More than 250 members of the Russian-speaking Jewish community of Australia, gathered for the popular annual volunteer-driven festival of Jewish learning organized by Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union.) The one-day conference took place at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and included more than 70 seminars, lectures, presentations and workshops, given by an array of international and local speakers, as well as a full-day program for children.
One of the prominent speakers at the event was Emmanuel Gruzman, PhD Candidate at Monash University in Melbourne, who talked about his ongoing PhD research on Jewish identity of Russian-speaking Jews in Melbourne, where the majority of them reside today (7,000 out of an estimated 11,000 in Australia).
According to Gruzman’s PhD study to be published in 2019, the proportion of Jews from the FSU who have a partner or spouse who is non-Jewish is lower (18% among secular and traditional) than among Israelis living in Melbourne (23%). This number is substantial lower than the rate of intermarriages in USA – 58% between 2000-2013, according to PEW study from 2013.
Among keynote speakers at the festival were Mark Sofer, Israel’s Ambassador to Australia; Dr. Danny Lamm, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia; Ruta Vanagaite a bestselling Lithuanian writer; Ron Weiser from the Zionist Federation of Australia who also moderated the event; Emile Sherman, an Academy Award winning film producer; Rabbi Dovid Slavin, Executive Director of the Rabbinical College of Sydney; Emma Lippa, former concertmaster of the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow; Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, spiritual leader of the Russian-Jewish community of Sydney, and many more.
Ambassador Mark Sofer said during the event; “The main reason I am here today is because I think that the FSU communities around the world, including here in Australia, are among the most beautiful, wonderful, and contributing communities to Jewish history and its future. Israel’s loss is Australia’s gain.” Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU, said; “We are proud to continue to develop our activities here in Australia, so as to contribute to strengthening the integration of Russian-speakers into the country’s Jewish community.”
Semyon Teplitskiy, one of the participants, remarked; “I really admire the volunteers’ effort, and hope to be able to join this wonderful team the next time Limmud FSU takes place in Australia.” Another participant, Laya Slavin, said; “It is such a pleasure to see so many happy faces of people enjoying this special and unique celebration of Jewish learning.”
Limmud FSU Australia is made possible by a team of local leaders and volunteers, led by Project Manager Anna Maylis, together with Rina Kuczko, Inna Polura, Anatol Romanov and others. Maylis said; “I have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from the participants, who so much appreciate the efforts made by the volunteers in organizing such an important and remarkable event for our community. The festival has brought together hundreds of Russian Jews and demonstrates the unity of our community and its strong connection to Jewish culture and heritage.”
The festival took place thanks to the generous support of Genesis Philanthropy Group, Harry Triguboff, the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Conference for Material Claims against Germany and several other Limmud FSU donors.