Limmud: A festival of smiles for young and old

Participants at one of the 1,100 Limmud sessions (Photo: Flix 'N' Pix)

Participants at one of the 1,100 Limmud sessions (Photo: Flix 'N' Pix)

At a glance, it could have been any other jam-packed bar. But looking closer, you would have seen Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis clinking glasses in the corner, the head of the Masorti movement letting rip on the dance floor, and a rebbetzin rounding up revellers for a late-night rave.

Such were the eye-opening moments that made Limmud 2013 unforgettable.

The Chief Rabbi’s two talks were well attended and well received, but it was in the more informal instances — as he lined up for the breakfast buffet or sat around a bar table with drink in hand — that he firmly connected with Limmudniks.

Natan Sharansky was another heavyweight attendee. His sessions detailed his life as a political prisoner in the former Soviet Union, and as a political figure in Israel.

Three-month-old Oriel Rosenfeld-Schueler with Ruth Shire, aged 92

Three-month-old Oriel Rosenfeld-Schueler with Ruth Shire, aged 92

But most moving was when Mr Sharansky, who is now Jewish Agency chairman, presented a plaque to 96-year-old Michael Sherbourne, honouring his work in aid of Soviet Jews in the 1970s and ’80s.

Other highlights of the five-day conference, at Warwick University, included a performance by Hagit Yaso, the winner of Israel’s version of Pop Idol, and renditions from storyteller Rachel Rose Reid.

Elsewhere, Sally Berkovic, the chief executive of the Rothschild Foundation Europe, was a hit giving a session billed as “the talk of her life” — on death.

And refuting the claim that Jews cannot dance, participants abandoned their inhibitions and sashayed into every class available, from Strictly Ethiopian dancing to Jumba (Jewish zumba) — and showed off their new moves at the after-dinner discos.

Over 2,600 people (the youngest aged only three months, the oldest 96) came, learnt and went home happy — and that was certainly worth raising a glass to.

Last updated: 11:57am, January 2 2014