Limmud: the key players, the hottest topics — and a global twist

The festival returns for its 40th year but in an all-digital format


While Covid-19 may have disrupted Limmud’s 40th anniversary celebrations, organisers can see some benefits in this year’s all-digital event.

“The virtual element has provided challenges and also some wonderful opportunities, the most obvious of which is extremely wide international participation,” said the chair of the programme committee, Joey Leskin.

“In my opinion some of the most exciting sessions are ones that would have been challenging at an in-person event.

“We have the president of the Jewish Council of the Emirates speaking from Dubai, interactive walking tours focused on Sephardi history and culture live from the streets of various cities in Spain, plus Limmud groups from every continent bringing their best people to present for the UK audience.”

The three-day festival from Sunday to Tuesday (plus a Friday pre-Shabbat and Saturday night programme) will feature on average eight sessions an hour from 9 in the morning till 9 at night, ranging from the latest archaeological discoveries in Israel to the religious challenge of artificial intelligence.

While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid are the political headliners, a strong current affairs menu will cover Brexit, racial inclusivity in the Jewish community in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign and much more.

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry will join a discussion on climate change. Rahima Mahmut, director of the London office of the World Uyghur Congress, who recently moved Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to speak out, will talk about the plight of her people in China.

One of the liveliest conversations promises to be between Professor David Feldman, whose criticisms of the IHRA definition of antisemitism have prompted controversy, and the government’s adviser on antisemitism Lord Mann.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, director of the left-wing American lobby group on Israel, J-Street, will be looking at what a Joe Biden presidency means for Israel, while making her Limmud debut will be new Israel Ambassador to London Tzipi Hotovely.

Other guests from Israel include its Minister of Strategic Affairs Michael Biton, on “the return to Zion” in the Negev, and veteran Israeli peace campaigner and former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, whose new book is entitled, Friendly Fire: How Israel Became Its Own Worst Enemy and Its Hope for the Future.

Another recent author who will speak is Sunday Times journalist Gabriel Pogrund, who co-wrote Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour under Corbyn.

A number of sessions will reflect on the impact of coronavirus, from the view of a member of a chevra kadisha who prepares the dead for burial to a hospital director to Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who will be speaking on resilience.

One of American Jewry’s leading historians, Jonathan Sarna, from Brandeis University, will compare the response to Covid with that of the Yellow Fever outbreak in America in the 19th century.

There’s a large cast of Torah teachers as well as children’s and family programmes, which include a bedtime story from Dame Maureen Lipman.

Along with the learning there are comedy, music and social sessions, which range from a musical shacharit from the Nigunim Ensemble from Jerusalem to a concert from Nefesh Mountain, who offer bluegrass and American roots with a Jewish flavour.

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