Tech funding project aims to help bolster Jewish life

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Tech funding project aims to help bolster Jewish life

Limmud Labs, a £1.5M initiative that distributes micro-grants, has Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs as a partner alongside Russian-language learning organisation Limmud FSU

Straight to the point: Participants in the Limmud Labs programme
Straight to the point: Participants in the Limmud Labs programme

The Israeli government has begun co-sponsoring a project in the former Soviet Union to use technology to boost Jewish communal life.

Limmud Labs, a £1.5 million initiative that distributes micro-grants, can now claim Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs as a partner alongside the Russian-language learning organisation Limmud FSU.

Organisers say Soviet Jews were excluded from the state’s centres of excellence in technology until 1983, with Moscow State University, Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute and the Bauman Moscow State Technical University off limits.

Despite that, Jews of Soviet family heritage have excelled in the world of technology after moving to America. Sergey Brin, Jan Koum and Max Levchin, the co-founders of Google, WhatsApp and PayPal respectively, are three examples.

“Russian-speaking Jews throughout history, and today especially, have proved to be pathfinders of advancement in all spheres — the sciences, culture and business initiatives,” Gabi Farberov of Limmud FSU Labs told JTA.

Brin has recalled in interviews how his family left Russia in 1979 “mainly because of antisemitism”, and how his father Michael was not accepted to any university physics department because the subject excluded Jews. 

“My father couldn’t pursue his real interest in life,” Brin said. “We had to leave everything we had in the Soviet Union and rebuild our lives from scratch. It gave me
a new perspective on life.”

Limmud Labs gives out dozens of grants of around £10,000 every year to Jewish applicants from the former Soviet Union with novel ideas, such as developing an online evening school to teach Russian-speaking Jews vocational skills in demand in Israel ahead of their immigration there.

Another project being developed by a team of Odessa applicants is an Uber-style application connecting people interested in a tour of the city’s many Jewish heritage sites with available guides who specialise in the subject.

Omer Yankelevich, Israel’s minister of Diaspora Affairs, said Limmud Labs aimed to find and support people like Brin, to “empower them to be active in their local and greater Jewish communities”.

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