Top speakers’ pullout fails to dent Limmud

Limmud participants taking part in a session on traditional Jewish papercuts

Limmud participants taking part in a session on traditional Jewish papercuts

The crisis in Gaza forced the withdrawal of Mark Regev, international media adviser to the Prime Minister of Israel, from the Limmud winter conference which opened at Warwick University near Coventry on Sunday.

Along with Mr Regev, Kadima MK Menachem Ben-Sasson also pulled out at the last minute because of the latest events at home.

Elliott Goldstein, chair of Limmud, said: “Obviously, we are sorry they can’t join us. But we still have nearly 100 presenters at the conference from Israel speaking on a huge range of topics, including the unfolding situation.”

Among them was Ruth Lande, foreign and world Jewish affairs adviser to Israeli president Shimon Peres, and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat.

The annual education festival, at its second year in the Midlands, has become an international as well as a national event, with more than 300 out of its estimated 2,300 participants from abroad.

They included delegates from 46 other cities across the world who have taken a cue from the British model and staged their own Limmuds, with another 10 communities planning to follow suit in the coming year.

Boris Shindler, of Limmud Israel, said he was on the lookout for prospective presenters — including Israelis — for their own programmes. “It’s easier to approach someone here and explain what we’re doing than find them in Israel. Once they have been here, they understand the organisation and see how it works.”

As well as a now established event in the Galil, Limmuds are being planned for the Arava, Modi’in and Ashkelon.

Ruthie Rothenberg, from Los Angeles, which is due to hold its second Limmud next month, said: “We’ve brought a bunch of volunteers. The more people who experience the original, the better it is for us.”

Any vestiges of British reserve seemed to have been left at the conference gates. “You can approach any person and start talking and asking questions without any introduction,” said Olesya Karpenko, from Dniepepetrovsk in the Ukraine, which held its first Limmud in Yalta last year and is hoping for a follow-up in Odessa.

Mr Goldstein said that 7,000 people took part in a Limmud event in the UK last year and 25,000 around the world. In November, there were four Limmuds over one weekend in Turkey, Serbia, Sweden and France.

The choice of 900 sessions ranged from philosophical approaches to Jewish law to how to live as a religious Jew in Japan or whether whisky matured in sherry casks is kosher.

Earlybirds could try a spot of pre-breakfast meditation, while night owls could join in an after-midnight singalong led by TV producer Dan Patterson.

The cast of 350 presenters spanned academic big-hitters such as the Harvard Bible scholar James Kugel or the archaeologist Richard Freund, to two-year-old Yoni Shine from North-West London taking part with dad Danny in a “radical education experiment”.

British rabbis of all persuasions seemed fewer in number this year, perhaps because they were enjoying a post-Chanucah break. But a contingent from Britain’s only centrist-Orthodox rabbinical training scheme, run by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, manned an all-day beit midrash where people could drop in and learn.

    Last updated: 4:25pm, December 31 2008