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Searching for Wisdom at Limmud Fest

September 24, 2013 – 10:45 amNo Comment

By Ittay Flescher:

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On the back of my business card, I have a quote from a 2nd Century Tanna named Ben Zoma. It’s a series of questions from Pikrei Avot 4:1 about the meaning of life. One of them asks “Who is wise?” The answer: “One who learns from every person. As is states (Psalms 119:99): “From all my teachers I have grown wise.”

The idea that there is no teacher in the world from which I can’t learn something is sometimes challenging, but ultimately makes more sense than taking the opposite approach of living in an echo-chamber. It’s why I spend so much time cultivating friendships, both personal and professional, attending lectures, reading and commenting on Facebook posts of those with whom I disagree.  I engage in these conversations far more to have my own ideas challenged, than to try and convince others that I am correct. It makes life interesting.

If you are also a person that has this inquisitive nature, then you too will be interested in the modern revolution of Jewish life that is Limmud.

Limmud began 31 years ago as a small conference for Jewish educators in the UK,. It has since become a global phenomenon throughout the Jewish world. It has spawned popular gatherings in 60 communities across the globe, in 24 countries, where Jews of all religious streams and different walks of life attend a wide range of sessions, lectures, workshops and performances. This means that there is barely a week on the entire calendar, where Limmud isn’t happening somewhere in the world. One of my dreams for retirement is to spend a year visiting every gathering, and writing a book about it.

Limmud arrived in Australia over a decade ago, and has since become one of the highlights of the Jewish year. It has traditionally been run as Limmud Oz, a conference in an educational institute. Four years ago, another Limmud was born, and in the coming months, Australia will be holding its fourth Limmud Fest.

Limmud Fest is an innovative residential event, where learning and socialising are combined with a Shabbat experience and an outdoorsy festival atmosphere. Limmud Fest is about being part of a vibrant, inclusive community, enjoying dynamic and diverse learning sessions and live performance, meeting new people across all denominations and political opinions and relaxing amongst scenic bush surrounds.

Limmud Fest is run completely by volunteers. All the costs of the event are raised from participant fees and a small amount of fundraising. None of the presenters are paid, which means that all of them are there because they are passionate about an issue and are interested in starting a conversation. All the food is kosher and delicious, thanks to Passionate Catering. Limmud Fest is for hipsters, seniors, families, singles, couples and kids. Basically everyone.  At the last Fest two sets of couples met and are now married.

David Hazony describes Limmud as “open-source Judaism.” Writing in the Forward, Hazony explains that at Limmud, “People there can chart their course, thankfully ignorant of what is expected of them — making contacts, coming up with ideas, changing their lives. In the process, Limmud is developing a powerful, unique brand unlike anything seen in the Jewish world in a generation.”

Extolling the virtues of the UK event, Chemi Shalev adds that “Limmud offers bright-eyed and bushy-tailed enthusiasm, rather than humdrum establishment routine; it celebrates an insatiable Jewish thirst for knowledge at a time of reality-induced, mind-numbing mediocrity; it features original ideas and outside-the-box thinking against the backdrop of increasing uniformity and spreading dogma; it gathers Jews of widely disparate backgrounds while isolation and sectarianism abound all around; and it allows free and open debate of the most controversial topics in a long-forgotten atmosphere of curiosity and mutual respect.

Which is why I suggest that what the Jewish world really needs – and I don’t just mean the Diaspora, but Israel as well – is for this bubble to be inflated a hundred times over, for this fata morgana to be made into a permanent feature of Jewish life, for Jewish communities to be Limmudized, in effect, as much as is humanly possible.”

Shalev’s enthusiasm for Limmud raises a number of questions. What are the benefits of gathering Jews of wildly disparate backgrounds together? Will this make us into a better community? Is this what our community needs more of? I guess the best way to find out the answers to these questions, and many more you haven’t thought of yet, will be to come along to Limmud Fest, where I look forward to continuing this conversation with you.

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Ittay Flescher is the programming coordinator for Limmud Fest. Limmud Fest in 2013 will be taking place at Rutherford Park, which is 90 minutes from Melbourne from November 22-24. To support Limmud Fest financially, or to register as a presenter or participant please visit http://www.limmudfest2013.com/ or contact limmudfestmelb@gmail.com

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