Lessons from Limmud U.K.
“At Limmud, you can’t escape the fact that it’s great to be Jewish.” Those were the words of Ephraim Mirvis, who on Dec. 23 became the first chief rabbi of the United Kingdom to attend the Limmud Conference, more than 30 years after its founding.
The success of Limmud in the U.K. has given rise to over 60 conferences around the world from Bulgaria to Peru, and from Cape Town to the Galilee. As a representative of Limmud Ottawa, I was fortunate to experience this year’s flagship Limmud Conference, which brought together a record-breaking 2,600 attendees.
Ranging in age from babies to bubbies, an amiable hoard of rabbis, musicians, neuroscientists, politicians, journalists, and students of every variety descended upon the University of Warwick for a marathon week of Jewish learning. Limmud has utterly ignited Jewish life in the U.K. and, given the considerable similarities between British and Canadian Jewish communities, it can and will do the same here – if we let it.
Limmud is guided by a set of core values and principles that often brush against the norms of established Jewish communities. The formalities we tend to tolerate – reverence for individuals based on their title or status – are eschewed in favour of the notion that anyone can be a teacher, and so too can anyone be a learner. It’s hippie and it works – and not just for those who did indeed grow up in the ’60s. Astonishingly, around half of the attendees were under 35.
But just what makes Limmud U.K. such a phenomenon?
First, Limmud deregulates the marketplace of ideas, thereby healing intra-communal tensions. Limmud’s strength is the tremendous diversity of its programming. Anyone can present a session. The only restrictions are logistical – time and space. Cross-communal and inclusive, Limmud will only reject presenters whose participation in the conference would compromise its good name.
With basic accommodations and atrocious meals, there is little glamour to Limmud U.K., yet thousands of Jews – even those from warmer climates – clamour to register. The lesson is clear: people will sacrifice comfort for intellectual, spiritual, and social stimulation. Not the sort of stimulation that confines Jews to silos and confirms their long-held beliefs about Israeli settlements, women’s participation in prayer, or the like. Rather, by bringing together Jews from all walks of life – from the unaffiliated to the chief rabbi – and allowing them to interact in a fresh and motivating atmosphere, Limmud offers a platform for the resolution of tensions that exist when Jews of different denominations and lifestyles fail to talk to one another.
Second, Limmud taps into the limitless power of volunteers. Limmud U.K. has developed a level of professionalism whereby volunteers – the majority of whom are under 30 – have clear expectations and they recognize, given the size and profile of the conference, that any neglect of their responsibilities, no matter how mundane, would compromise the ultimate goal of taking attendees one step further on their Jewish journeys.
Limmud must be an environment where everyone’s thoughts are valued, regardless of age, status, or background. It is an unparalleled opportunity for intergenerational dialogue and exchange, which would undoubtedly contribute to the growth and sustainability of Canadian Jewish communities.
The preceding was a taste of Limmud. It’s arguably better than Aruba, and it’s definitely better than Chinese food and the multiplex on Christmas. I believe that Limmud activities throughout Canada have the potential to inspire and engage members of our Jewish communities, regardless of their level of religious observance. Moreover, I am excited to see Canada increase its participation in what has become a truly global network – Limmud International.