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…
Hundreds thronged to Manchester’s Jewish Museum on Sunday 2 July for the first Jewish Arts Festival For All (JAFFA). Jews of all ages were joined by those of other faiths for a fun-filled day of food, music, art and entertainment.
The Lord Mayor of Manchester – who spent almost two hours at the festival with his wife – chose as his theme for a year that has seen the city’s emergence from the horrendous terrorist attack, "to promote community cohesion and mutual respect amongst and between the city’s diverse communities and individuals" and t was certainly in evidence on Sunday.
The mayor and mayoress of Trafford joined the museum’s regular Heritage Trail of Jewish Manchester, led by Merton Paul. And it was mainly Manchester – Jewish Manchester – that featured in the exhibition launched by psychiatrist and artist Tony Raynes, arriving from Boston for the occasion with most of his family as entourage.
Children played happily outside on a rare sunny Mancunian day in the care of Laura Nathan and volunteers from Bnei Akivah. Inside the museum (the original sanctuary of the Sephardi shul) klezmer music from L’chaim Kapelye and the engaging music of Carol Jason’s trio interspersed entertaining talks from nutritionist Carmel Berke, Tracy Allweis and Raynes.
The audience listened enraptured to Raynes' tales of the Manchester of his youth depicted in his paintings. His grandfather, Joseph Hyman, famously survived the Titanic disaster and recuperated from his experience in Tony’s family home. Sharing a room with his grandfather, Raynes recalled how he would daven (pray) three times a day, rocking backwards and forwards to the rhythm of the prayers.
Raynes realised that this was a therapy for PTSD. Asked his priority, psychiatry or painting, he replied: “Both. They are intertwined.”
Throughout the day a marquee was packed with stalls, tastings and demonstrations, all co-ordinated by Marilyn Blank. Sula Leon created delicious dishes, Tomi Komoly served sweetmeats from his Hungarian grandma’s recipes, Ros Livshin enchanted with fruit carving skills and Tova Ellituv, wife of Rabbi Amir, encouraged the children to decorate cupcakes in vibrant colours.
Despite the presence of dignitaries, including the civic heads, MP Ivan Lewis, Jewish Representative Council President Sharon Bannister, Umer Khan the community policeman chief inspector and Deputy Lord Lieutenant Martin Newman, the day was notable for the absence of formal speeches. It was to be, promised JAFFA Chair Herzl Hamburger, a day of fun and celebration, followed the next evening by a comedy night and the following Sunday (July 9) by a spectacular gala concert at the new Stoller Hall.
By Gita Conn
Find out more about JAFFA on the website: http://jewishmanchester.org/JAFFA
Gefiltefest featured surprisingly few actual gefilte fish, but as one of the arguably less tasty staples of Jewish cuisine, it was more than made up for by the variety of food, including dairy-free ice cream, vegetarian caviar and multi-coloured hamentashen, all of which we dutifully and extensively sampled. Beth Duncan of Stapleton Dairy poured out tasting pots of the best yoghurt known to Finchley Road, and the courtyard was dominated by the exuberance of Michelle from Visit Israel – if this radiant lady can’t convince you to make Aliyah, no one can.
Founded by Michael Leventhal in 2010, Gefiltefest is a charity whose work culminates in the annual festival celebrating Jewish culture, heritage and food (and lots of it). JR spoke to Charlie from Mitzvah Day Charity, who ran an apple crumble making workshop for children attending the event. The crumbles were donated directly to asylum seekers at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, exemplifying the kind of charity work Mitzvah Day encourages: giving up your time instead of just your cash.
A particular gem was the children’s books being promoted at the Jewish Vegetarian Society’s stall. Reminiscent of the recent children’s book And Tango Makes Three, about two homosexual penguins who decide to adopt, the power of ideas in fiction for the youngest of readers is not to be underestimated. We may just see a generation of little vegans yet.
The festival attendees were also treated to a range of workshops, talks, films and events, including a rip-roaring edition of Just a Minute, Gefiltefest style. The host quickly dispelled fears that the show would be akin to the poorly received Have I Got Jews For You or Schmock the Week. This was almost immediately evident after a comment from a panel member about 30 seconds in caused another to spray of water over the front row (alas, we quickly regretted our seating choice).
Topics ranged from ‘bagel or beigel?’ and ‘latkas vs hamentashen’ to Mrs Elswood and 'my mother’s chicken soup’, each extrapolated on beautifully by the gifted wits Abigail Morris, Dan Patterson, Adam Taub and Jenni Frazer, who were bolstered by host Raymond Simonson. Although wholly enjoyed by most, the event was put into perspective by the sleeping (or worse) older lady at the back of the room, as Simonson confirmed after a joke about Mr Elswood’s pickle: “This is about as niche as it gets.”
The day was rounded off by a cooking demonstration by Tomer Amedi, head chef of the new award-winning restaurant The Palomar, who revealed the secrets behind the restaurant’s signature Jerusalem-style polenta. The audience murmured angrily as Amedi explained the difficulties of finding kosher asparagus, and we left quietly with a full stomach and on a beeline for Babke ingredients.
By Rachel Wood
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 two Rafis: Raphael with Rafi Zarum, the dean of the London School of Jewish Studies, who presented sessions on James Bond and 7 levels of laziness
"Just back from the two-day inaugural Limmud Tel Aviv. I am not certain how many attended but those who did were a mixture of Israelis and olim from many countries including the UK, France, Italy, Turkey, the USA, South Africa and Australia. There were sessions in both Hebrew and English. Of the English sessions, topics included leadership, a talk by a retired Israeli intelligence agent (his name was not given but when he got up to speak, I recognised him from previous UK Limmud conferences, so his cover was effectively blown), Nidda (Jewish family law), Israeli innovation for developing countries, water co-operation and Jewish origins of value investing. There were also some journalists from the Jerusalem Post and The Media Line."
By Raphael Gee
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.
Mentioned most frequently was the sight of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Senior Rabbi of the Reform Movement Laura Janner-Klausner, deep in conversation at the bar – at an event that a couple of years ago was boycotted by United Synagogue Rabbis and that Jonathan Sacks never attended while he was Chief Rabbi.
Several seconded my selection of the JDOV talk with Patrick Moriarty, head of JCOSS and, amazingly, a trainee Anglican priest. His very funny and affectionate take on his own experience of the Jewish world, not neglecting the firmness of his own faith, was an encouragement for the future of interfaith relations. These filmed talks (Jewish Dreams, Observations, Visions) with their very personal and original perspectives can be viewed on the JHUB website. The 12 from this year's Limmud ("the highlight of my Limmud afternoons," says Anne Clark) should be up there shortly.
Anne Clark gave these additional highlights: "By far the best teacher for me this year was the wonderful Gila Fine from Jerusalem, whose packed-to the-gills series on A History of The Talmud in Four Objects was a masterclass in scholarship and presentation. My favourite musical performance was a concert by Craig Taubman. Craig was skilled and generous enough, not only to engage the entire audience, but also to share the stage with a crowd of young British musicians; Zara Tobias singing a solo in Craig’s 'Yad b’ Yad' ('Hand in Hand', watch it below) accompanied by EJ Cohen’s sensitive signing, was a spine-tingling revelation."
Artist Ruth Jacobson also had a musical experience that delighted her: "''Shtel Dem Samovar', with Rachel Weston and Jason Rosenblatt, first a workshop of Yiddish song, then a concert. Rachel's beautiful voice conveys the sweetness and poignancy of her repertoire."
Ruth was also fascinated by the work of Edward Serotta: "His beautiful exhibition of old family snapshots, combined with interviews with some of Central Europe's oldest Jews, created a vivid and moving 'Library of Rescued Memories'. These are used in many educational projects, and captivate the enthusiasm and interest of new generations."
Ari Shavit was the presenter mentioned most often. From Brighton's Doris Levinson: "The highlight of my week was the interesting and enlightening, and even shocking, talk given by Ari Shavit about his book My Promised Land – the triumph and tragedy of Israel. He is such an accomplished speaker with such depth and clarity. Everyone who gives lectures could learn a lot from his delivery, his timing and his sincerity."
JR Chairman Ian Lancaster was impressed by "Dr Joel Hoffman giving a very animated, erudite and energetic talk about the challenge of translating the Bible, given it’s written in a language that is no longer in use." And our Northern supremo Gill Komoly was enthused by "the passion and energy" Gershon Baskin put into his talks, telling of how he goes backwards and forwards on his motorbike to the West Bank. He was a skilled negotiator on the Gilad Shalit return as well as on many other issues.
Limmud features not only sessions. Delegates don't need any prompting to start talking to the people next to them at mealtime. One such conversation was a highlight for JR sub-editor Diane Lukeman: "It happened that sitting down with me at breakfast one morning was a Rabbi from Hamburg and Rabbi Soetendorp, whose account of growing up in the traumatised community of Amsterdam had resonated with me at my first Limmud experience and had influenced my professional work with children and families. We all became so engrossed in the conversation that we missed the start of our first session – with no regrets."
So passion, energy, sincerity, animation, generosity, humour and erudition, not to say enlightenment and revelation; not a bad series of epithets for a silly season experience.
By Janet Levin
For further information on Limmud, visit their website: www.limmud.org