Let the learning begin!

The third annual Limmud conference, to be held in the Arava next week, promises participants a wide variety of activities on – it seems – just about every approach to Jewish education and culture.

Limmud Arava Conference 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Limmud Arava Conference 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rumor has it that our political arena lacks something in the leadership department. The third annual Limmud conference, which will take place at the Sapir Center in the Arava on February 10-11, may not set out to address that particular deficiency per se, but it is patently designed to cast some light on issues of hegemony in a range of walks of life.
The two-day Leadership conference program is chock-full of intriguing lectures, workshops and other activities which focus on a broad spectrum of approaches to Jewish and Israeli culture, society and renewal, as well as tradition, current events, education, history, philosophy, politics, psychology and even Shiatsu and art.
Participants in the event, says the Limmud website (www.limmud.org/), are promised two days of insight into “the fascinating human range… genuine experiential learning that will include lectures, workshops, movies, panel discussions and havruta (shared) study sessions.”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-born Gila Raz, who has lived in the Arava for over 30 years and is one of the conference organizers, says she is particularly looking forward to the havruta sessions, while stressing the pluralist nature of Limmud and the conference.
“Havruta study is quite electric. Some people get a bit wary when they hear the term because it sounds very religious, but the idea is simply to learn together, to share that learning process.”
This year’s havruta sessions will focus on the theme of time.
“We will look at time from four angles,” Raz continues. “There will be God’s time, my time, all time and our time. We will look at different aspects of how we use time, communally and individually. That is not tied specifically to the theme of the conference, but it is part of the global havruta theme.”
The worldwide Limmud organization was founded in England 30 years ago with the declared intent of broadening the range of activities connected to Jewish identity, and to encourage discussion of religious, secular and national issues. The idea caught on, and the organization quickly spread to dozens of communities around the world.
The Limmud Arava project was initiated by a bunch of enthusiastic participants in Limmud Oz, in Melbourne, and is also supported by the Jewish Agency.
THE LEADERSHIP conference organizers have certainly pulled out all the stops to put together an attractive lineup of speakers, including General (res.) Uzi Dayan, who will give two talks – one entitled “Moses Our Teacher, Leadership from Then Till Now,” which looks at various aspects of Moses’s personality and his performance as a leader. Dayan’s second talk will look at Samson as a type of antihero.
Meanwhile, Prof. Yoram Bilu, who lectures on sociology, anthropology and psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will give a lecture entitled “About Dreams and Religious Innovativeness” which pays special attention to the perception of dreams, in a religious context, among Moroccan Jewry.
In addition to the fact that the conference organizers are all women, there appear to be quite a few lectures devoted to feminine – not to say feminist – topics.
While Drora Negev, also an organizer of the conference, says she does not see any clear feminist aspects to the conference, she admits that Limmud attracts a lot of women to its ranks.
“There is a higher percentage of women than women in Limmud, but that is not an important factor,” she says. “We don’t plan activities specifically for women.”
Negev does, however, have something of a bone to pick with Orthodox Judaism on that score.
“I was brought up Conservative, and I became a ba’alat koreh (Torah reader) five years ago. In a non-Orthodox world, everything belongs to men and women equally.
“I believe in egalitarianism. That’s what I have against Orthodoxy. Our whole Jewish Israel experience belongs to absolutely everyone, regardless of age, sex or anything else.
“When I participated in Limmud in the UK, one of my partners in a havruta session there was a 14-year-old Reform boy.
“Anyone over a certain age, with a mature approach, is a partner for discussion.
The more diversity the better, and Limmud offers a meeting ground for the diverse elements of Jewish and Israeli society.”
Raz, naturally, shares Negev’s view but sees common ground for Orthodox and secular Jews to share religious-oriented activities.
“Last year, we had a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony, before Shabbat started, and it was a secular ceremony, with musical instruments. It was a wonderful experience.
One of our participants was a young rabbi from Yeroham, who is very Orthodox and also very liberal.
“It is a rare occurrence, but I don’t think it should be. The rabbi told me he realized he was the only ‘doss’ [Orthodox person] there, but that he had asked himself why that was so, and said he thought his Orthodox friends would also like to be at the ceremony.”
Raz believes that, increasingly, religious and secular Jews are discovering more common ground, and says demand for Limmud activities is growing around the country.
“I have been involved in Limmud for four years, and I see new branches opening up all over Israel. There is one in Modi’in and another is starting in Jerusalem, although I think there is less need for Limmud in large centers of population. There is more plurality in cities, and people tend to opt for things and communities that are more like them. I prefer to hear about other approaches, to be pushed outside my comfort zone.”
She also believes that there are many Jews looking for an alternative approach to Judaism.
“Orthodoxy stopped being attractive to many groups, and secular people began looking for a Jewish identity based on knowledge, and not on Orthodoxy with its rigid approach. It is catching on. There are Limmud groups in South America, Europe and Australia – the Australians are funding the activity in Israel.”
Raz also says that increasing numbers of religious Jews are happy to live outside communities of people who share their approach to life and observance.
“More and more religious people are moving to secular parts of Tel Aviv, for example. Just because they are religious does not mean they want to be isolated.
Many want to meet people who are different from them.”
The conference organizers say they certainly expect all kinds of people to attend next week’s event at the Sapir Center. But it won’t be all talk, with singer Kobi Oz providing musical entertainment with a concert based on his latest CD, appropriately entitled Psalms for the Perplexed. One hopes the conference participants will come out of the two-day program feeling more enlightened than perplexed.
For more information about the Limmud conference and accommodation, go to www.limmud.arava.gonegev.co.il or call (08) 659-2260.