Limmud: in over 80 Jewish communities, 43 countries, now 35 years old

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A message from David Hoffman, Chair of Limmud

This year, I have had the great privilege of taking office as Chair of Limmud, the global network of Jewish learning festivals founded in the United Kingdom in 1980, which has now spread to over 80 Jewish communities in 43 countries.

In December 2015, 2,800 participants from nearly 30 countries gathered in Birmingham, two hours north of London, to celebrate a milestone: the 35th birthday of our annual Limmud Conference, which is Limmud’s flagship event.

Limmud Conference was my first Limmud experience, nearly 15 years ago. First as a participant – actually as a musical participant and volunteer performer – then as a volunteer with the Conference team, helping restart Limmud in my home town of Manchester, co-chairing Limmud Fest (at the time our Limmud UK summer festival), joining the board of directors and, most recently, chairing Limmud International for two years.

I’ve also had the huge buzz of experiencing Limmud in action around the world. Taking part in different Limmud communities has given me a new sense of what being Jewish means, and how Limmud contributes to that. Sometimes Limmud stands for a different sort of learning – something you can’t necessarily find in synagogue. Or, Limmud is where you can go to be with other free spirits – outside the confines of more formal Jewish institutions.

In other places, it’s about a whole new approach to Jewish identity. Attending Limmud Keshet Poland in 2014 was a real eye-opener. I was surprised and moved by Limmud’s role there. It is a safe space to explore a Jewish identity that is entirely new for many Polish Jews – often because their family’s Jewishness had been repressed under the Communist regime – and the very experience of being with 700 other Jews was itself important.

That diversity is also part of the Limmud scene in Australia. Australia saw the creation of the first Limmud outside of the UK, kicking off a global trend on six continents! Limmud Oz has developed an attractive model of alternating its primary weekend-long event between Melbourne and Sydney, with a one day event in the other city, as well as a summer festival, which draws numerous families and young people.

Indeed, Limmud fever has spread to Perth and Canberra, who will also hold events this year, Perth for the first time. And Limmud FSU Australia has brought its extra focus on engaging Russian-speaking Jews from the former Soviet Union, with similar Jewish identity issues to those I observed in Eastern Europe.

Limmud in Australia epitomises the values that underpin Limmud: diversity; empowerment; grass-roots led volunteering; different communities fashioning their own answers to issues of inclusion; cross-communal, multi-generational Jewish learning.

Limmud allows thousands of participants to take one step further on their Jewish journey. Each journey is unique. That is true not just of Limmud here but also for the 3,000 or so volunteers worldwide who made Limmud events happen over the last 12 months and form the core of our communities around the world. And even more so for the 33,000 people who attended those events. While every Limmud experience is different, all aspire to be rich and fulfilling.

Limmud generates inspired and enthused volunteers who go on to raise the bar for the wider Jewish community. In the UK, for example, many communal projects are now led by people for whom Limmud was their crucible. The confidence in their success gained at Limmud helped propel them to lead and shape other Jewish organisations and institutions.

As Limmud Chair, my vision is to

Build on and expand Limmud’s unique strengths in convening Jews of every type and fostering discussion and debate to promote cross-communal understanding.

Continue to spread Limmud’s model of celebrating Jewish learning and Jewish doing, wherever there are Jews.

Welcome, nurture, and mentor ever-increasing numbers of volunteers, who will become our future Jewish leadership.

It is a great pleasure to have Limmud in Australia as a valued member of the global Limmud family and a vital partner in advancing these goals. I look forward to working with Limmudniks in Australia and around the world to take Limmud from strength to strength.

This Plus61J article may be republished if acknowledged thus: “This article first appeared on www.plus61j.net.au and is reprinted with permission.”

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About Author

David Hoffman

David Hoffman is a longstanding Limmud volunteer in the UK and with Limmud International, including on the board of Limmud. He took over as Chair of Limmud in January. Outside Limmud he is a commercial barrister in his home town of Manchester, England, author on human rights law and legal history, and occasional rock musician.

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