MOSCOW – Just 40 km. outside the Russian capital at a hotel in a forested
suburb, over 1,200 young Russian-Jewish professionals gathered Thursday to
attend the latest Limmud FSU conference and learn more about their shared
history and to socialize with fellow Jews.
Limmud Jewish education
conferences are a volunteer driven enterprise first conceived in the United
Kingdom 32 years ago. Limmud has since branched out, now holding events in 26 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Hungary, Mexico, the United States, Sweden, Turkey, Israel, Ukraine and most recently, Russia.
The lectures at Limmud
conferences are presented by world-class Jewish scholars and professionals on
topics including Diaspora Jews in the 21st century, Jewish art history, Torah
and business, Israeli society, science and the soul, yoga and meditation, Jewish
philosophy and even hip-hop dance classes.
“The Moscow conference is a
reflection of our Limmud structure,” said Limmud FSU founder Chaim
“We started it here in 2006 and now it’s our largest event,
attracting over 1,200 participants mainly from Moscow, but also people from
Israel and the US.”
Chesler added that the conference goes beyond
imparting Jewish identity, and is an excellent networking
“It’s a great event for not just learning about Jewish
identity, but for forming business contacts within Russia’s Jewish community,”
he said. “Our participants are the cream of the crop of young Jewish
professionals living in Russia.”
Chesler highlighted the significance and
symbolism of this Limmud conference nearly coinciding with Israel’s Independence
“I feel like it is very special that this Limmud is happening near
Israel’s Independence Day because I believe that the attendees here represent
Russia’s future Jewish leadership and the freedom to be Jews in a once
restrictive country,” he said.
“Like Israel, Limmud is an independent
entity – it’s like an ‘intellectual kibbutz,’ where the commerce is knowledge,”
“We don’t have any agenda other than to recreate Jewish
life in Russia, based on equality, volunteerism and pluralism.”
Kandaurova, 26, a Moscow-based musician and journalist, said that this is her
second Limmud conference.
“My first conference was in Jerusalem two years
ago,” she said. “To me, it’s a fascinating opportunity to hang around people who
I have a better chance of relating to than those living in Moscow in
Kandaurova said that due to the lack of religious persecution
in Russia today, she actually feels less connected to Judaism.
disgusting as the persecution of Jews was, it contributed to empowering our
collective identity as Jews in the Diaspora,” she said. “I think that the
Russian-Jewish Diaspora was shaped by the Soviet era, which is now a bygone
[time]. Now we need to redefine who we are because of the necessity to remain a
close-knit and recognizable community.”
Kandaurova said the “old way” of
being a Jew in Russia is no longer viable because the Soviet Union no longer
exists, and therefore “we need to redefine the set of values we share as
Russian-Diaspora Jews. We need to redefine what a ‘young Jew’
Kandaurova added that Israel’s Independence Day serves as a powerful
metaphor for her identity as a Russian Jew.
“The memory of how the Jewish
people developed is a chapter that defines who I am and I have this wonderful
feeling that I have a motherland that’s always there for me like a real
‘mother,’” she said. “And no matter what trouble I have here, I know Israel will
always be there to say, ‘I love you.’” Vadim Golovin, a financial manager in his
30s who lived in Israel for a three-year stint, said Jewish life in Moscow is
better than in many other parts of Europe, but he still questioned the
sustainability of Jewish culture and identity here.
“I think it’s better
to be a Jew [in Moscow] than in Western Europe because you don’t see
anti-Semitism as much,” he said. “However, I don’t think there is any real
Jewish future here because even though the government now views Jewish life more
favorably, that could change in the blink of an eye.”
“I wouldn’t call
the Jewish community here strong.
There’s a good choice of [Jewish]
organizations, but not a strong sense of communal life,” Golovin
The near-confluence of this Limmud with Israel’s Independence
Day, he stressed, is a source of pride.
“Israel’s independence makes me
feel proud – proud of what it has achieved since then, and proud to be part of
Israel’s story, if even just a little bit,” he said.
an israeli jeweler who traveled to the conference from Ramat Gam to lecture on
jewish art history, said he enjoys coming to Limmud to share knowledge that Russian participants are largely unaware of.
“I came here to tell the
Russian- Jewish community about Jewish art because many Jews in Russia don’t
know about this important relationship,” he said.
“It’s different in
Russia than in the US or Israel because for 70 years Jewish identity was
oppressed by Communism. So as an Israeli, I bring them an important element of
our shared culture.”
Limmud FSU COO Roman Kogan said the Moscow
conference was an enormous success because it is contributing to the rebirth of
Jewish identity in a once anti-Semitic land.
“These talented young
professionals are not only proud Jews who are seeking out their past, but they
represent our future in this part of the world,” he said.
“I believe they
will be a powerful force in recreating Jewish life in a country once stripped of