June 13, 2021: More than 150 Russian-speaking Jews from the New York area attended the event
Last year’s conference could not take place because of the worldwide pandemic lockdowns, and even this year’s conference was specially adapted to the social distancing regulations. Yet for the first time in nearly two years, some 150 people came together and were exposed to 12 sessions of Jewish learning and artistic performances that ranged from a discussion of Black-Jewish relations in the post Martin Luther King era with Pastor Dumisani Washington, a presentation by Menachem Kaiser of his newly-published book, Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure, and an examination of the impact on world Jewry of the recent normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel by Chief Rabbi of the United Arab Emirates, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. Additionally, a special children program was designed to fit two age groups of the smallest Limmudniks, in the best Limmud traditions.
In his talk during the conference, Pastor Washington, founder of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, said “Dr. King was a Zionist, loud and proud, but today young people don’t feel they’re truly justice-oriented if they don’t come up against Israel. This is part of the legacy of the disinformation campaign. The very thing Dr. King was standing against is what they represent. The vast majority of Black Lives Matter followers have no idea about their anti-Zionism policy.”
American Jewish Committee Chief Executive Officer David Harris commented on the current situation in the United States: “I believe that the power, the experience, the resilience, the courage and the passion of Jews from the Soviet Union that I have met over the last 47 years is needed today, here in the United States, by the American Jewish community more than ever. We are facing an entirely new situation in this country. Things are changing here rapidly and we need your voice. We need your fearlessness.”
Discussing how Diaspora Jewish communities can help their children feel positive about their Jewish and Israel-connected identity, Peter Weintraub, National Chair of the Friends of the IDF, noted that, “Our kids are being pounced on by the BDS people and they don’t know what to say. We need to teach our children. If we can, send them to Jewish schools and camps. Read a Jewish newspaper and have discussions. Take them to Israel. Take your kids to AIPAC. That’s better than any tweet. All of us should have been to at least three rallies against antisemitism in the last month.”
The conference attracted a number of leading Jewish world public figures and officials including Acting Consul General of Israel in New York, Israel Nitzan; Limmud FSU founder, Chaim Chesler; Limmud FSU co-founder, Sandra F. Cahn; Diane and Howard Wohl; Tom Blumberg; KKL-JNF Israel Emissary for Education in the USA Zohar Vloski and more.
“This is our second first,” said Matthew Bronfman, the organization’s chairman; “Last month we returned to face-to-face programming in Moscow, and today we extended that to North America. Every one-day event is an important step on our path to a full return to annually impacting thousands of Russian-speaking Jews through one to three-day conferences of Jewish learning.”
Marina Yudborovsky, CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG), said: “Limmud FSU is a unique model of Jewish engagement through meaningful conversations about Jewish culture and heritage, art and science, history and modernity, powered by volunteerism. After a pause due to the pandemic, it is incredibly exciting to see it revived, first in Moscow three weeks ago, and this past weekend in New York, bringing people together for a powerful and truly communal experience.”
Since the first conference in Moscow 15 years ago, over 75 events have been mounted by 13 volunteer teams, and Limmud FSU events, led by Bronfman, and its president, Aaron G. Frenkel, have reached out over these years to some 70,000 Russian-speaking Jews across the globe.
Limmud FSU New York enjoyed the generous support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group; Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany; Jewish National Fund (KKL); UJA - Jewish Federation of New York; Blavatnik Family Foundation; The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and more.
In the best tradition of Limmud, the event was made possible by its team of local leaders and volunteers, led by Limmud FSU Executive Director, Natasha Chechik, and the project manager, Noam Shumakh-Khaimov, chairs/volunteers Alina Bitel, Elman Isakov, Nina Faynberg and many more.