By Michael Podberezin, Russia Programs Coordinator at PresenTense. Thanks to the help of an ROI Micro Grant Michael attended the Limmud FSU Summit in Princeton where he gave a session on Social Entrepreneurship in Russia.
In early May, I attended the Limmud FSU summit in Princeton to give a session on Social Entrepreneurship in Russia, thanks to the invitation of the Limmud steering committee and fellow ROIer Dima Moverguz. It was a huge gathering of Russian speaking American Jews, getting together for a Shabbat of learning, discussion and discovery. Together, we learned from the likes of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Professor Michael Walzer, and others.
If you've ever attended a Limmud conference, you already know the principles of openness, inclusivity, and true volunteer spirit that are the pillars of these conferences. The Russian-speaking Limmud is no different, and yet adds onto those pillars adaptations necessary to attract its target audience. If I could describe it as anything, it strives to add exclusivity, and a certain elite flair to the gathering. In a way, each gathering I attended felt like being accepted into an exclusive club where everyone are equals, and all doors are open to you, which can explain why Limmud has been a pioneer in successful volunteer engagement in the community.
I think part of the reason I was invited to speak at Limmud was due to my position at PresenTense at the time, as European programmes director, in charge of our activity in Russia. But LimmudFSU in Princeton was a unique experience for me for completely personal reasons: My family made Aliyah from the USSR in 1992. I consider myself completely Israeli, my Russian has a heavy Israeli accent, I can't remember the last time I ate Borscht or Cholodets, and for almost 2 decades I completely disconnected myself, by choice, from Russian culture, until I started my position at PresenTense.
And this, I think, is where Limmud FSU is so unique. Normally, most Russian immigrants who have chosen to give preference to a new identity in a new country are not welcome, and feel out of place in Russian speaking events. It works the other way as well: often times people who chose to preserve their Russian identity feel strange in a purely assimilated environment.
Limmud FSU was the first time I've seen the two groups come together. Communicating, without trying to convince each other to make different choices, and most importantly learning more about their Jewish identity together. There was no pressure to conform to either side, and English conversations mingled with Russian and Hebrew ones. In a way, it seemed strange for things to work differently in the outside world.
I spent most of my time at the summit marvelling just at that. While I've heard quite a few lectures during the summit, and enjoyed meeting those who attended my session, my main take away was the spirit of “inclusivity” that Lynn always talks about. And also the belief that we are capable of learning together regardless of the choices that one makes. A true Limmud.