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Despite rising emigration, 2,000 Russian Jews expected for Limmud Moscow

(JTA) — More than 2,000 Muscovite Jews, including a chief rabbi of Russia, have signed up to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Limmud FSU — a group that organizes Jewish learning conferences for Russian speakers.

The expected record-setting attendance for the four-day event in the Russian capital, which starts Thursday, would makes Limmud Moscow the world’s second largest event of its kind after Britain’s Limmud, according to Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler. Limmud FSU had its inaugural event in Moscow.

The keynote address Thursday will be delivered by Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, whose last appearance at a Limmud Moscow event was in 2007, Chesler said Wednesday. He added the event was sold out two months in advance “because we were limited in our own capacity.”

Among those who will be featured at the conference are Russian-American political commentator Vladimir Pozner, Russian human rights activist Irina Yasina and Solomon Perel, who as a Jewish child survived the Holocaust by assuming the identity of an Aryan German boy and attending Hitler Youth activities.

Sandy Cahn, a co-founder of Limmud FSU, said the attendance “is the best evidence that Jewish life is thriving in Russia.” Attendance last year at Limmud Moscow stood at fewer than 1,500 participants.

The event comes amid a dramatic increase in Russia in Jewish immigration to Israel, or aliyah. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky attributed the rise to a financial crisis that last year halved the ruble’s value against the dollar, and to lingering concerns among Russian Jews over rising nationalism and undemocratic practices.

Russia provided Israel with 6,700 newcomers last year — a 32 percent jump over 2014, which was the most dramatic increase in aliyah recorded anywhere last year. Most immigrants came from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and other major cities with highly educated Jewish communities, Sharansky said.

The Limmud model began in Britain in 1976 for and by Jewish educators and has since been adapted by Jewish communities worldwide. It features lectures and activities whose only common theme is Yiddishkeit. Some 2,600 participants attend Britain’s main Limmud conference annually, organizers said.