An exhibition on the liberation of Soviet Jewry was amongst the highlights of the Limmud conference held in Johannesburg between 31 July and 2 August. The exhibition was brought by Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU. He presented on his first-hand experience with the immigration of over 1 million Russians to Israel and the challenges this posed for Israeli society.

Chesler was one of 16 international presenters at this year’s Limmud Johannesburg. Others included Grammy-nominated musician Yair Dalal, who brought his unique fusion of classical European and Indian music to the Limmud stage and Dina Brawer who explored her journey from being the rebbetzin to a well-known Orthodox rabbi in the United Kingdom (Naftali Brawer) to studying for rabbinic ordination at Yeshivat Maharat in New York.

Apart from the international presenters, Limmud Johannesburg has sought to expose and develop a roster of outstanding local presenters. These included political satirist Dov Fedler,  biblical interpreter Adina Roth, and historian Adam Mendelsohn. Participants were treated to everything from serious studies of Jewish texts, to panel discussion around Israeli politics, to musical and theatrical performances.

One of its founder’s David Bilchitz (who is also the current chairperson of Limmud International) told eJP, “Limmud Johannesburg was conceived in 2005 in my parent’s lounge with a handful of volunteers. In 2007, the first non-residential conference was organized by 6 people with an attendance of 400 people. The growth of the conference has been extraordinary: today, there are 80 volunteers who organize this residential weekend conference with over 1000 people attending Limmud across the weekend.”

The Johannesburg community now totals around 55 000 Jews and has experienced significant changes since the advent of a democratic South Africa.

Bilchitz explains that “Limmud Johannesburg has created a truly diverse space which did not exist in the South African Jewish community. Jews from all religious and political backgrounds come together to learn together and celebrate the wonderful riches Jewish culture has to offer.”

Having experienced Limmud events around the world, Chaim Chesler was asked about his thoughts on Limmud Johannesburg. “Limmud Johannesburg,” Chesler commented, “clearly is showing its ability to take its place amongst the important Limmud events in the world. It is enriching the South African Jewish community, is at the forefront of innovation and is evidence of a dynamic and flourishing community.”

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