Limmud: Record numbers flock to annual festival of Jewish learning

Limmud: Record numbers flock to annual festival of Jewish learning

More than 2,500 people from around the world gathered in snowy Birmingham to learn, discuss and celebrate Jewish culture

Limmudniks participate in havdallah on Saturday Night 

Photo by Jonathan Hunter
Limmudniks participate in havdallah on Saturday Night Photo by Jonathan Hunter

This year’s 37th Limmud united thousands of participants aged from 4 months to 96 years old, in a rich celebration of Jewish learning and culture. 

More than 2,500 participants, better known as ‘Limmudniks’, attended from over 38 countries including Israel, Mexico and Russia as they gathered in snowy Birmingham, for the annual festival. 

The conference served up over 1,000 panels, workshops, comedy events, film and performances, in a program of featuring more than 600 presenters. 

Limmudniks could dip in and out of sessions ranging from learning Talmud to understanding American Jewish voting patterns before finishing off the day with an evening of Israeli dancing.

Among key themes at this year’s festival of Jewish learning included Jewish perspectives on LGBT issues, interfaith and politics at home and in Israel. Other sessions covered contemporary issues such as the ‘#Metoo’ trend exposing sexual abuse and Syrian refugees. 

More edgy offerings included presentations exploring Jewish sexuality through 50 Shades of Great, a session with a tattoo artist who supplies Jews all over the world with Hebrew calligraphy designs, and the opportunity to meet a Jewish drag queen. 

Limmud welcomes old and young
Photo by Jonathan Hunter

Anti-Semitism in the Labour party was addressed prominently, with a number of senior Labour figures in attendance.

Panellists included MPs Stella Creasy and John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, for events that saw packed rooms and lively discussions on the topic. 

Also featuring – was Jon Lansman, the founder of pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaign group Momentum, and Jeremy Newmark, the national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.

In a speech covered by national press, Universities Minister Jo advocated for free speech on campus, saying that tough topics should not be shielded by ‘no-platforming’ or ‘safe spaces’.

Jo Johnson addressing Limmud 2017 in Birmingham
Credit: Limmud on facebook

Other highlights featured the parents of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by Hamas for 1,900 days. 

His father Noam thanked Limmudniks for their support over the years of their son’s captivity, and reflected on life after his release both for the family, and how it affected Israeli society. 

Other Israelis welcomed by Limmud included Knesset Member Aliza Lavie, Yahya Mahamid, an Israeli Arab from Umm al-Fahm, and Racheli Sprecher Fraenkel, who is a  founder of The Jerusalem Unity Prize, for which Limmud was a 2017 recipient. 

Aviva and Noam Shalit at Limmud
Credit: Eli Gaventa

Limmud gave the opportunity to discuss tough topics for the first time, including brit milah, miscarriage and infertility, in sessions designed to provide a safe space to share personal stories.

In a continuation of Limmud’s emphasis on diversity, the exclusion of women, LGBT, and the importance of disability inclusion were also notable themes.

Limmud chair David Hoffman commented, “We are proud of Limmud’s unique ability to convene Jews of every persuasion and age to engage in respectful dialogue and debate in a welcoming, non-judgemental environment.”

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