Was Jacob justified in claiming Esau’s birthright? For millenniums, it’s been impossible to know for sure – until now. On Oct. 28, a mock trial between real-life litigators representing the biblical twins will play out as part of this year’s Limmud Toronto festival.
Limmud is an international event that celebrates Jewish learning, culture and the arts with a day full of Jewish-themed presentations. It was started in London in 1980 and first made its way to Toronto in 2004, when over 400 people attended more than 45 sessions. Last year’s Limmud Toronto featured over 90 sessions, with around 600 attendees.
Now there are Limmud festivals in over 90 communities in 44 countries, including four in Canada. It’s important for the Toronto festival to showcase the values of the international organization, said Jennifer Shuldiner, the co-chair of programming for Limmud Toronto this year.
“The values of Limmud, I would say, are about inclusion, diversity, just celebrating being Jewish and thinking about Jewish things and ideas and Jewish culture, and this idea that people from all different walks of life can come together and learn about Jewish topics and Jewish culture,” she said.
The only requirement for inclusion in Limmud is a Jewish angle to the presentation. The sessions this year range from a talk about African-American basketball players who settled in Israel, to a panel about Jewish perspectives on medically assisted dying, to the #MeToo movement.
“Toronto is a vibrant, vital Jewish community, one of the most vital and vibrant in the Diaspora,” said Benjamin Rubin, this year’s festival chair. “So we have a rich talent pool from which to draw.”
One of the speakers from Toronto is Dr. Brian Goldman, an emergency room physician at Mount Sinai Hospital and the host of the CBC radio show, White Coat, Black Art, which is a behind-the-scenes look at medical professionals.
In his talk, “Kindness and Empathy: A personal & professional search,” he will speak about his search to rediscover his own kindness and empathy, which was called into question after a family member of one of his patients accused him of being lacking in those respects.
Another featured speaker is Abby Stein, a transgender woman who was ordained as a rabbi before coming out and leaving her Hasidic Jewish community. She is also a 10th-generation descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism.
Stein will be presenting two sessions. The first, “My Story in the Media – How Does it Portray Me and My Community?” will be about her experience existing at the intersection of two modern media phenomena: people coming out as transgender and people leaving Hasidic communities. The second, “Gender in Judaism/Kabbalah: It’s Fluid!” explores gender diversity in the Jewish tradition. Stein will also be on a panel called, “Inclusion in the Jewish Community.”
Not all the presentations will be talks or panels. For example, award-winning musician Aviva Chernick will run an interactive session called “Inner Landscapes, the Voice and Tikun Olam: Repairing the World, One Sigh at a Time.” Chernick will lead participants through singing and meditation, inspired by the mindfulness teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto.
This year, Limmud Toronto will take place in the University of Toronto’s Jackman Law Building. Rubin said it’s an appropriate location for the festival, as it houses the Bora Laskin Law Library, which was named after the first Jewish person to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada and serve as its chief justice, as well as the Rosalie Silberman Abella Moot Court Room, which was named after the first Jewish woman to sit on the Supreme Court.