December 14, 2021: The 2021 Limmud FSU Israel conference of Jewish learning took place this weekend at Kibbutz Shefayim, near Tel Aviv for Russian-speaking Israelis, mainly young adults, from across the country. The conference was particularly significant as the 2020 event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
Limmud FSU Israel 2021 consisted of more than 130 sessions for adults, complemented by a series of age-appropriate activities for children, with as many as eight sessions running in parallel. Topics ran the full gamut of Jewish and Israeli-related issues, from heroes from the Bible, and love and erotica in Yiddish literature, to the history of the first Hebrew-speaking school in pre-state Israel, and Russian-speaking Israelis in the country’s political dialogue; and from a new mapping of the Russian-language media in Israel, and Israel’s water resources as a tool for influence in the region, to Jewish heroism, and tips on do-it-yourself alterations to clothes.
The conference provided the opportunity for Russian-speaking Israelis to hear from a wide variety of political leaders – Finance Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, Justice Minister, Gidon Sa’ar, Housing and Construction Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, chair of the Knesset Finance Committee, Alex Kushnir, and former minister and speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein.
Lieberman provided a brief overview of the state of the Israeli economy: “The shekel is the strongest currency in the world and that says a lot about the country’s economy. I do not remember that we have ever had the level of praise we recently received from the OECD. Employment levels are returning to their pre-corona level; we expect an economic growth rate of 7.1%, which is the highest of any country in the developed world; our budget deficit has gone down from 10.1% to 4.6%. We are ranked 17-18 on the OECD ranking of quality of life. Our goal is to enter the top ten and even the top five.”
Edelstein reminded the audience that he started his political path in Israel in an immigrant party. “When that finished its work I moved to Likud, even though many people said the party would never elect Russian-speakers to the Knesset. Since then, I have been elected five or even six times, including gaining first place in the primaries, so I hope to be able to prove that a Russian-speaking Israeli can become prime minister.” On a more personal note, Edelstein recalled when, as speaker of the Knesset, he closed a circle with a visit to Moscow. “It was surreal – here I was speaking Hebrew in a place where I had been prevented from teaching Hebrew.”
In his speech at the conference opening, Limmud FSU president, Aaron G. Frenkel, noted with pride that Limmud FSU had successfully provided learning opportunities throughout the pandemic. “And now we have come back, with strength, to face-to-face learning and have brought together some 700: this gathering in Israel will be the largest conference of Jewish learning anywhere in the world this year. It says something about the importance of our conferences for our target audience.”
Marina Yudborovsky, Genesis Philanthropy Group CEO said: “At Limmud FSU conferences, learning and socializing are always combined with the spirit of volunteerism and a desire to connect to Jewish heritage. In their search for identity, participants can explore how their personal experiences enrich and enmesh with the life of the larger Jewish community. Of course, this conference was also an excellent opportunity for fostering strong connections and building a robust dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora, a critical component in today’s climate.”
“This year we are marking the bar-mitzva year of our activities in Israel,” noted Chaim Chesler, Limmud FSU founder; “it is wonderful that we can celebrate 13 years of conferences with a face-to-face gathering.”
“From the countries where once Jewish culture was suppressed, from under a communist regime that persecuted Jews and Jewish education, a new generation of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren has arisen,” said Yakov Hagoel, chair of the World Zionist Organization and acting chair of the executive of the Jewish Agency, “and here in Kibbutz Shfayim declares ‘We were victorious, the tune of our people cannot be silenced!’”
Among other speakers at Limmud FSU Israel 2021 were former Deputy Chief Justice, Elyakim Rubinstein, Vice President of Community Relations for the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Dorit Golender, KKL-JNF Education Division Director, Sar-Shalom Jerbi, Former IDF intelligence chief, Aharon Zeevi Farkash, WZO Head of Department for Combatting Antisemitism and Enhancing Resilience, Racheli Baratz – Rix and the new Chair of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Dani Dayan, who discussed the importance of Yad Vashem as a place to learn, gather documentation – the testimonies when no survivors are left alive – and teach, alongside serving as a place to identify with the victims and mourn the destruction of a third of world Jewry.
Limmud FSU was founded in 2006 by Chaim Chesler and Sandy Cahn, and is led by its Chair, Matthew Bronfman, and President, Aaron G. Frenkel. It is also supported by the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, Jewish National Fund – Keren Kayemet leIsrael, Blavatnik Family Foundation, Wilf Family Foundation, philanthropists Diane Wohl, Tom Blumberg and others. The event was made possible by its team of 25 volunteers, working for the past year and a half on the project, and led by Limmud FSU Executive Director Natasha Chechik and Project Manager Yan Birbraer.
Photos courtesy of Limmud FSU.