Going to Limmud Festival is always a source of wonderment: 2,500 delegates of all ages – from under one year old to over 90 – met at Pendigo Lake in Birmingham for the third year. Hundreds of sessions were given by an international cast of presenters, covering all aspects of Jewishness, from torah texts to issues of being Jewish in the fluid world we now inhabit. There were lots of opportunities to join in, whether in Mizrachi dancing or – new to this year – peopling the everyday story of country folk that is The Archers with Jewish characters. There was a great deal of fun with Eddie Grundy!
Limmud never ceases to amaze and hearten. In spite of being transposed this year to a Birmingham Hilton, the spirit remains, as do the hierarchy-breaking conventions, eg all name badges equal, no Lord, Rabbi or other title allowed. People of all ages at erudite lectures as well as comedy and contemporary music shows – and happy to tell you about their experiences at dinner. Again the huge task of looking after 2,500 delegates was undertaken by a fresh team of volunteers (those working on the shuk where our stand was located were particularly delightful). Why was it in Britain that this incredible, now world-wide, phenomenon was founded, I wondered. Perhaps renowned British ‘amateurism’ gave more faith that teams of volunteers could be trusted to get things right. Anyway, it is certainly something British Jewry has to be proud of – and we were proud that one subscriber there described JR as “Limmud on paper”.
We were happy to meet many of you at Conference. Our badge worked well in bringing people to our stand. We had a record day in terms of new subscriptions. So thank you to the 50 who wore one and if you can keep it and wear it at other relevant occasions (Jewish Book Week, Limmud Days, synagogue functions, etc) it would help us enormously. There are still a lot of people who don’t know we exist.
The First Day. Addis Ababa.
We made it to the hotel just to dump our bags and then headed out straight away to meet with the ‘Secret Jews’ of Kechene. Of course, they’re not so secret now. Their synagogue in a slum on the outskirts of Addis has a wall emblazoned with a menorah and other Jewish symbols. This is their story. In a period of intense persecution in Gondar some centuries before, a third of the community decided to leave for the centre of the country. They acted outwardly as Christians meeting in caves for Jewish worship. For 400 years they have only married each other, and kept their identity a secret till about 10 years ago when a group of young men defied their elders and ‘came out’ as Jews. They now have a synagogue in Addis.
It was as an amazing experience as ever. I have been going to Limmud for 13 years and can never get over how a team of young volunteers, changing yearly, can put on such a huge event with its problems of feeding and housing 2,500, let alone running hundreds of stimulating sessions each day. It is a heartening wonder of the modern world. And this year even the food was great (congratulations Manchester-based Celia Clyne Banqueting).
There were of course many JR readers there and I asked a few about their best Limmud experience.
A story of history uncovered
Alexandra Grime (pictured), a curator at the Manchester Jewish Museum, discovers that the artist behind a portrait of Mark Bloom is none other than Northern Jewish painter Emmanuel Levy. The picture of Bloom – founder of Colwyn Bay Synagogue and a horse trader during WWI – was donated to the museum more than three decades ago by the synagogue, but it was only when Grime was looking through Levy’s scrapbooks, while researching the museum’s current Levy retrospective, that she put two and two together. The Bloom portrait has now been added to MJM’s exhibition.