to have respect for themselves and what they produce.”