Progressively Speaking: Limmud reminds us how differences can be put aside
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Progressively Speaking: Limmud reminds us how differences can be put aside

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a topical issue and puts a progressive spin on it

Young children light the Chanukiah during a previous Limmud
Young children light the Chanukiah during a previous Limmud

 I’ve wanted to run away many times this year. Perhaps buy a farm or B&B, and get away from the endless noise, nastiness and nudging of community life. It has felt like an even more turbulent year than normal, and, at times, the noise of Jewish disagreement has become so unpleasant I’ve wanted to switch it off.

After years in the world of interfaith, I have come to value what my friend, the Rev Patrick Morrow, calls
‘a quality of disagreement’.

There have been times where we have totally lost any quality to our disagreements – despite the interfaith world being the place where some of the most productive intrafaith encounter happens!

But I’m ending the year at Limmud, one of the most hopeful Jewish places. For the next week, a gathering of some 2,500 Jews will study and play, debate and eat together. We haven’t been as a family for five years, partly because of the cost, and partly because it can be pretty overwhelming and not very restful for
a Jewish professional.

But this year felt the year to head back, to be reminded that the British Jewish community can do togetherness, respectful disagreement, and can even have multiple denominations and political affiliations sharing a building, praying in ways that suit them, and still come together for a good nosh and natter afterwards.

I’m sure plenty will want to remind us of the times their favoured speaker or group were shouted down or controversially uninvited at Limmud. But these stories are a tiny minority of the Limmud experience, and largely it is a place of open debate and positive disagreement –
a wonderful Jewish paradigm.

The best and the worst of the community has played out this year on social media, and this has also been the place (as well as on the streets) where many of us have become aware once again of our vulnerability as Jews and as a community.

When we are able to all come together, to remember what in our Judaism is worth celebrating, it changes the narrative for us internally, and perhaps gives us the strength to challenge the narratives that worry us externally.

It is being together in that one space as a vast, diverse, debating body that certainly gives me hope. May 2019 be a better year for us all.

  •    Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is community educator at The Movement for Reform Judaism 
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