Limmud was founded on an ethos of volunteering, and without its legions of Yad (youth adult development) volunteers who provide a helping hand for hundreds of conference-goers, the event could not take place.
Some 350 will be deployed this year. Three of them reveal what the volunteer experience is like.
Michael Gladstone, 26 is a management consultant originally from Glasgow, and now living in London. He joined the Yad scheme initially to take advantage of the discount offered on the cost of attending. This year will be his fourth conference as a volunteer
“My volunteer area has usually been in catering, so I have helped run the dining rooms — but thankfully, not actually do any cooking.
“I was the volunteer in the family dining room last year, which was pandemonium. There were children running everywhere and quite a lot of food ended up trampled into the furniture and carpets, which I’m not sure the venue was too happy about.
“At one point I went to leave the dining room and nearly squashed a child who was sitting right on the other side of the door — no parents in sight. Luckily there was no damage done.
“There is something for everyone at Limmud, and being there has helped me re-engage with Jewish learning. And the social experience is really fun.
“But the events are run to such professional standards, I think the participants sometimes forget that the people running them are not themselves professionals. We’re not. We’re volunteers.”
Lizzy Leigh, 29, from Mill Hill, north-west London, recently received her PhD in health psychology and is a Limmud devotee. This is her sixth year as a volunteer
“I had already been volunteering as a youth leader in JLGB, Bnei Akiva and a Jewish Guides group.
“I’d been to Limmud with my family as a youngster and when I was 17 or 18 I wanted to go back and it seemed the natural thing to volunteer there, especially as it made the price so much more affordable.
“After one year I was hooked and volunteered for another five before taking a five-year break. Last year I was back with a vengeance.
“The downside about the conference is that it’s always cold outside, the accommodation isn’t as luxurious as one might hope and the food isn’t gourmet. But if I wanted all that I’d go on a cruise.
“The good thing about it in my eyes is the equality. Once you’re there and you’re wearing your name badge and going to sessions, everyone is equal.
“It doesn’t say ‘Dr’ or ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Sir’ on your name badge, and anyone can present a session, so teachers are pupils and five minutes later the pupils are teachers.
“This also gives the benefit that you can go up and talk to anyone at Limmud. It doesn’t matter who you are or who they are, you can sit with anyone at a meal or a session or a gig and talk to them.
“The name badges are a blessing. It’s an opportunity to approach anyone and feel like the ice is already broken. I met my boyfriend last year at Limmud after spending a significant amount of time trying to pronounce his surname — Lubczanski is tricky after a glass of wine.
“I think the funniest memory of volunteering was last year while I was working behind the help desk. We were a little short of staff so two guys kindly volunteered to help. One guy in particular who had not read the help-desk manual or ever been to Limmud before, launched straight into giving people answers to questions and directing them to places with a huge smile on his face. But he had no clue of what he was talking about.”
Claire Samuels, a management consultant from Oxfordshire, get involved in Limmued in 2005 after her year out in Israel. She has been volunteering ever since.
“I was really interested in Jewish learning but like most people the cost would have been prohibitive, so the discount you receive as a volunteer is very appealing. I knew that Limmud would be close to my Israel experience and I wanted to relive it. In the end, the conference was even better.
“The best thing I’ve done is babysitting. I felt like I was really helping out the parents and giving back to Limmud. And because you’re needed mostly in the evening, I could get the most out of the sessions held during the day.”
“Limmud has an atmosphere of intense excitement about Jewish learning. I know it sounds geeky, but it is infectious. I find it very addictive.”
“There are no downsides — well, only the crushing feeling that you get when someone tells you that you’ve missed the best session there has every been.”