FROM WIND­SOR WITH LOVE: RUS­SIANS’ UK LIM­MUD

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY IS­ABEL DE­BER­TO­DANO

“YOU CAN tell the Rus­sian-speak­ers by their eyes,” I am told when I ar­rive at the Lim mud For­mer Soviet Union event in Wind­sor.

“They may have been liv­ing out­side Rus­sia for many years, but their eyes are anx­ious. They are alert for trou­ble.”

Boris Sch­naid­man, a Rus­sian, has plenty of op­por­tu­nity to prove his point. At the Lim­mud FSU last week­end, 700 Jews with links to Rus­sia and the for­mer Soviet Union were gath­ered for three days of sem­i­nars, dis­cus­sions and en­ter­tain­ment.

These peo­ple rep­re­sent a com­mu­nity of Jews liv­ing be­low the radar; shy of ac­knowl­edg­ing their roots.

“I am as­ton­ished,” says Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies pres­i­dent. “I learnt this week­end that we have a Rus­sian Jewish com­mu­nity in London of be­tween 10,000 and 20,000 peo­ple. We need to do more to draw them out, make them wel­come.”

These Jews are hid­den be­cause although they in­te­grate with other Rus­sian speak­ers and the wider Bri­tish com­mu­nity, they steer clear of syn­a­gogues and tend not to live in the most Jewish-pop­u­lated ar­eas of north-west London.

Sixty years of re­pres­sion un­der Com­mu­nism have left their mark. Very few men at Lim­mud FSU wore a kip­pah and some con­fessed to not know­ing what the words “shalom” or “shul” meant.

“Many peo­ple here are only be­gin­ning to dis­cover their Jewish­ness,” says Berel Lazar, chief rabbi in Moscow. “It’s an in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence for them, there’s a lot of en­ergy here. The Rus­sian Jewish com­mu­nity is try­ing to find its place in the world.”

At the end of one lec­ture on Satur­day, a par­tic­i­pant in her 20s stands up and ex­plains she is not in­volved in Jewish life in her home town of Kiev. “I am a Lim­mud Jew,” she says.

Another par­tic­i­pant, Reuben, who now lives in France and did not want to be iden­ti­fied, says: “Lim­mud is my syn­a­gogue. There are so many peo­ple who are sim­i­lar to me here, we can talk about be­ing Jewish and it feels fa­mil­iar.”

Here lies the key to Lim­mud FSU. Many par­tic­i­pants do not want to be syn­a­gogue mem­bers, lack of fa­mil­iar­ity makes them un­com­fort­able with many of the prayers and rit­u­als but there is a Jewish- ness in­side them which they feel com­pelled to ac­knowl­edge. “They are Jewish in their souls,” says Chaim Ch­esler, founder of Lim­mud FSU. “Lim­mud gives them a chance to ex­plore what it means to them.” Aaron Frenkel, pres­i­dent of Lim­mud FSU, puts it more strongly. “If they don’t come to Lim­mud they will even­tu­ally as­sim­i­late and their Jewish iden­tity will be lost,” he ex­plains. “Lim­mud is ful­fill­ing an es­sen­tial role for these peo­ple.” An es­ti­mated three mil­lion Jews flooded out of the Soviet Union af­ter the col­lapse of Com­mu­nism, head­ing to the United States, Is­rael and Europe. “The UK is con­sid­ered a good place for Rus­sians to do busi­ness and it’s also re­garded as one of the safest democ­ra­cies,” says Mr Ch­esler. There are four ma­jor groups of Rus­sian-speak­ing Jews in London: stu­dents; young pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in IT, busi­ness and law; fam­i­lies; and wealthy busi­ness peo­ple. “Thep­eo­ple you see here feel an essence of Jewish­ness,” says Se­myon Dovzhik, who lives in London and mas­ter­minded the event. “They are un­likely to be in­volved in Bri­tish pol­i­tics but they are very pro-Is­rael. They are sec­u­lar but they want their chil­dren to marry within the faith.”

There are, how­ever, Rus­sian-dom­i­nated syn­a­gogues in London, in­clud­ing Chabad Bel­gravia, served by Rabbi Men­del Kal­mensen, where at­ten­dance is on the rise.

Mr Ch­esler doubts many Jews would go back to Rus­sia: “They can live openly as Jews but free speech is a prob­lem, they are not al­lowed to speak against Putin.”

Mr Sch­naid­man adds: “At least in the UK I know if I’m the tar­get of an an­ti­semitic at­tack the po­lice will pro­tect me — in Rus­sia the po­lice will do noth­ing.”

Brothers in arms: some of the 700 Lim­mud FSU par­tic­i­pants dance dur­ing the week­end re­treat in Wind­sor

Amer­i­can phi­lan­thropist Matthew Bronf­man

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