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Limmud FSU delegation participates in leadership summit in Warsaw

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Delegates march in Plonsk, the birthplace of David Ben-Gurion. (All photos by Roman Kogan)

A delegation of 60 Limmud FSU volunteers, including four Canadians participated at this year’s International March of the Living – part of the Global Leadership Summit in Warsaw this month.

The April 11-15 event focused on training and educating today’s Jewish leaders who have roots from the Former Soviet Union.

“This organization welcomes everyone,” said Ella Petrenko, marketing chair of Limmud FSU (Canada), who attended the summit. “Every Jew who has absolutely different political views and religious upbringings is accepted. Inclusion is what the organization really values, and because of that, my husband and I really felt at home when we joined it.”

Her husband, Sergey Petrenko, a member of the fundraising committee for Limmud FSU (Canada), said that even connecting with other Canadians there was a meaningful experience in itself because of how tightly-knitted the Jewish community is.

“I think unity is one of the basic needs that organizations like these rely on,” he said. “Even here in Canada, it creates communities. I can tell you that in our first Shabbaton back in 2015, we literally had people live right around the corner from us in Toronto, who we never got a chance to meet. Then three days later, you go back and you know the people who lived in that house across the street from you for four years.”

READ: DRAMATIZATION OF SOLOMON MIKHOELS’ LIFE PREMIERES AT LIMMUD

The participants engaged in leadership development sessions and learned about various fundraising and crowdfunding methods for non-profit organizations, and about community engagement tactics. They also shared their experiences as volunteers, and visited the POLIN museum which showcases the history of Polish Jewry.

Guests mingle at a Havdalah ceremony.

Notable speakers like Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Anna Azari, Israel’s Ambassador to Poland, were also present at the summit, and were part of a panel discussion.

The summit was also an opportunity to learn more about Judaism in other countries, said Petrenko. Volunteers got to discuss this with one another, and he said it was a great way to gain more knowledge about different Jewish lifestyles around the world. Delegates came from many countries including the U.S., Australia, Belarus and Israel.

“The summit was about getting to know the problems that different countries meet, the solutions to these problems, and the stresses they have had in certain types of events,” he said.  “It addressed everything from how we can raise money for Shabbatons, to finding new ways on how to make these topics more interesting for other Russian-speaking Jews from different countries. It was really about sharing the experience and learning things from others.”   

Eitan Dudnick, chair of the organizing committee and resource team, said that these group discussions help improve interaction within the Jewish community. Different mentalities and new perspectives being brought to the table all result in better collaboration, he said.

The trip was divided into two parts. “The first part was about connecting people to the Jewish history in Poland. The other part was dedicated to collaboration and becoming more united as a group,” said Dudnick. “Most of us didn’t know each other before the summit, since we are from different countries, so it was a great opportunity to get to know each other and share our experiences.”

On the last day of the summit, the Limmud FSU delegation marched in the Polish city of Plonsk, the hometown of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel.

Children, adults, and Polish locals all marched alongside one another in the small town, and passed by places that were of significance in Ben-Gurion’s life. Dudnick said that this part of the trip stood out to him the most, because everyone was sharing the moment together.

Delegates at Auschwitz during the March of the Living.

“I really liked this part of the experience because it was a very positive atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone was singing, dancing the hora, and there were even Polish kids taking pictures with Israeli flags.”

Two of the Limmud FSU leaders, Matthew Bronfman and Aaron G. Frenkel, lit torches during the march in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in commemoration of the Holocaust.

“I light this torch in memory of my family members – grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, daughters and sons, and for my mother Fruma who was a prisoner here in Auschwitz-Birkenau,” said Frenkel, who is the president of Limmud FSU. “May their soul will be bound up in the bundle of life.”