By Julia BAYER, International Relations and Politics, University of Birmingham.

Julia Bayer

Julia Bayer

Growing up in an Orthodox environment and heavily influenced by the media, I had always assumed that Limmud was a bit hippyish, quite left wing and something that wasn’t really for me.

However, the week that Chief Rabbi Mirvis announced that he would be attending Limmud Conference 2013 happened to coincide with his visit to Birmingham J-Soc. Over a Friday night meal we discussed his reasons for attending, and I felt more inclined to do so myself.

I spent my gap year at Midreshet Lindenbaum, a modern-Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem. That was two years ago, and it had been some time since I had been offered an opportunity to study Jewish thought and text for more than a few hours, with teachers and speakers of such a high caliber. When UJS kindly offered a generous subsidy, I leapt at the chance and attended my first Limmud conference.

What I encountered at Limmud was very different to what I had expected. There were a variety of sessions covering all aspects of Judaism. My main interests are Israel, the US, Politics and Tanach, and there was not a single slot where I failed to find one of these subjects being discussed.

I attended many insightful talks from a range of speakers from all over the world. There were several from the LSJS.

Maureen Kendler spoke fantastically on the story of Lot and his wife, exploring the meaning behind the pillar of salt episode. Raphi Zarum discussed when one should consult a Rabbi and whether we should be stringent or flexible when it comes to some halachic matters.

However, the speaker who had the greatest impact on me was Micha Odenheimer. He spoke about keeping Shabbat in Somalia and the problems he faced as an Orthodox Jew in unorthodox places.

I felt Micha, along with many of the other speakers, made me even more certain that there is a way to balance both Orthodoxy and culture – one does not have to come at the expense of the other.

If I’m being entirely honest, most of my preconceptions were based on negative reviews from people who had obviously never attended a Limmud conference. Sure, I did not agree with every speaker. But where is the point in solely engaging with those who reaffirm your own beliefs. In order to really understand where you stand on a topic, I really do believe engaging with the other point of view is essential.

The reality is that Limmud is a place where people care about their Judaism enough to give up a week out of their Christmas holiday to further enhance their Jewish knowledge.

It is a place for every Jew to feel comfortable, regardless of religiosity, and have a chance to explain their beliefs and learn from others. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to learn more about Judaism, a religion, which we all love so much.