The Jews of Belarus: from Brisk to Jerusalem

Jun. 16, 2013

Source: Israel Hayom

The city of Brest -- or Brisk, as it was known to its Jewish inhabitants -- recently marked the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Menachem Begin, former prime minister of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, with a ceremony and exhibition dedicated to his memory and his life's work.

This came at the close of a packed week of cultural events organized by the educational project Limmud FSU (Former Soviet Union). This incredible undertaking is the brainchild of Chaim Chesler, past treasurer of the Jewish Agency, together with Sandra Cahn of New York and Mikhail Chlenov of Russia. Chesler was one of the first people in the forefront of the struggle for the release of Soviet Jewry.

Limmud FSU is now in its seventh year of its educational events directed at Russian-speaking Jews in all the countries of the former Soviet Union, in the U.S. and in Israel, and is part of Limmud International, the worldwide educational project started over 33 years ago in the U.K. and now active in over 60 countries.

During the week, more than 500 Jews -- men, women and children -- gathered together for an intensive celebration of Jewish culture and identity. In the land where some 800,000 Jews were led to their deaths in crematoria, gas chambers and in huge pits where they were shot like ducks in a shooting gallery, tens of lectures and presentations took place in front of packed audiences.
Among them were speakers from Israel including Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein; the founder and director of the Yiddishshpiel theater company, Shmuel Atzmon; Yaakov Achimeir, the noted television and radio journalist and Israel Prize laureate; Professor Raphael Walden of Sheba Medical Center, together with his wife Dr. Zvia Walden (daughter of President Shimon Peres, who dedicated a center devoted to her father in his birthplace, the nearby village of Vishneyeva); television producer and director Boris Maftzir; singer and actor Sassi Keshet, and others….

After the immigration of tens of thousands of Belarusian Jews to Israel and their descendants, those that are left are wrestling with their Judaism. Up to just a few years ago, many of them knew nothing of their culture or their Jewish heritage. But today, in the streets of Minsk, Vitebsk and Brest, many of them can be seen with kippot on their heads and Stars of David around their necks, proud both of their Judaism and their Zionism and searching for ways to embrace them and discover them anew. Events such as Limmud serve to reinforce their identity and ensure that the chain will continue unbroken.

Read more at Israel Hayom.

Updated: Sep. 01, 2013