Thousands gather for annual Limmud conference in UK

December 28, 2016 05:01

The annual conference, now in its 36th year, brings together 2,800 participants across over 1,200 sessions covering a huge spectrum of Jewish life and beyond.

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PARTICIPANTS AT Limmud 2016 light Hanukka candles on Monday with British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis in Birmingham, England. (photo credit: RANANA DINE)

BIRMINGHAM, England – With sessions covering topics ranging as far and wide as the erotic poetry of medieval rabbis to the relationship between Vladimir Putin and the Jews, the bustling and energetic Limmud Conference 2016 is currently in full swing, taking place between December 25 and 29 in Birmingham, England.

The annual conference, now in its 36th year, brings together 2,800 participants across over 1,200 sessions covering a huge spectrum of Jewish life and beyond. At this year’s conference, for example, Tuesday was designated Refugee Day and included sessions focusing on the current and future role of the British Jewish community in aiding non-Jewish refugees.

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Speaking to The Jerusalem Post during a brief moment of downtime, Ben Crowne, co-chair of the conference and a forensic accountant at Ernst & Young, spoke of how making all participants feel as though they are equal was critical.

“We don’t privilege people,” Crowne explained. “If you look at the name badges, we don’t do titles – no doctors, no professors, no rabbis etc. We try as hard as we can to make everybody equal.”

The conference, which brings together Jews from all walks of life, attracted activists from over 45 Limmud communities this year, the highest number ever, including first-time attendees from communities such as Barcelona, Chile, Seattle, Venezuela and Vienna. Its youth-based focus is particularly evident in those organizing the conference, as Crowne points out that most are in their 20s and 30s.

Ben Judah, an author and journalist attending Limmud for the first time and speaking at two sessions regarding his work on Jews in Russia under Putin and the experience of Jews in London, spoke highly of what Limmud represents for British Jewry.

“It is something I’m very proud of, because there are very few British Jewish cultural creations,” Judah explained. “We lack the great literature, rabbinical traditions, political parties – [for example] compared to France with five Jewish prime ministers – but this is something distinctively British and Jewish, and it is a bit like an Edinburgh fringe for Jewish learning.”

Katie Shaw, 21, an University College London anthropology student, discussed how the collective nature of Limmud was what had brought her back for her second year in a row. “It’s a chance for unity and a feeling of family,” she said. “Maybe I’m a bit of a dreamer... but this is a place where people actually come together.”

In a year that has seen a rise in hate speech, xenophobia and antisemitism across the UK, Limmud and those attending it, charmingly nicknamed ‘Limmudniks,’ maintain that the conference exists as the bastion of Jewish pluralism in England, which teaches values clearly intended to be passed onto future generations.

Before heading back into the fray, Crowne talked about a session he led. “I did a session this morning with nine- and ten-year-olds, and made this point: no one is more important than anybody else.”

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