June 20, 2021
In 2016, Limmud FSU held its first West Coast conference in Los Angeles, attended by some 700 Russian-speaking Jews, and in 2017, some 800 Russian-speaking Jews gathered in San Francisco. Last Sunday, the organization, that mounts peer-led pluralist Jewish learning opportunities for Russian-speaking Jews, continued on a slow, careful, but committed return to post pandemic face-to-face activities with a gathering of some 150 in Palo Alto, in cooperation with The Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.
Participants could choose between a discussion of what is next for Israel after the recent fighting in Gaza and the creation of a new government, that saw Limmud FSU founder, Chaim Chesler, in discussion with Shlomi Kofman, the Israel consul-general to the Pacific Northwest and San Francisco, a theater Midrash workshop or a workshop on flower arranging. Other sessions during the 7.5 hour gathering covered such varied topics as how to address bilingualism within immigrant families, responses to contemporary antisemitism, the status of women in Judaism, a literary musical program of songs and poems written during the Holocaust, hugely popular Russian trivia game “What? Where? When?” by Eugene Fooksman and many more. The final event was a concert, “Marching through Life with a Song,” by acclaimed actors from “Unorthodox,” Gera Sandler and Ronit Asheri.
Limmud FSU held its first post-pandemic event in Moscow last month, while last weekend some 150 Russian-speaking Jews from the New York area had their first after lockdown opportunity to gather and learn together.
Shlomi Kofman, Israel’s San Francisco-based consul general for the Pacific Northwest, said during his session that he’s worried about a “very harsh” wave of anti-Israel sentiment popping up in different places along the West Coast. “From Los Angeles up to Seattle, we’re seeing expressions of antisemitism. When you talk to people and try to understand where it’s coming from, it’s being presented on the basis of anti-Israel policies supposedly because of what happened in Gaza,” he said, noting a June 9 protest that prevented the unloading of a Zim containership at the Port of Oakland.
“President Biden has been a friend of Israel for decades, but in recent years we’ve heard voices in the Democratic Party seeking to challenge and weaken the US-Israel alliance,” he said. “On college campuses, we hear of Jewish students facing intimidation and fear. There’s a lack of knowledge, and people are influenced by social media and intersectionality.”
Nachman Shai, Israel’s minister of Diaspora Affairs said in his greeting to the participants: “We all should say ‘baruch hashem’ that we finally can renew Limmud’s extremely important meetings all around the world, starting today in Palo Alto, but hopefully there will be more and more in the months and years to come. You are very important partners in building the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora, and I have a lot of admiration for your operation.”
“I’m so proud that after a long wait of over a year because of COVID-19, which we had to stop our operations in the West, we came back big time with Israel’s minister of Diaspora Affairs, the Israeli consul-general in San Francisco and some very prominent Russian Jewish figures in Silicon Valley” said Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler.
“The West Coast Limmud FSU Conference is a wonderful sign of the return to in-person engagement for Jewish young adults from the Russian-speaking Jewish community in the area. There is a deep thirst for opportunities to not just congregate, but also to delve into pressing issues, cultural heritage, the arts and, of course, volunteerism, which is at the heart of any Limmud event,” said Marina Yudborovsky, Genesis Philanthropy Group CEO.
Since the first conference in Moscow 15 years ago, over 75 events have been mounted by 13 volunteer teams worldwide. Limmud FSU, that was founded by Chesler and Sandy Cahn, and is 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 West Coast enjoyed the generous support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group; Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany; Jewish National Fund (KKL); Blavatnik Family Foundation, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; UJA - Jewish Federation of New York; Diane Wohl; Tom Blumberg 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, volunteers Ilana Baird, Irina Kolomey, Dina Luvishes, Lev Luvishes, Leo Hmelnitsky, Dasha Spokoiniy, and Mila Serper and Luba Palant from Oshman Family JCC.
Photos courtesy of Igor Khodzinskiy.