Downton comes to Limmud


There will be a little piece of Downton Abbey at Limmud.

The producer of the ITV period drama, David Evans, who was nominated for an Emmy this year, will be giving a talk on his life at the educational conference later this month.

Mr Evans's attendance was revealed this week as details of the conference programme were released.

Former Labour Culture Minister and Mayor of London hopeful David Lammy will make his debut appearance. The MP for Tottenham will sit on a pre-general election panel with Hendon Conservative MP Matthew Offord and Liberal Democrat peer Lord (Monroe) Palmer, chaired by Board of Deputies chief executive Gillian Merron, herself a former government minister.

It is one of a record 1,201 sessions scheduled for the five-day educational conference which starts at Warwick University later this month.

The wide-ranging programme, details of which were due to be announced this week, covers everything from the Jewish attitude to beauty queen contests to a routine by Orthodox comedian Avi Liberman, who performed for American troops in Afghanistan.

But this year there is a particular focus on the aftermath of the summer's Gaza conflict, interfaith relations and the shmittah (sabbatical) year.

Ben Crowne, programme co-chairman, said that "there are a lot of sessions not just about Israel itself, but also about British Jewry's relationship to it."

Presenters range from members of grassroots advocacy group Sussex Friends of Israel to the more left-wing Yachad, with one session entitled "Did Hamas win the war?"

A number of Muslim guests will be taking part, such as Tulip Siddiq, who will be appearing alongside her Jewish fellow Labour parliamentary candidate Sarah Sackman.

The secretary of the Bradford Council of Mosques, Ishtiaq Ahmed, will be on a panel discussing whether his city is an "Israel-free zone" - a reference to the call made by Bradford West MP George Galloway during the Gaza conflict. Also coming is Jehangir Malik, UK director of Islamic Relief. Although the charity was banned earlier his year by Israel for allegedly giving aid to Hamas-controlled organisations - which it denies - it maintains links with Jewish charity circles here.

A number of rabbis will look at Jesus through a Jewish lens, while a private tour of Coventry Cathedral will be led by its dean The Reverend John Witcombe.

Limmud stalwarts from abroad are due to return, including historian Deborah Lipstadt, Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin and mysticism professor Rachel Elior. Some of them will even be leading serious discussion on the last night of conference, on December 31, for those who do not want to join in the new year's eve festivities.

Returnees also include Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who will be giving two talks as last year.

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, too, will again be among the speakers. "The Jewish Agency approached us and said he wanted to come back," Mr Crowne said.

Although relatively few United Synagogue rabbis are on the bill, a strong modern Orthodox cast from America includes Rabbis Nathaniel Helfgott, Asher Lopatin and Alan Brill.

Former Barnet United Synagogue minister Rabbi Shaul Robinson, now in New York, will lead a session on when it is a mitzvah to talk in synagogue.

The relationship between power and religion will come under scrutiny by a panel starring the BBC's new religion correspondent Caroline Wyatt. On the lighter side, American David Tuchman, who has attracted a following with his offbeat Torah podcasts, will unleash his comic translation of the Bible.

This is Limmud's last year at Warwick - it moves to Birmingham in 2015. The full programme is due to go online at

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