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It's not easy bringing Jewish education into the Former Soviet Union. The institutional framework isn't there, despite the presence of some international Jewish organizations. A few dozen financially-dependent schools and perhaps a dozen "chief rabbis" (Kiev alone has four) elbowing each other to get into the limelight do not a Jewish community make.
Perhaps for this reason, Jewish organizations that operate in the FSU do so in an "imperial" way, as some here at the Limmud conference - a mass Jewish education event that includes learning sessions and creative activities - see it. These organizations create the network on the ground and manage it carefully through their own people. Hillel, the JDC, the Jewish Agency and a host of other American and international Jewish organizations all have agents on the ground running their operations and closely monitoring where the money goes.
This is understandable, of course, but it's not a recipe for indigenous Jewish creativity. Sustainable Jewish life depends on leadership creation; if the locals aren't running the show, the show won't outlast the foreign donors' interest.
Here, Limmud has created what may well turn out to be a revolutionary element in Russian life. In each country where the Limmud model is adopted, volunteerism is the operational backbone - and sacred principle - underlying the event. In Russia, say event organizers, that principle has been nonexistent; Russian Jewry is used to free conferences, free trips, free buildings, free courses brought in by foreign donors.
But here at Limmud, for the first time at this scale, 100 young Russians are running the show without earning a penny for their hard work. Some - intellectuals from local universities, journalists from a small Jewish press and the like - are teaching here. Others are translating in real-time for the benefit of the multinational audience (at a rough guess, about one-quarter of participants are foreign), while still others are managing the computers, delivering supplies or making sure hundreds of participants know where they're supposed to be.
Twelve years as an idea, three years in the making, Limmud has brought Jewish volunteerism in a big way to the reawakening but still dependent Russian community.
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