A British original – but also a global Jewish learning hit

There’s always space for everyone: 2,400 people attend week-long Limmud Conference in Coventry.

Limmud singing 311 (photo credit: Limmud Website)
Limmud singing 311
(photo credit: Limmud Website)
COVENTRY – Comparisons between last week’s 30th birthday Limmud Jewish education conference and the British TV program Strictly Come Dancing were hard to avoid last week, and not just because the program included a tribute to the show.
Both began as the idea of a small group of people in the UK. Both proved to be far more popular than their creators could have ever imagined, and both are now global phenomena (the TV show under the name Dancing with the Stars).
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Indeed, in both cases, the British original continues to be the source of inspiration for all versions and translations of an ever-growing franchise.
That was evident during the 2010 Limmud Conference, when 2,400 people from 28 countries converged on the University of Warwick in Coventry for seven days and more than 1,200 study sessions.
The countries represented included Hungary, Brazil, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Ukraine, Lithuania, Sweden, New Zealand and Argentina.
The sessions ranged from religious and political lectures to discussions, debates, practical demonstrations, Jewish and Israeli movie screenings, live music performances and Limmud’s very own version of the Dancing With the Stars competition – known as “Strictly Limmud Dancing” – which saw Israeli professional dance instructors paired with well-known Limmud presenters and leaders before an audience of around 500.
First-timer Frances Levy was one of many who attended with three generations of her family: “My grandson’s having a fantastic time in the Limmud nursery, whilst one of my sons is on the organizing team, so I’ve barely seen him except when he’s running the bar,” she said.
“I’ve sat with my husband in some fascinating talks and I even had the pleasure of sitting in on my son-in-law’s sessions, which I think made him a little nervous! I can’t think of any other community event that would have brought us all under the same roof in this way,” Levy said.
People felt welcome regardless of their level of affiliation or background, an aspect that Vered Simons, a British Jew of Italian-Indian heritage, testifies to.
“Because there are so many sessions, focused on so many different areas, whatever type of Jew you consider yourself to be, there will always be space for you. Wherever you identify yourself within the community, you are always able to slot in comfortably, with no judgment made,” Simons said.
One of the most talkedabout presenters was John Ging, who has been head of the United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency’s 10,000- employee operation in the Gaza Strip since 2006.
Ging, in conversation with Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, the senior rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues UK, spoke of the two assassination attempts on his life by Palestinian terrorists and called for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit to be “returned home yesterday if not sooner.”
The former Irish Army officer also criticized the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for its destructive effect on the attitudes and trust levels of Israelis and their political leaders.
Ging criticized Israel’s Gaza blockade policy, saying that all it achieves is to “strengthen black marketers and empower extremist factions.”
He was quick, however, to praise Israel’s recent easing of the blockade, which has tangibly the benefited UNRWA’s school-building projects.
The interview was recorded by BBC television cameras and was streamed live on the Web, as were 23 other Limmud sessions during the week.
Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin spoke to overflowing lecture halls when he addressed Israel’s conversion crisis and Orthodox feminism, highlighting his pioneering hesder program for women in the IDF.
Former Zionist youth movement head Jack Prevezer, 24, from London, described the conference as “a reinvigorating experience. Having not been involved in much Jewish activity for the past 18 months, it’s refreshing to reenter a space where I can explore Jewish issues however I wish, and to be challenged.”
Limmud Executive Board member Jason Caplin observed, “Limmud is the ultimate social network. Not only did 2,500 people brave the worst British winter in over a century to be here in person, but the whole online Jewish world has lit up with learning.
It’s only a matter of time before a Limmud presenter stays at home and tweets their session over!” “At Limmud, no matter where you are in life, being Jewish takes center stage,” Atira Winchester, who attended the very first conference in 1980 at age two, told an audience of 1,500 at the closing gala. “At Limmud you realize that being Jewish is not merely about keeping Shabbat, or going to shul or keeping kosher. Rather, it reminds you that being Jewish is about life itself.”