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The Beating Heart Of Our Community

December 11, 2013 – 11:32 amNo Comment

By Alex Fein:

limmud2“… instead of devoting so many scores of millions of dollars to Jewish organizations, many of which have lost track of their original purpose and exist mainly for their own sake, Jews should consider diverting some of their funds to an enterprise with endless promise and a proven track record.” Chemi Shalev – Haaretz

It drizzled all weekend and it didn’t matter – unless perhaps you were one of the brave souls in a tent.

We weren’t brave – or maybe we were in our own way. We brought our baby and prayed she’d abandon habit and behave herself.

So brilliant was the event’s organisation, however, that bringing a baby with personality only added to the joy of it all. One of the dormitory sections – reserved for those of us with babies – had a common room off which there were small bedrooms with en suites. That meant that we could feed and play with other families – or not, according to the situation. The feeling of community that Limmud Fest 2013 generated was only enhanced by this brilliant bit of planning.

As we drove home, a familiar, though long ago, feeling engulfed me: I felt almost bereft just as I used to feel on the bus ride home from Hashy camp. I knew I would miss the other families, the other people younger and older than us, our fellow Jews who came from such diverse backgrounds but who were just like us in that they – and we – didn’t care what their background was. We were all there to learn. Some of us were there to speak, interview, moderate, or teach. The philosophy of Limmud – a global movement of learning and unity – is that “everyone can be a teacher and everyone should be a student.” We were all there to be together. My biggest criticism was that it should have lasted a fortnight. One weekend only seemed almost cruel.

If you were so inclined, there was communal singing. If you weren’t, there were plenty of alternatives. Usually, multiple sessions ran at the same time. Whether you enjoyed the spiritual or something more austere, there was always something to suit you. If you felt like constant stimulation, you could attend a lecture, panel, discussion, or musical activity at almost any hour of the day. But if you needed a break and didn’t feel like turning up, that was OK, too.

A highlight for me was watching my husband, Yaron Gottlieb, sit with two other rabbis – one Conservative, and one Reform – on a panel, discussing the stickier issues confronting our religion. The folly of Orthodox rabbis refusing to sit with Reform or Conservative in an official capacity – although plenty of Orthodox rabbis will happily sit with clergy of other faiths – had no place at Limmud. At Limmud we all sat together. I was proud and I was fascinated. Three intelligent, compassionate men who love Yiddishkeit spoke about what was difficult, but also what was beautiful about our religion. They didn’t have to agree.

I moderated a discussion between a Chabad adherent and an avowed secularist whose affection and respect for each other was matched by the depth of their debate.

Young people, fresh out of the youth movements, older people, heterodox, Orthodox, Orthoprax, atheist, Bundist, Zionist, Left, Right, Centre: we were almost all represented. That there were so many young people marked Limmud as something special.

Unlike a lot of other communal activities, young people were sufficiently interested to attend in numbers. One person remarked on the absence of any of our communal leaders. When our leaders talk of young people not being committed or involved in generational change, that may be because don’t attend Limmud Fest. At Limmud Fest, the intensity, creativity, commitment, and energy of young people is abundant and obvious.

There was also plenty to eat – and it was delicious. I had been expecting youth movement camp food; however, caterer David Trachtman and a team of volunteers had no time for watery soups or mystery pasta bakes, and instead furnished us with exquisite meals.

En suites and fine food: as I said to my ex-Bnei Akiva husband, “This is the most luxurious Hashy camp I’ve ever been on!”

And yet, the organisers had managed to set all this up on a thread of a shoe string. They got sponsorship and donations. They worked very, very hard.

And so we return to Chemi Shalev’s quote at the beginning of this piece. He calls for Jewish communities to abandon the ossification and stultification of conventional organisations and sink funds into Limmud and Limmud style events and activities.

That Limmud Fest is not central to communal planning – especially considering the role that young people play in the event – is one of the primary reasons that generational change is proving so difficult.

Limmud Fest – where we sit together and disagree respectfully, where we work together passionately for our community, where we investigate and ruminate, is nothing less than the beating heart of the best we could be.

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