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…
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