Limmud FSU invited President Shimon Peres to visit his hometown in Belarus in the fall on Tuesday, as part of its efforts to lobby government officials for support.
The leadership of the NGO, which helps plan conferences to promote Jewish identity among unaffiliated Russian-speaking Jewry around the world, visited the President’s Residence and invited Peres to be a special guest at the Limmud FSU conference in Belarus this September and to visit his hometown of Vishneyeva.
Limmud FSU’s executive committee is in Israel this week to raise its profile in hopes of joining the World Jewry Joint Initiative, a joint Diaspora Affairs Ministry- Jewish Agency $1.5 billion project to strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora over the next 20 years.
“We’ve been told by many agencies that we’re the most effective group working in Russian communities to connect the population to Judaism,” Limmud FSU international steering committee chairman Matthew Bronfman told The Jerusalem Post during his visit to the Knesset.
On Monday, the executive committee visited several politicians – Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud Beytenu) and MKs Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) and Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) – to ask them to help advocate for Limmud FSU.
“We know we deserve the support of the Israeli government in their desire to further this agenda [of strengthening Jewish identity]. They allocated money to it, but not to us,” Bronfman said.
He backs the enterprise, but said private funding is not enough to support the fast-growing project, which, in eight years, established 10 annual conferences in the US, Eastern Europe and Israel, and plans to expand to Australia and Canada in the next year.
The conferences will mostly be funded by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which raises money from evangelical Christians to support Jewish activities around the world.
“The government put this issue high on its agenda and is giving money to it. We are the most effective, so they should be supporting us,” Bronfman said.
The renowned philanthropist pointed to Limmud FSU’s mostly volunteer staff as the key to its success and what makes it unique.
“The organizing committees are all local people. We help them raise money and get organized, but we have a very lean paid staff – fewer than 10 people – running 10 events a year with over 1,000 people attending at least one. That is what makes it unique. It is not a top-down program; it is run and designed by the communities. They own it and they feel empowered,” he said.
Bronfman said the conferences featured many high-profile speakers, but none of them are paid.
“We’ve spoken to people who wanted to charge us and we said, as my kids would say, ‘that’s not how we roll,’” he quipped.
In response to Bronfman’s comments, Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer said: “We welcome any and all interest in the Joint Initiative and encourage all efforts to connect Jews around the world to one another, to their Jewish identity and to Israel.”
Sam Sokol and JTA contributed to this report.