Limmud provides a World Cup alternative

Funny you should say that: Howard Jacobson’s talk amuses audience members

Funny you should say that: Howard Jacobson’s talk amuses audience members

Organisers of Sunday's Limmud in Manchester organised an accomplished team of speakers as a counter-attraction to England's World Cup travails.

A decent proportion of the 250 people who attended heard bill-topping writer Howard Jacobson discuss passages from his forthcoming novel, which humorously focuses on anti-Zionism as the new antisemitism.

"Central to the book is how uncomfortable it is to be a Jew in England at the moment."

The day's wide-ranging programme was launched by international women's rights lawyer Sharon Shenhav, who recalled her time as the only woman appointing dayanim to Israel's rabbinical court.

Political commentator Douglas Murray urged his audience not to be cowed by "genocide" and "bigotry" from some of Israel's critics. Scornful at British universities which had hosted jihadi speakers, he said campuses had become the "battleground of freedom of speech". Those arguing Israel's case on campus would be best served by "an open debate on these things because I think we can win".

Karen Jochelson, research director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, invited comments on how Jewish religious beliefs had been accommodated by employers. Ms Jochelson also touched on the commission's involvement in the JFS admissions case, explaining that it dealt with a strategic point of law about how ethnicity is defined. It was her first Limmud and she said afterwards: "I've wanted to go for years."

Marc Saperstein and Michael Shire from Leo Baeck College and Mark Solomon, rabbi of the Manchester and Edinburgh Liberal communities, were among other speakers. Jewish-American rapper Kosha Dillz and Shabbat Resouled, Finchley Progressive Synagogue's 14-piece band, were the musical stars.

Locals were joined by groups from Leeds, Liverpool and London. Gwendoline Lamb, visiting from Middlesbrough, where only a dozen Jews remain, said Limmud was "rejuvenating my Jewish identity". Solicitor Stephen Castle had taken a boat from the Isle of Man. Organiser Mark Gordon was delighted that 40 per cent of visitors were from outside Manchester.

The England game was screened in the refectory of the Limmud venue, Middelton's Hopwood Hall further education college, but there were just a handful of takers. However, the clash with the football was thought to account for a drop in turnout from last year.

    Last updated: 1:55pm, July 1 2010