TORONTO — Sociologist Steven Cohen, a self-admitted fan of Limmud, a group dedicated to Jewish learning, says that a “major calling card” of the program is its ability to attract participants from diverse Jewish backgrounds for intensive Jewish study.
Having recently co-authored a study on Limmud International, he said the program’s “peoplehood-building element” has become clearer to him.
The Jewish learning festival began 30 years ago in England. Since then, more than 60 communities in 24 countries – among them Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal – have held Limmud events. More than 30,000 people participate in the program annually.
“Normally,” Cohen said, “when you have people who are intensively studying, they’re doing it in their own environment, their own synagogues or camps, among people who are just like them.”
A research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University, Cohen co-authored The Limmud International Study: Jewish Learning Communities on a Global Scale with Israel-based sociologist Ezra Kopelowitz in late 2011. Almost all the research was performed pro bono “in the spirit of Limmud,” it was noted in the study, the first on the subject from an international perspective.
The study, a comparative look at differences between Limmud participants in different countries, includes Canada in a grouping with Argentina, Brazil, Greece, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa, that made up 11 per cent of the almost 3,200 respondents (356 people).
Forty-nine communities were represented in the study, including those in Stockholm, Turkey, France, Ukraine and Germany.
The United Kingdom has the largest chunk of respondents at 42 per cent, followed by the United States at 20 per cent.
Cohen, who has participated in two Limmud festivals in England and two in the United States, told The CJN the group of Canada with other countries was based on numbers of respondents.
He said the study made him aware of “Jewish growth” among Europeans whose backgrounds are less conventional from a Jewish standpoint, often because their parents are intermarried or because they don’t have many Jewish friends. “They’re dealing with a less socially embedded Jewish life.”
The study found that European participants were most likely to cite an impact on their Jewish learning and involvement.
In contrast, the study found that American and Israeli “Limmudniks” are more religiously oriented than those in other countries.
A majority of Israeli respondents have presented at Limmud conferences in other countries, leading the researchers to conclude that Israelis are an important resource for Limmud.
Cohen said he was surprised at the diversity of backgrounds and the age range of the respondents. “That type of diversity is very stimulating.”