This year’s Limmud Vancouver had about 35 percent more attendees than it did last year. (photo by Robert Albanese)
About 350 lifelong learners spent the day exploring a huge diversity of Jewish ideas at the second annual Limmud Vancouver event Feb. 1.
Limmud is a worldwide confederation of festivals of Jewish learning, entertainment, ideas and exploration. Started in the United Kingdom in 1980, Limmud is now an annual event in 80 cities. The local event last year was held at King David High School, but this year, it took place a few blocks away, at Eric Hamber, which accommodated 350 registrants, where last year’s had to be capped at 260.
“That’s about a 35 percent growth,” said Avi Dolgin, a founder and organizer of the Vancouver event. The structure changed a little as well, with 40 individual sessions, up from 36 last year, but over five blocks instead of six as was done previously.
“We had eight options per timeslot to drive people truly crazy,” said Dolgin. At breaks between sessions, participants shared take-aways from the many lectures, events, performances and panel discussions.
King David teacher Aron Rosenberg led a session called Love, Hate and the Jewish State, based on a program developed by the New Israel Fund. Participants were asked to move around the room in response to questions of core values around attitudes about Israel, Canada, citizenship, human rights, religion and other hot button topics. Participants moved left or right across the room depending on their level of agreement or disagreement with statements such as “Christmas should be a federal holiday in Canada” or “serving in the Israeli military is a Jewish value.” The room broke into smaller groups to discuss statements about Israel with which they agreed or disagreed.
In another session, comedian and inspirational speaker Adam Growe explained his mathematical formula for measuring success at tikkun olam. (The formula is: S=(hti)c*k.)
In a session on the messianic idea in Judaism, Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld said that Judaism is “100 percent about bringing Moshiach” and added that “we have a problem with this idea.” Part of the problem, he said, is that Jews have a history with false messiahs, from Jesus and Bar Kochba to Marx and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
As an example of how messianism – a belief in a future of perfect existence ushered in by the Messiah – permeates Judaism, Infeld said that the Passover seder, which is almost universally accepted as a metaphor for the Exodus from bondage in Egypt, is actually about redemption from this world. And the wish “next year in Jerusalem” is not so much an aspiration for the literal city in Israel, but for the place and time of the Messiah.
Dolgin took special pride in the diversity of Limmud Vancouver’s offerings. “It was a mix of some text, some history … this year we had a lot of arts and culture – Bernstein and opera and Shakespeare, Jews and Western literature,” he said. “This year, we also had workshops, group discussions about what’s your relationship with Israel and Jewish identity, traditional talmudic study chavruta-style. We had a panel talk which included a debate on the issue of Shmita, which is the seventh year in which the land and the economy is supposed to revert to the situation before.”
In future, Dolgin said, he hopes Limmud will beef up children’s programming and attract more Orthodox participants. He noted that, on forms submitted by presenters, a large proportion said they were shomer Shabbat and keep kosher.
“We look like were kind of a Renewal or Reform outfit, but a quarter or maybe as much as a third of the presenters said they observe Shabbat,” he explained.
Organizers are already priming volunteers and presenters for next year. In addition to attracting teachers who may not see themselves as teachers, Limmud is looking for volunteers in such areas as technology and publicity.
“As a young organization, we’re still easy to hijack because we have no allegiances to anybody except the people working in it,” Dolgin said. “So, if people have a vision for what Limmud could be, then they should come in and steer it in that direction and they will be met with open arms.”
Pat Johnson is a Vancouver writer and principal in PRsuasiveMedia.com.