By Joshua Marks, Marketing & Communications Co-chair, Limmud Conference
What is Limmud? A winter holiday in the Midlands? An annual conference for Jewish education? A conveyor belt for Anglo-Jewish leadership? All three are technically true, but Limmud is much more than a gathering of British Jews each winter. Over the last few years, it has transformed and been transformative.
This is a home-grown British creation that has caught like wildfire. Globally, Limmud can count 28,500 participants this year alone, run by an army of 3,000 volunteers across 80 communities and 41 countries. At Conference last week, we welcomed participants from 27 countries who are part of a global movement.
Through my Limmud experience, I have learned a number of lessons that have wider application for world Jewry.
Lesson 1: People want to be challenged, not offered dumbed down one-size-fits-all Judaism. Limmud does not shy away from confronting the tough issues with honesty and respect. Our Conference offers more than 1,200 session options, tackling key dilemmas facing our community and the Jewish world. You can find a range of sessions to provoke and excite every participant, from religion and history to the arts and social action.
Lesson 2: Never underestimate the power of volunteers. Our core team of 30 volunteers and wider team of several hundred balance full-time jobs with the challenges of organising the largest logistical undertaking in the Anglo-Jewish calendar. For many, it is the natural next step for those too old for a youth movement and too young to assume a leadership role in one of our more established communal institutions. Such volunteerism extends to presenters as well – 514 attended this year and contributed their time without financial reward. Limmud is the hard work of its volunteer army.
Lesson 3: If it’s worth it, people will contribute. In a community in which Jewish education is often given away for nothing, and resources are primarily focussed on young education, Limmud takes a different view. Our guiding ethos is that everyone should contribute to a meaningful Conference, and everyone should be taking one step further on their Jewish journey. We are a charity that relies on donations and everybody is asked to give according to their means. Actively contributing is part of Limmud’s vibe.
Lesson 4: Young Jews are engaged with Judaism. The mantra is that young Jews are apathetic and disengaged. Limmud is the great counter-example, a testament to the fact that a Judaism that can be owned by young Jews is a Judaism that is meaningful to them, their peers and the rest of the community. One in three Limmud volunteers is under 26, in significant leadership and delivery roles. The last time Jewish News ran its Forty Under 40 list, more than half the people on it had been involved in Limmud.
Lesson 5: What unites us is stronger than what divides us. As Jews we are a heterogeneous people who often disagree by default. But for one week a year we create an environment in which cross-communal space can be shared by the full spectrum of Jewish voices. We provide opportunities for participants to challenge themselves and others in a structured format through sessions, but also a safe space where participants are respected for their beliefs.
The Limmud bubble is a known phenomenon; there’s often talk of how to take the space which we create on Conference and extend it out to the wider community. The 600-strong network of Limmud volunteers in the UK should be the basis for a new communal conversation based on mutual responsibility and respect. My voluntary role this year as Marketing & Communications Co-chair has been a challenge and an honour.
Each generation adds their own layer to the richness and depth of Limmud. Together with my co-chair, Anthony Angel, I can point to a series of new initiatives that we have helped drive through, from a new Limmud app and a recruitment campaign targeting Israeli expats in the UK to Limmud poetry magnets for every participant.
Limmud fosters a culture of innovation by giving volunteers the space to envision and execute new ideas, and make something their own – and sometimes wheels are reinvented with new patterns and colours.
At a time when many focus on the storm clouds facing world Jewry, Limmud serves as a ray of sunshine – a radiant example of what a group of committed volunteers can do – from a small educational conference for 80 people to 80 communities of learning that has touched 130,000 Jews the world over since 1980.