St. Petersburg is the second largest Jewish community in Russia today, and it counts around 100,000 Jewish residents (according to the Israeli law of return).
Limmud FSU is a festival of Jewish learning featuring a packed program of lectures, workshops, round-table discussions, music and a wide-range of cultural events.
During the three-day conference, participants coming primarily from St. Petersburg, but also from many other neighboring countries and cities (like Moscow, Kaliningrad, Saratov, Belarus, Ukraine), attended some 80 seminars, lectures, presentations, master-classes, round-table discussions and creative workshops on a wide variety of topics.
Some of the topics included: Jewish spirituality and philosophy, ethical issues, current topics in politics and society, Bible and Talmud, arts, music, and dance. Among the presenters will be prominent historians, scientists, artists, politicians, businessmen, educators and musicians mainly from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Israel and America.
Some of the exciting names at this year’s conference included famous Israeli actress Helena Yaralova who is originally from Kiev, well known poet and philosopher Lev Rubinstein from Moscow, children’s author Michael Yasnov, historian Ilya Altman from Moscow, and fashion designer Liliana Modigliani. Also in attendance was the Israeli Consul General in St. Petersburg, Ambassador Eddie Shapira.
'Vibrant, flourishing Jewish community'
Like all other Limmud conferences, Limmud FSU in St. Petersburg is egalitarian and pluralistic. The conferences are organized and run entirely by local volunteers who are passionate and enthusiastic about the Limmud mission of strengthening Jewish identity and bringing Jewish learning to Jews of all backgrounds.
Under the reign of Alexander II in the 19th Century select groups of Jews gained legal access to the Russian interior, including the imperial capital. Under the policy of selective integration, “useful” Jews, such as, physicians, army veterans, university graduates, and wealthy merchants, were permitted to live outside the Pale of Settlement.
By the end of Alexander II’s reign, approximately 16,000 Jews lived in St. Petersburg legally, making it the largest Jewish community outside the Pale. There are estimates that an almost equal number of Jews were living in the city illegally at the time as well.
According to the 1897 census, there were 17,254 Jews in St. Petersburg (including 310 Karaites), constituting 1.4% of the population. Despite its small numbers, the St. Petersburg Jewish community played an important role in Russian Jewish life, in part due to the wealth of individual members and their influence at the court.
In 1917, all residence restrictions on Jews, which had allowed only Jews who worked in St. Petersburg to remain there, were abolished, and the city became a center of the organizational activities of all the factions and parties of Russian Jewry. However, there remained periods of pronounced anti-Semitism.
Though mass emigration in the 1980s-90s reduced St. Petersburg’s Jewish population, the city re-emerged as a vibrant Jewish community after the fall of Communism, with a full range of educational and religious facilities, including a Chabad House and synagogues, Jewish private University, five day schools, Reform synagogue, many JCCs, and large range of international and local organizations, such as the Israeli Consulate General, Israeli cultural center, JAFI, JDC, Hillel, Family Center "Adain Lo" and many others.
“St. Petersburg has one of the most vibrant and flourishing Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and we are thrilled to be part of it”, said Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU.
“We are sure that this conference, like all other Limmud FSU conferences, contributed to the Jewish life in the city and will leave a significant impact on the Jewish community members while they are looking to strengthen their Jewish identity.”