Princeton to host learning festival for FSU Jews

Princeton to host learning festival for FSU Jews

Hundreds of Jews from the former Soviet Union will gather in Princeton May 11-13 for classes, workshops, and performances exploring Israel, Torah, and Jewish life, culture, and the arts.

The event at the Princeton Marriott — the first in New Jersey — is sponsored by Limmud FSU, an offshoot of a popular series of Jewish culture and learning events launched in England over 30 years ago.

Organizers see the three-day learning festival as a celebration of Russian-Jewish culture as well as an opportunity for those who have little connection to Judaism to strengthen their identity.

“I think Limmud is important in general to bring together the Russian-speaking community,” said organizing committee member Yuliya Mazur. “When we have these events we get Jews from all walks of life: Orthodox, secular, and those with no connection to Judaism. In previous years, amazing things have happened when we got all these people together, sometimes even in the same session.”

Mazur, who lives in Brooklyn, came to the United States 15 years ago after having lived in Ukraine, Moscow, and Chechnya, among other places.

“Russian people need more exposure like this because it gives you a sense of belonging and identity,” said Mazur. “Because of their background, many Russian Jews have a different political perspective, social perspective, and identity perspective that the rest of the Jewish community doesn’t necessarily understand.”

Among the headlining performers will be Irina Rosenfeld, a popular singer in Ukraine, who wears a star of David and publicly expresses pride in being Jewish at all her performances.

There are 750,000 to one million Russian-American Jews in the United States, about half living in New York and New Jersey. Those attending can come for the day, individual sessions, or register for the full three-day program. It will include lectures in Russian, Hebrew, and English.

Keynote lectures on Princeton’s own Albert Einstein will be given by Menachem Ben-Sasson, president of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Hanoch Gutfreund, its former president and academic director of its Einstein archives. Guided tours of the Einstein archives on the campus of Princeton University will be offered.

Presenters include Yossi Bachar, chair of Israel Discount Bank; Ronen Plot, director general of Israel’s Ministry for Public Diplomacy and the Diaspora; and Micah Levinson, an actor in the Oscar-nominated Israeli film Footnote.

Author and Republican congressional candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will speak about his best-selling book, Kosher Sex.

Among the topics to be covered include Jewish philanthropy, Israel and the Iranian threat, the Arab Spring, the Russian media in the United States, intermarriage, and the fate of Jewish art treasures during the Holocaust.

Other activities include a wine tasting, dance party, performance by the “Red Elvises,” an art gallery opening, and a yoga and martial arts workshop.

The first of six Limmud FSU conferences was held in Moscow in March. Launched in the United Kingdom in 1980, Limmud has become one of the world’s most successful adult Jewish educational initiatives. Limmud FSU operates in seven countries, including Israel, with a budget of approximately $1 million, and sponsors conferences in dozens of countries.

“Limmud FSU has revolutionized pluralistic Jewish engagement of Russian-speaking Jews and is making a great impact in strengthening Jewish identity through a unique educational experience of Jewish history and culture,” said Matthew Bronfman, chair of the International Committee of Limmud FSU, who will also deliver a session.

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