Move from campus to hotel proves a success for Limmud


The Limmud conference swapped its usual campus venue for the more upmarket setting of a hotel — and attracted record crowds.

While some die-hard delegates said they missed the university feel, most of the 2,750 insisted they enjoyed the improved facilities and more comfortable rooms.

The attendees — 100 more than the previous highest number — descended on Birmingham’s Hilton Metropole from more than 40 countries.

For the first time in years, the adult programme was confined to a single building, although five nearby hotels were booked to accommodate the sheer weight of numbers. Sessions for teenagers and Limmud International took place in the nearby National Exhibition Centre.

For those with mobility difficulties, the compactness of the venue was a great improvement. “I came because it’s all indoors,” said Doris Moritz, of Cardiff, one of a handful Limmudniks in their 90s. “I hadn’t been for a number of years because there was a lot of walking outdoors. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

Julian Landy, from Cambridge, said he missed being able to chat to people on the way to sessions at Warwick University, venue for the previous eight years. It was more a case of “elbowing than schmoozing”, he said.

Former Board of Deputies vice-president Flo Kaufmann, who came with husband Aubrey, son Andy, his wife Aviva and their four children, said the venue was “lovely and it’s great it’s all under one roof. I admire the fact that they are managing to move nearly 3,000 people around with such ease.”

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said former UJIA chief executive Ben Leon, who met his wife Charlotte at Limmud 18 years ago. “I was expecting that not being on a campus, it would lack a Limmud quality, a student-academic environment. But I’ve heard positive comments about the rooms, the food.”

Volunteers moved quickly to tackle teething troubles and, after the mayhem of overlong lunchtime queues on Monday, appeared to have alleviated the problem the day after.

Despite the swelling numbers, some wondered if the cost of the event might deter prospective participants. It cost a family of four around £1,270 with an early booking discount. But one father said it was good value and that he would be happy to pay “50 per cent more”.

Organisers tried to keep the price rise in moving venue to a minimum and a pot of £16,000 for bursaries helped 100 people to attend.

More than 500 presenters delivered around 1,000 sessions on culture, politics, spirituality, the Bible, and Jewish law. “We turned down 200 sessions,” said rabbinic student Deborah Blausten, co-chairman of the programming team.

While top educational acts from abroad such as historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt and Rabba Yaffa Epstein, one of an emerging group of Orthodox women spiritual leaders, continued to prove popular, the next generation of home-grown activists advanced their reputations – such as Sam Grant, campaigns manager of human rights organisation Rene Cassin or Alma Reisel, co-director of Keshet UK, which works for the inclusion of LGBT Jews.

However much organisers tried to match room venues to likely demand, no amount of planning could anticipate an unexpected draw. A session by Linda Turner, director of Mavar, a British organisation which helps member of the Charedi community who want to leave or work outside it, had the audience spilling out of the room.

“I had to tell people to stop going,” said Limmud conference co-chairman Michael Gladstone.

Those who felt overwhelmed by it all could repair to the fifth floor, where a paper lantern signalled the entrance to The Hearth, a chill-out room where they were invited to take off their shoes and meditate.

First-time Limmud-goer Gregory Ser, a choir leader at New North London Synagogue, who converted to Judaism earlier this year, said "Limmud is quite different from what I expected. My shul prides itself on being pluralistic. Before coming to Limmud, I did not expect that it would be that pluralistic. What's happening here is such a wide range of ideologies - it's quite fascinating. I definitely will come again."

Former Limmud chairman Carolyn Bogush said of the move that “my biggest fear was that it might have become corporate and lose the volunteer and participatory ethos. But it still feels like Limmud.”
Volunteers still ran the bar, where late at night young Limmudniks drank beer from bottles and sang snatches of Bohemian Rhapsody and Hey Jude around a keyboard.

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