Limmud wins prize for Jewish Unity

Lively arguments can bring us together, says Limmud's chair David Hoffman as the organisation wins an international award

June 02, 2017 11:44

Next Wednesday, Limmud, the international network of Jewish learning communities, will receive the Jerusalem Unity Prize in the global category. It is a great privilege to be recognised for our positive impact in the diaspora and Israel.

Jewish unity is not an easy idea. We Jews are not very good at it — you only need to look back through this paper’s news pages to see that. Nor by Jewish unity do we mean uniformity. There are endless variations of Jewish self-expression, culture and experience.

One of Limmud’s most cherished values is diversity. As an activity, any Limmud event is marked by variety — political, cultural, religious — both in those who teach and those who come to learn. So how can Limmud promote Jewish unity?

The answer is that Limmud exemplifies unity through community. Any Limmud event is one community of learning. One of its strengths — one of the great joys of attending a Limmud — is the range of viewpoints on offer. Our starting point is Jewish learning in its broadest sense. Everyone should be a student and anyone can be a teacher. Some of the best Limmud sessions are those which involve disagreement — a lively, but, we hope, respectful, dialogue between panellists or between presenter and participants. Limmud presenters come to challenge and be challenged. We argue together so we can learn together: Judaism as a conversation rather than a conclusion.

This I think is why Limmud does stand for at least one conception of Jewish unity. Limmud seeks to promote that conversation and for every Jew to be comfortable taking part. The 40,000 people who attend a Limmud festival each year, and the 4,000 volunteers who make them happen, span every type of Jew — affiliated and non-affiliated, very young to very old, able and disabled, across all Jewish cultures and denominations. We want to ignite and nurture Jewish curiosity, wherever that curiosity leads. The notion that Jewish learning is through argument will not come as a surprise to anyone who has studied our traditional texts. Think Hillel and Shammai, who pretty much disagreed about everything. But that did not stop them being part of one community of learning.

Limmud also seeks to expand this idea beyond individual Jewish communities and specific events. Limmud is an ever-more international organisation, linking some 84 Limmud communities in 44 countries — and counting. Last month, Hull saw its inaugural festival; a first Limmud is in the works for Central America. There are Limmud happenings most weekends; in 2016, there were 74 events worldwide. The UK Jewish community has much to be proud of for this incredible export.

The Jerusalem Unity Prize salutes individuals, organisations, and initiatives that advance mutual respect among the Jewish people. Through our volunteers, our events, and the participants and presenters who make each Limmud a unique community of learning, we model how this can work, and inspire others to find ways of bringing Jews together, while at the same time respecting the diversity that makes the Jewish world so rich and varied. This prize is an opportunity for us to recommit to our values and invite everyone to join us in this goal.


David Hoffman is chair of Limmud

June 02, 2017 11:44

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