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Next year in Birmingham

    An Israeli acquaintance, taking an early morning dip in the Hilton pool at Limmud, remarked that the water was so pleasantly warm that it was like swimming in chicken soup.

    There was always a risk in Limmud moving from a campus to hotel venue. Some wondered whether it might just become like any other Jewish conference and lose some of the communitarian spirit that gave it its characteristic atmosphere.

    But after this year’s experience, I doubt whether Limmud will go back to sparse lecture halls and windswept walkways. The approving voices for the new location with its carpets and chandeliers outweighed those who hankered for the back-to-college environment of Limmuds gone by.

    It is easy to overlook how much organisation is involved in putting together an event of this scale and complexity. It remains a credit to the dedication and energy of the many young people of the community, who mostly make up Limmud’s volunteer corps, that they were able to manage the transition to the new venue so effectively.

    Inevitably, there were glitches here or there. I admit to fearing the worst when I went lunchless on the second day because of the overlong queues and when grown women could be heard crying “A sandwich! A sandwich! My children for a sandwich!” (I exaggerate slightly, but there was no mistaking the famished desperation). But the problem was ironed out by the following day.

    The Hilton bar proved a convenient central hub throughout the event (even though I had to make do with a gin and lemonade on the first night because the tonic had not arrived). Those who wanted to escape the Hilton hothouse, where the main programme took place, could take advantage of the sales in the shopping mall a few minutes’ walk away.

    Some people told me they could have done with more “big names” on the programme. While Limmud is certainly not going to turn down a Jonathan Sacks or Simon Schama, more important than "big names" is the chance to discover new voices.

    No one can ignore the emergence of a new cadre of women spiritual leaders across the denominations now breaking on to the Jewish scene whom Limmud has helped to expose to a wider audience. And by continuing to bring over accomplished scholars from abroad to supplement our home-grown teachers, it can claim to have helped raise the bar for Jewish education in Britain.

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