Being that it has been so long, I want to backtrack a bit and make sure not to leave out any of the yummy filling. Over Halloween, (which, a piece of Amy trivia: Halloween is my FAVORITE holiday. really. Love all things October 31…) I made my way to Limmud FSU in Odessa.
If you are like me an have never heard of Limmud, you can learn more here, or even better, here, but basically Limmud conferences are Jewish cultural conventions that are held in over 50 countries around the world.”Limmud is a dynamic, pluralistic gathering of Jewish learning. For 30 years, Limmud seminars and conferences around the globe, from Canada to Australia, Switzerland and Turkey, as well as Israel, have been attracting Jews of all ages and backgrounds, including those who have studied Jewish topics intensively and others who have very little practical knowledge. Seminars, lectures, workshops, and discussions focus on an enormous range of topics, from social and political trends within Jewish communities”
And in the spirit of not recreating the wheel-
“A Limmud FSU Conference took place for young Russian-speaking Jews in Odessa, Ukraine, from October 31 to November 2, 2011. It was attended by more than 600 young people from 14 countries, including Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, USA and Israel. Due to successful collaboration with the European Jewish Union, youths from Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and even from Gibraltar, also took an active part. Limmud FSU for Russian-speaking Jews was established some six years ago and tens of thousands of young people have participated. This was the second Limmud FSU conference to take place in Odessa, a major center of pre-war Jewish culture, and the fifth in Ukraine.”
To be honest I pretty much had no idea what I was going to, but I was really excited to travel to Odessa, which I had heard was a very breathtaking Port city, and there had been a buzz about the conference in the weeks leading up. After a short but rather shaky flight I arrived to the hotel Sunday morning. I was excited to quickly find many of my friends from Kiev had made the Journey also, including the girls who live in the Moishe House, some of my colleagues from the Joint Office, and Beiteynu, as well as various other movers and shakers from the Kiev community.
The first day of the conference was packed with sessions on a variety of topics including assimilation, Hassidism, Jews in fashion and many others (though they were mostly in Russian and mostly lost on me, though I did try to sit in on a couple. The language made the decision to choose all of the musical sessions an easy choice). Things really kicked off though with everyone from the conference boarding several large buses and making our way to a convention center near the seaside for the official opening ceremony. After introducing the many important people in attendance, and some speeches, the fun began. A famous Russian singer and tv personality, Andrey Makarevich a famous Ukrainian Klesmer band, and a band from Israel, The Shuk, brought the house down, and had everyone up and dancing. Ukrainians know how to approach a dance party to with wild abandon and this was no exception.
Another huge part of getting the evening started was the arrival of the delegation of students and young people from all over Europe and Israel, about 30 in total. It was very exciting to have so many other foreigners around, and definitely brought energy to the conference.
Earlier in the day someone had told me that two of the members of The Shuk were American and had made Aliyah, so after the performance I had to play some Jewish geography. Sure enough we knew people in common, people whom I had worked at Eden Village with. I liked this because many of the songs they played through the weekend have a soft place in my heart from my time at Eden Village, it was a really nice slice of home. I thought this was very cool, and a reminder of just how small the world is. (A good friend’s mother shed some insight on this fact for me, ‘it’s not a small world, it’s a small religion’. cool regardless)
The next day was another day of lectures and workshops. I spent much of the day meeting the many other English speakers on who the lectures in Russian were also lost. It was very interesting for me to hear their impression and opinions about Ukraine, and I must say very validating to hear their struggles including: a vegan for whom the meat and potatoes was tough, and those who wished to buy water without gas but were unable to because the labels are in Russian. I was happy to get to share with them things I had learned about Ukraine, and to see others get to experience what a special place this is. A real turning point in my time in Ukraine came as I was speaking with somebody and another person came up and began asking them a question in Russian, and without thinking I turned to them and repeated the question in English and proceeded to repeat the answer in Russian. A beat after I realized what had happened I was on cloud nine. I am actually learning this language! I realized that without realizing it, I had become nearly functional here! (Just to be clear- I by no stretch of the imagination speak Russian yet.. but I’m learning).
The festive mood of the conference came to a crescendo with the second evening “Israeli Club night”. Full of more music and dancing and no shortage of sing alongs everyone danced well into the night. When the club closed the party migrated back to the hotel where about 40 people were gathered singing traditional Ukrainian folk songs and doing traditional dances. It was really an amazing sight of many generations of culture and I felt very blessed they let me dance into the morning hours with them. In the morning my big toe was literally black and blue from dancing.
With sleepy eyes and sore legs the next day we bid farewell to the hotel, to spend the day in Odessa. Luckily for me they had arranged a tour of Jewish Odessa in English for the foreigners and I was able to tag along. Established by Catherine the Great as an international city, Odessa had a distinct flavor from Kiev and the presence of more foriegn influence was evident. I don’t know if I just love seaside cities or it really was that great, but I was very taken with Odessa and I really hope to go back in the summer and see it in all of it’s glory. We saw the famous Opera house as well as a very large and famous staircase, which much to my amusement used to be called, “the big stairs”. Interesting fact about the Opera house: at one point the ground beneath the building began to cave from the weight, so to remedy this the city of Odessa injected liquid glass beneath it to support it. This quickly gave out and they put in steel pylons. Why liquid glass and not concrete? They needed something that would be light enough not to make the ground cave even further. interesting stuff.
It seemed like it had only been a blink and I was back at the airport headed back to Kiev. It turned out that I had the same flight as the Shuk, as well as several other Limmudniks, who were flying home via Kiev, so the few days ended on a very high note with an impromptu show in the airport terminal.I returned home exhausted and overflowing with inspiration and excitement. I met so many people who are doing really amazing things in their communities, it was a surge of energy I had been desperately needing. I also met many people with many interesting project ideas I hope to pursue; in particular a training seminar for Israeli Dance teachers in Ukraine. More on this to come soon. The conference was a real turning point in my time here, and I can certainly say that the Limmud bug bit me and I can’t wait until the next time I have the pleasure.