Limmud FSU in New Jersey breaks all attendance records
A record number of young Russian speakers took part this weekend in the Sixth Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) conference in New Jersey. Some 1.7 million Jews live in the New York area and it is estimated that some 300,000 of them are Russian-speaking immigrants from the FSU.
900 of them took part in an intensive three-day learning experience packed with lectures and discussions, debates, round-table forums, cultural presentations and more. Every few weeks, somewhere across the globe, similar such events are being held wherever there are Russian-speaking communities and not just in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Most of the participants are young adults in the 25-40 age category seeking to catch up and engage with their cultural heritage and identity and to meet people from the same background.
Among prominent speakers were Matthew Bronfman, Chair of the Limmud FSU International Steering Committee, Chaim Chesler, Founder, and Sandra Cahn Co-Founder, of Limmud FSU, Abe Foxman, Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Izzy Tapoochi, Chairman of Israel Bonds and the noted journalist, Chemi Shalev of Ha’aretz newspaper.
Matthew Bronfman opened the event and could not hide his emotions. “Limmud FSU events take place in ten countries, “ he said. “This year, two new countries – Canada and Australia held Limmud FSU events for the first time. It is exciting to see the growth in the number of participants. People are anxious to reconnect with their roots and this is a wonderful thing. This is a particularly special for us because it is the largest Limmud event ever to take place in the United States and is overwhelming evidence of the success of our many volunteers who are the driving force behind Limmud. We anticipate beating this attendance record again next year.
Sandra Cahn added, “We hope our efforts will have an influence on millions throughout the world. – young people, the older generation, families - all Russian-speaking members of Jewish communities who are searching for that special link joining them to countless others which transcends the purely personal quest.”
On thanking the volunteers, Chaim Chesler said, “These young men and women are active the year round in order to plan and administer the programs. This year we are specially commemorating 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, through an exhibition which we have brought over from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem with the aid of the Friends of Yad Vashem in the US. We are also continuing our close cooperation with the American Conference for Material Claims against Germany. Their help enables us to reach out to a great many people.”
A lecture which drew an overflow audience was to hear Chemi Shalev, a senior columnist at Ha’aretz, speaking about the role of the Israeli media during the recent Knesset elections. He said that there was no doubt about the position of the press. “Most of the Israel media opposes Netanyahu – while it is true that there is one newspaper which is strongly behind him and that much of the media are at pains not to annoy him, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of the press hoped he would lose the election. Much of the emphasis in the opinion polls and the journalist discourse during the last few days before the elections, grew out of the internal atmosphere in the press and today it is clear that the media were detached from the reality on the ground.”
Shalev was highly critical of the campaign run by the Zionist Camp (the left-central political party which replaced Labor.) “The campaign was too Ashkenazi; Bougie [its leader, Yitzhak Herzog] directed a campaign that was white, blonde, with blue eyes. It is absolutely clear that the Zionist Camp did not have a sufficiently powerful leader. Had they had one, they could have beaten Netanyahu. Two past leaders of the old Labor camp, Rabin and Barak were both charismatic generals, which Herzog is not.”According to Shalev, not only the media was surprised by the electoral results. ”Netanyahu did not believe he would win. He acted with total hysteria including his announcement that the Arabs were ‘flocking to the polling booths in droves…’”
The Yad Vashem exhibition; “Private Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell,” featured the art of Zinovii Tolkatchev, a Red Army soldier and a witness to the events, marking 70 years from the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Second World War. In referring to the exhibit, Israel Izzy Tapoochi, said, “I am glad that so many young Jews were exposed to these paintings. It is my hope that each of them will be moved and influenced by the educational and ethical message conveyed in the paintings.
Among other prominent people taking part in Limmud were Erik Goldstein, CEO of the UJA Federation of New York; Victor Senderovitch, a noted Russian satirist , writer and radio host; Igor Irten’ev, the Russian-Israeli poet; Alexander Genis, writer and literary critic; Iryna Rosenfeld, Ukrainian-born Israeli vocalist; and Charlotte Hallé, Editor of the English edition of Ha’aretz and many more.
Noam Shumach, the project director of Limmud FSU in New York said, “I am particular proud of our team of more than 100 volunteers. There is no better proof of the need of these people to feel themselves an integral part of Limmud. They have been working on the planning and programming of the event round the clock for more than a year.”
Anna Guterman, who has been a volunteer for eight years added,” When we began working on the program, it was primarily a vision. I joined in because all around me are volunteers who are not part of any particular organization. It is incredible to see how the vision turned into reality. Every year, Limmud reaches out to other countries. It is exhilarating to hear a broad range of ideas and to see how there is room for all of them.”
Ira Zadanovitch from New York says why she decided to volunteer. “Being a Jew in New York is not the same as being a Jew in Ukraine or Israel. We have to find a point where the various strands all come together. That is why I joined Limmud – we are all people with jobs busy building a career, but at the same time, volunteering at Limmud. We all feel a deep commitment to the task.”
- From left: Ron Meyer, CEO Friends of Yad Vashem in the USA; Matthew Bronfman, Chair, Limmud FSU International Steering Committee, Chaim Chesler, Founder, Limmud FSU, Izzy Tapoochi, President, Israel Bonds.
2.Traditional post-Shabbat Havdalah ceremony at Limmud FSU