Faye Rosenberg-Cohen is strongly committed to Jewish community. For the past 25 years, she has served as the community planning and allocations director of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. She is also one the founders of Limmud Winnipeg.
In January, she became co-chair – along with Sivya Twersky from New York – of Limmud North America.
Why is Limmud important to you?
It’s a different kind of Jewish engagement project. I see Limmud as a framework for alternative Jewish education in all of its diversity. It is a different kind of Jewish engagement. As a growing global movement, Limmud has the potential to play a very powerful role in Jewish life.
What was your involvement in founding Limmud Winnipeg?
I first learned about Limmud from Shaul Wachstock, who was the Gray Academy director of Jewish studies here in the early 2000s. As I was also responsible for community engagement in Winnipeg, I was immediately attracted to the concept, but it took a few years to come together.
I initially contacted people in England who were associated with Limmud. I was advised that we would need a volunteer team. I helped bring together a volunteer committee and they ran with it.
I am proud of how Limmud Winnipeg has grown. We just had our ninth annual Limmud Winnipeg. Attendance was close to 400. We have a wonderful volunteer board and a fantastic co-ordinator. While I help out and make suggestions, I don’t have to do nearly as much as I had to 10 years ago.
Where did Limmud originate?
Limmud was founded in England almost 40 years ago by a group of educators who were tired of the denominational conflicts and just wanted to get together for some learning. It was 15 or 20 years before Limmud began being introduced in communities outside of England.
There are now more than 90 communities in 42 countries that have hosted Limmud events.
Tell us about Limmud North America.
The idea behind Limmud North America is just a couple of years old. Limmud North American aims to emulate Limmud International.
There are currently 20 Jewish communities in North America that have yearly Limmud programs. Some are thriving, while others are struggling. There are also other communities that are interested in starting their own Limmud programs.
Limmud North America’s role is to build partnerships with local Limmud organizations and help with support and resources. We want to do all we can to help strengthen Limmud in communities throughout North America.
How did you become involved with Limmud North America?
I went to the Limmud Connections conference in Israel last May. In Israel, Limmud is huge. And Israeli culture is a big part of Limmud worldwide.
It was fun to be with people from all over the world. It was also amazing how much we Limmud representatives from every continent had in common. That is where I learned about efforts to start Limmud North America.
There was a call for volunteers to join the board. In November, I attended the first board meeting and retreat. They were looking for new chairpeople to replace Shep Rosenman, the original chair. I was asked to co-chair.
I welcomed the opportunity to be a leader of an exciting movement and be involved in a new national structure for Limmud programs throughout North America. I see a lot of value in creating a North American framework for Limmud.
You work full time for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. How will you find the time for this new role?
For the most part, we will be meeting electronically. We are still working out how often we are going to meet in person. We are still not sure how much of a time commitment will be involved. We are committed to making sure that the amount of time required is manageable for all involved.
We have about a dozen board members and we are looking for more. We are also in the process of hiring a director for North America.
What strengths do you bring to your new role from your work with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg?
Although my job titles have changed over the years, my core responsibility has always been community planning. Before coming to work for the Federation, I was a systems manager for Great West Life Assurance Company. I was introduced in high school to data design. I have a master’s degree in data design and computer science. Systems management – using data design – involves long-term planning. With concrete data, I can analyze that data and predict where the data will lead.
I was originally a volunteer on the Federation’s long-term planning committee. When the position I currently fill became vacant, I was offered the job. I felt confident that I could handle it and was very excited about working for my community at a time when the Federation was planning the Asper Jewish Community Campus.
I originally thought that I would do this for a few years and then go back to what I saw as my real work in systems management. But one year led to the next and there was always something new and interesting to work on.
I believe that I can bring to my role as Limmud North America co-chair my experience in community planning.
What does the future hold for Limmud North America?
One of the ideas we are looking at is expanding Limmud programming to other times during the year. For example, in Winnipeg, we held a shorter Limmud program – a Taste of Limmud – in December, for people who may want a little bit of learning, but don’t want to come for an entire day or weekend.
There is also the international Hevruta program created by the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The online material is so good that you don’t need a master educator. You can organize your own workshop or study one-on-one with a friend.
The more opportunities to learn, the better – and not just from Jewish religious texts, but from all areas of Jewish life. I think that we will be seeing more and more of those activities, as well as the continued expansion of Limmud throughout North America.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity