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The Missing Generation of Limmud Oz

June 15, 2010 – 5:17 pm20 Comments
Very few under 30s attended Limmud Oz

Very few under 30s attended Limmud Oz

By Samara Hersch

Last weekend, as the Queen celebrated another year of her life, I celebrated my own Jewish life and identity at the Limmud Oz festival of Jewish learning and culture in Melbourne. I attended talks on the Middle East conflict, Jewish pluralism, Yiddish literature, Israeli films and inspiring interfaith initiatives. I danced to Israeli music, listened to friends DJ during sessions, learnt the entire Jewish history in 1 hour with David Solomon in one of the most brilliant educational experiences I’ve ever had – and this is just to name a few…

What struck me, however, was that at this dynamic and highly important celebration, no doubt like the Queen’s party, there were not many young people like myself present. This is not only disappointing but also extremely troubling. This absence was so obvious that guest speaker Daniel Landes in the panel on religious pluralism felt the need to make mention of the missing generation at the festival, posing the question: why is Limmud not seeming relevant? Where are the youth, the future leaders? Why don’t they care and more importantly how can we make them care?

In my peers’ defense, many parents spoke about university exams clashing with the Limmud weekend. To me, this seems highly problematic. I am unaware of the logistics or the tradition that allows Limmud to take place on this long weekend each year– but whatever those reasons are, it seems a terrible tragedy if this time slot is essentially discouraging young people from attending.

For me, Limmud highlights some of the rich values of Judaism that I feel so proud to have attained– those being the Jewish desire for education, debate and growth. It is these values that make so many Jews passionate, dynamic and engaged members of society. I can only hope that contrary to the Queen’s (dare I say) growing insignificance in our everyday life, the Jewish value of learning becomes ever stronger and more pertinent for all generations to enjoy and revere.

Samara Hersch has a Masters in Theatre Direction from the Victorian College of the Arts. She is currently developing a new theatre work with members of Access Inc. a Jewish disability organization for the upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival.

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  • talula says:

    How about the price?
    Most young people can’t really afford the $100+ for each day of limmud oz.

  • Eli says:

    Firstly let me state that I am not in the  “missing generation” age group, so obviously my thoughts are  not a reflection of why that ‘group” was particularly absent. I personally did not attend for one reason and that was the cost.
    Although there were many and varied topics on offer, there was no choice if I only wanted to attend 5 or 6 that specifically held any interest for me. The cost of $180/$130 for the entire week end, if the programs I wanted to attend were on different days was prohibitive.
    The pricing is expensive for many, especially if couples or families wanted to attend. So perhaps for students this may have been one reason.
    However looking at the program, it seems there was very little that addressed the needs of a younger, more multimedia savvy audience. Very few, if any, dealt with Jewish identity in a modern context. A problem that continues to grow within a ever more assimilated community. Where, what it means to be a Jew? How do I remain Jewish in modern pluralistic world? Is being a Jew still relevant to my life? What issues do young Jews in the Australian community have to deal with?
    These and many other topics I suspect were missing from the weekend. Instead 70% of the topics dealt with Religion, Israel and the Holocaust.
    Not that they are not important, but for many these are topics that are either daily bread and butter fare in newspapers and online, or topics more often covered in attending our many youth groups, through programs at schools, and for some via religious institutions.
    As important as Israel is , as fascinating the study of Talmud and Kabbalah may be, without context and relevance to the present it may be hard to encourage excitement and interest.
    Lastly, and again without having attended I am only guessing, the presentation in most cases would have speaker/audience or Film/discussion format. Very university like.
    Perhaps other modes of interactive, participatory formats may provide greater involvement. Perhaps involving people from the “missing generation” to provide content and forums that would attract their own may warrant some investigation Was there anyone under 30 presenting?
    Don’t forget, not all are so involved or concerned about their Jewish heritage or identity. Less and less so, as I said earlier, as our communities become more assimilated. Many find themselves asking questions of the legitimacy of Israel’s actions and therefore embarrassed by their own ethnicity.
    Let’s not assume that just because it’s a Jewish function that it’s a given that Jews will want to attend.

  • ariel says:

    Exams would definitely be a factor.
    Personally, I didn’t come because I was up all night watching the world cup.
    It’s highly possible that others didn’t come this year for the same reason.

  • Alex says:

    Well done Samara. Nicely expressed.
    I am slightly older and did attend. I wonder though if Limmud’s target audience is the generation you and Rabbi Landes are talking about. In Sydney Limmud is organised by someone of that generation and the audience is thus often younder. Here, if you noticed, everyone on the organising committee is older and that might reflect the audience.
    On another matter, Limmud was originally started on the Queens birthday long weekend because the Queens birthday is the only national (minus WA) public holiday in Australia that is not a religious day (ie: Xmas). The idea was always to have Limmud run over 2 days and for that, a public holiday on the Monday is required. Plus June being mid year is a good time of year, particularly when speakers are invited from the northern hemisphere summer break, but exams at that time for some are unavoidable.
    Later in the year (after exams) will be Limmud Oz Fest in NSW which I think is mainly for younger people so that might be a start in terms of getting younger people involved. I also think that there should be a more discounted student rate, but even if not, those who find the experience worthwhile would pay anyway and not use that as an excuse.

  • frosh says:

    If memory serves, it was considerably less expensive two years ago. I recall it was $90 for a day at the Melbourne LimmudOz two years ago, but this time it was $160 for a day. And it seemed to me there were less people there this year, perhaps because of the cost increase.

    Without understanding Limmud’s cost structure, it’s difficult to offer advice on how they can reduce costs.

    I have heard that they pay $10k for the hire of the building. This seems very expensive. Perhaps they could hold it at Bialik College or somewhere like that, and have a less expensive rent.

    I guess one of the other major expenses is overseas speakers. Whether they should cut back on the number of overseas speakers to reduce ticket prices is a more complicated question.

    Given that costs for Limmud are largely fixed and not variable (i.e. not based on the number of people attend), it might be worth lowering the price of tickets (especially for younger people) with the aim of getting more people to attend, and this would possibly even increase overall revenue.

  • Brendan says:

    As part of the missing generation put off by the cost, I’m a little deflated to see that Yom Limmud in Sydney is selling for an Under35s price of $35!

  • Unfortunately, Queen’s Birthday is a state holiday (observed differently in each state, and never actually on the Queen’s birthday), not a national one. Because Universities are nationally funded, they don’t get the day off, and there is always class that day, and often exams as well. While I was at Monash, I had an exam every year on Melbourne Cup Day. Labour Day is another example, and it usually co-incides with the first week of term/semester.

    The price issue certainly seems a real one. Given the location, it would make sense for the Limmud organizers to offer a student discount. That would encourage students to drop in, even for just one or two sessions, as a break from their studies.

    This answer is all very good for students, but how about the 25-35s who are in the work force?? They were not well represented either.

  • rachsd says:

    I think there was a student discount but the price was still high. It was around $160 for a one day adult ticket and $110 for a one day student ticket. Both prices seem very high to me and I think prices were lower last year. Can anyone confirm? I actually wondered whether overall numbers were down this year and if so whether that was because of the increased cost.
    Other things that I think could make limmud oz more attractive for young people include making the big night activity take place on the Sunday night rather than the saturday night, and increasing the emphasis on cultural elements such as music etc. The latter might also make it more attractive for older people :-)

  • SJa says:

    I recall last year in Sydney for anyone under 35 who also was a volunteer (which involved about 4 hours of volunteering in the two days) it cost about $35 if I recall which was very cheap. From recollection, there was a reasonable turnout for 20-35 year olds at Limmud Oz last year.

  • frosh says:

    While I think it is important for the tickets to be affordable, I think the flip side of this needs to be considered.

    Many young people will spend a considerable amount of money to go to a music concert or music festival, so is it unreasonable for Limmud organisers to expect people to spend a similar amount to attend a festival of Jewish learning?

  • Keren says:

    It is interesting that at Limmud in England, many young people attend and it is a definate highlight in the Jewish calender.

    This year, NSW is running it’s first ever Limmud Oz Fest which is the same concept as Limmud Oz with interesting and challenging presenters throughout the day – but it is a retreat in a camping festival atmosphere on the Central Coast.  Whilst of course everyone is invited and welcome to participate, I am assuming it will appeal more to this ‘missing generation.’ 
    University exams have been taken into consideration and it has been scheduled for Nov 27 – 29, after most university exams have finished.  Coysts TBA – but it is an overnight camping experience :)

    Watch this space!

  • malkmus says:

    I think a key issue is that there is just no real community momentum with that age group in Melbourne.
    I think Alex’s point that the audience in Sydney tends to be composed of many more younger people (25-35) is related to the fact that the Sydney Jewish community, through the JCA, has invested literally millions of dollars over the last decade into mobilising and engaging its young people in a whole range of diverse ways. In turn, that broader engagement has meant that younger people have not only been more interested in attending more general community events such as Limmud Oz in Sydney, but have been more actively involved in their organisation.
    It is to the Melbourne community’s great detriment that there is no such communal investment in its future.

  • malkmus,

    The link between the Sydney JCA and engagement of youth is a nice idea, but what evidence do you have of this?

    In Melbourne we’ve been bouncing the idea back and forth for years (perhaps long enough to disenfranchise a whole generation), and while it has been recently rejected from a fundraising perspective, there is clearly a gap in community planning here.

  • Alex says:

    To Malkmus – I think you make some good points about the differences between the Melbourne and Sydney communities, but if you are suggesting that the reason for the lack of attendance in Melbourne in the age group we are talking about is related to the communal appeal, then I think you are very wrong. The JCA has its positives, and investment in the future for certain organisations is one of them, but it also has many negatives. It was proposed but rejected in Melb because of many of these. I think to some extent the opposite of what you say is true – Melbournians are not attending Limmud enmase because there is such a plethora of other activities, for all age groups, all the time. Every week I get an email and I’m sure many others do inviting me to this or that, be it learning or social. I am not sure that the Sydney community so as organised, so when a unique event like Limmud comes along every two years, they mobilise and attend. Anyway, personally I think that anyone who did not attend, whatever their age, missed out greatly and I hope Limmud stays around for many years to come so that everyone can get a chance to participate!

  • malkmus says:

    I don’t have any formal evidence. I haven’t conducted a study. But then those who are suggesting that cost was an issue don’t have any evidence either.
    However, I make this point based on my own (highly involved) experiences in both Sydney and Melbourne communities. As a young person, there is so little going on in Melbourne for young Jews (post-university age), and far less that is in any way innovative. This is in stark contrast to Sydney. One doesn’t need empirical evidence to feel this difference. I think if you were to ask the vast majority of Jewish people of that age group who have moved recently (say in the last 5 years) either from Sydney to Melbourne or in the other direction, they would concur.

  • malkmus says:

    Sorry, just to be clear, my post was not advocating for or against a Melbourne JCA-type organisation.

  • malkmus,

    I agree that there is far too little (Jewish) that engages our post-Uni youth. Connecting this to the JCA was a bit of a leap IMHO. Perhaps the Sydney JCA (together with the JCCV?) would like to run some surveys about the engagement of youth? I wonder what the Monash survey has to say on the topic?

  • Sacha says:

    I was also surprised that there were not more of the younger generation at Limmud. Eli – there were some presenters under 30 – the youngest presenter I saw would have been early twenties and the oldest early eighties. I do think it is a problem for university students to attend when the Monday is not a university holiday – not only are normal classes scheduled but it is also exam time. On the issue of cost I believe Limmud was excellent value. A concession for students was $130 which included Saturday night and all day Sunday and Monday. Attending a session at each time slot that equates to 18 hours of presentations. Many young people pay a similar amount or more for a concert that goes one or two hours. I considered it an incredible opportunity to hear a range of people present, including overseas guests that would otherwise be inaccessible. The one negative I would say is that there was a big difference in the talent and skills of various presenters. David Solomon, Avi Jorisch, Aaron Rosen were some I saw that were just fantastic, but there were also a couple (that I wont name) that seemed disorganised or mumbled into a piece of paper for an hour. One final point is I wonder how widely LimmudOz was advertised? Especially outside of Jewish organisations and Jewish media? I am sure there would be young people who were born Jewish but not currently religious or who are not Jewish but have Jewish ancestory who would be interested – these people are unlikely to buy a Jewish newspaper etc. I only found out about it by accident – but I am so glad I did!

  • Chaim says:

    The cost was a major factor for me. I, as a young student simply cannot afford that price.
    I also think that the topics that were offered did not appeal to the generation that you are talking about.

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