Young Jews in Russia celebrate Israel at meeting

Limmud FSU conference celebrates Israel’s independence and Jewish pride in Russia; 1200 young Russian Jews attend.

Russian Jewish youth370 (photo credit: Courtesy Limmud FSU)
Russian Jewish youth370
(photo credit: Courtesy Limmud FSU)
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 Chesler.
“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 opportunity.
“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 Day.
“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,” Chesler said.
“We don’t have any agenda other than to recreate Jewish life in Russia, based on equality, volunteerism and pluralism.”
Anna 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 general.”
Kandaurova said that due to the lack of religious persecution in Russia today, she actually feels less connected to Judaism.
“As 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’ is.”
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 continued.
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.
Michael Gilichinski, 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 it.”