Howard Jacobson was the star attraction at Sunday’s second Cambridge Limmud, which drew a crowd of close-on 400.
Event chair Tim Goldrein said the aim had been “to capitalise on our location by delivering the best high-brow speakers”. To this end there were 34 talks, as well as a special programme for children. “I think the work of our 100 volunteers paid off,” he reflected.
Over half the attendance crammed into the session with Jacobson, who sees the emergence of the cross-communal Limmud as “a very positive thing for Anglo-Jewry. We’re coming out of our shell by celebrating being Jewish in a non-sacred way.” He added: “I like talking to Jewish audiences because they seem to get my jokes.”
In his talk, Jacobson decried the “unreason” of some of the anti-Zionist rhetoric in the British press. “People use it as a way of expressing what’s wrong with the world. And in that respect it holds parallels with antisemitism where people started to say Jews were responsible for all the ills in the world.
“We mustn’t close debate but must stand up for logical reason. Criticism of Israel is fine as long as it’s reasoned. We have to ensure that happens.”
Another well-attended session was addressed by Reva Mann, author of the controversially explicit The Rabbi’s Daughter, who confided that she had banned her own children from reading the book, which documents her journey away from Orthodoxy and into the world of drugs and sex.
Talking afterwards, she welcomed the opportunity “to be able to speak at an event like this where there is open-mindedness. I’ve had some fierce criticism from the Orthodox community for writing my book but I’ve equally received piles of letters of support from people who have benefited from hearing my story.”
Volunteer helpers included Judith Offman, 33, who travelled from Brighton after an “amazing experience” as a participant at a Limmud event last summer.
“I love the fact that I can help promote something which seems to bring all sides of the community together to celebrate intellectual debate,” she said.
Participants Phil and Susan Ravitz from Welwyn Garden City were delighted to support an event relatively close to home.
“Something like this which is 25 miles away is obviously very attractive,” Mr Ravitz said. “We’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen today.”
Susanne and Martin Fine from Hampstead Garden Suburb said they had attended a variety of lectures. “This has been a great way to spend a day. It’s stimulating to be able to hear so many interesting lectures — and it only takes just over an hour to get here,” Mr Fine pointed out.