Friday, 03 February 2017

Russian chief rabbi, Reform dissident in London for event for ex-Soviet Jews

JTA

Hundreds of Russian-speaking Jews from across Western Europe convened in the British capital for a conference on learning whose organizers at the Limmud FSU group said was the largest of its kind.

The weekend event — the first entry into Western Europe by the Limmud FSU group for Russian-speaking Jews in the former Soviet Union and beyond — drew 650 participants on Friday to the plush De Vere Beaumont Estate Hotel in Windsor, a town located 18 miles west of London that features Windsor Castle, a residence of the British Royal Family.

The broad spectrum of speakers slated to attend the event, whose focus is the Balfour Declaration’s centennial anniversary, include Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia who is affiliated with the Chabad movement, and Misha Kapustin, a Reform rabbi from Crimea who left the area in 2014 to Slovakia following its occupation and subsequent annexation by Russia from Ukraine.

The Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 by the British government vowing to help establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel without jeopardizing the rights of other inhabitants of the area.

The roster of guests and speakers from Israel is equally diverse, ranging from the left-wing Knesset member Merav Michaeli, a liberal outlier of the Zionist Camp party, to David Bitan, a senior member of the Likud ruling party.

From the United States, guests include Matthew Bronfman, a philanthropist and chair of Limmud FSU’s International Steering Committee, and historian Deborah Lipstadt, whose legal fight in London against the Holocaust denier David Irving is the subject of the acclaimed film “Denial,” which premiered in the United Kingdom last week.

Western Europe has some 300,000 Russian-speaking Jews, according to Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler. Most settled there after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. The majority of them live in Germany, but setting up the first Limmud FSU Europe conference was easier in London due to organizational issues, a spokeswoman for Limmud FSU said.

“The plan is to make Limmud FSU Europe an annual event, moving it to additional destinations in Western Europe, including Germany,” said the spokeswoman, Natasha Chechik.

Founded in 2006, Limmud FSU has annual events in over a dozen cities annually, including in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Israel, the United States and Canada.

The previous large-scale event for Russian-speaking Jews in Western Europe took place in 2012 in the Netherlands, where the Jewish Agency for Israel brought together more than 200 Russian-speaking young Jews for a conference about Israel.