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Limmud FSU: more than just a conference

Limmud FSU Canada 2016

Shaping community, opening a door to endless possibilities and making connections while expanding intellectual and cultural horizons are just some of the ways to describe Limmud FSU Canada.

Since its arrival to Canada three years ago, Limmud FSU Canada has impacted the lives of thousands of Russian speaking Jews across Canada and brings this unique community to the forefront of Canadian Jewry.

Limmud FSU Canada, is a dynamic and pluralistic Jewish festival of culture, creativity and learning, becoming one of the most significant local Jewish gatherings in recent years.

Built on values of volunteerism and inclusion, the learning festival features multi-day retreats where participants explore and learn from inspiring speakers, master-classes and discussions on subjects including Jewish culture and tradition, history, politics, academics, business and lifestyle.

“There is a place for everyone at Limmud FSU,” says national director Mila Voihanski.

“We pride ourselves on being pluralistic and appealing to all layers of our diverse community.”

Limmud FSU learning festivals preserve a deep respect for tradition which includes kosher food and shabbat friendly sessions while meeting the needs of those who want to be involved in communal Jewish life and are not yet ready to do so in a traditional sense.

“Limmud FSU brings traditions that the older generation did not have a chance to experience in the Former Soviet Union and the younger generation has ample opportunity to explore now,” explains Voihanski.

She told the story of a 12-year-old participant who told his parents after the festival that he does not want to simply sit and eat for holidays but would like to add meaning behind the traditions.

When asked why he chose to get involved in establishing Limmud FSU in Canada, past conference chair, Leon Martynenko, said, “it is vitally important for me to take an active part in this process of spiritual and cultural revival among Soviet Jewry, in particular as a Jewish man who wants to pass down this heritage to my future children.

“I believe that Limmud FSU is a great chance for me to get to know people from our local community, while contributing to this very community. Giving back to the community where you currently live, is the key to personal and communal success,” said Martynenko.

One of Limmud’s strongest values is volunteerism evident by the 40+ member organizing committee made up entirely of volunteers.

Ilia Dobkin is a young professional and the chair of the logistics committee for the 2017 conference. He volunteers countless hours of his free time to organizing the Limmud FSU learning festival.

“I can say with ease that there was a great return on my investment of time, effort and patience; it all paid off in dividends of friends, connections, resources and life-changing relationships,” he said.

“I’ve increased my social capital and awesomeness tenfold with a continual compound effect,” he continued. “I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life. Not only was the whole experience extremely rewarding but I’ve made life long connections with amazing people who have enriched my life in countless ways. So many doors have been opened for me and my family since joining the realm of volunteering; doors that I didn’t think had keys.”

Janna Zoharov, a recent immigrant from Israel said she began volunteering with Limmud because she had a passion to contribute her skills and knowledge to her new Jewish community.

“I met great people with a similar education and family history, I met many new friends and felt that we are all doing really important work for the Russian Jewish Community in Toronto.”

Limmud FSU strives to provide continuous leadership and community building opportunities for its volunteers throughout the year. By partnering with other community organizations, volunteers have endless opportunities to get involved, develop their skills and expand their personal and professional networks within the community. These efforts are already showing results, with many volunteers assuming leadership roles within the community and spearheading new initiatives.

“I was able to grow my global Russian-Jewish network by attending these learning festivals,” Boris Varshavsky, the current Conference chair said. “The environment is very relaxed, everyone is friendly and everyone comes from different yet similar walks of life. The similarity comes from the FSU connection that everyone shares. There is a mutual understanding of the importance of education and our history, personal experiences and memories are shared through lectures and seminars throughout the conference.”

Over its short existence in Canada, Limmud FSU has managed to create a new platform for Canada’s Russian speaking Jews. Its passion for inclusion, volunteerism and education has had a ripple effect throughout the broader Jewish community by inspiring future leaders and creating open dialogue for collaboration and integration.

“Limmud FSU is not just a conference, it is a journey. A journey into Jewish traditions, education, community and a better Jewish future,” Voihanski said. L’chaim to many more successful festivals!

Published in the ЯCJN.