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A taste for something different

A hummus-making class and a discussion on tattoos were just two of Limmud's more esoteric sessions

    Denise Phillips dips into the possibilities offered by hummus
    Denise Phillips dips into the possibilities offered by hummus Photo: Bruria Hammer

    While Jo Johnson and Jon Lansman may have drawn the largest crowds, it could be said that the liveliest discussions at Limmud this year were found in the festival’s more esoteric sessions.

    Despite its clash with dinner on Tuesday evening, a healthy contingent turned out to activist Daniel Shine’s provocatively-titled session, “Go Vegan you cow-sucking perverts!”

    Even having been warned it would be “full on”, most audience members who turned up to hear about the benefits of a strictly vegetarian diet, were not prepared for a series of very graphic videos on the brutal practices of industrial dairy farming.

    By his own admission, subtlety holds little sway with Mr Shine, a Limmud veteran, and he did not balk at telling his audience that they were complicit in “rape, bestiality, theft and murder”.

    But Limmud being Limmud, there were also sweet moments, as when Mr Shine paid tribute to his ten-year-old son, who he said actually decided to go vegan before his father did.

    Also packing them in was cook Denise Phillips, who led an exploration into the importance of hummus.

    Attendees learned how to make three  different types of the dip as Mrs Phillips explained that it can be made with traditional chickpeas as a base ingredient, or peas, beetroot or sweet potato. 

    The feat of being able to make the these-days ubiquitous hummus feel novel deserved a cheer, and Mrs Phillips’s enthusiasm for experimentation in the kitchen was genuinely inspiring.

    A younger crowd assembled to hear David-Yehuda Stern discuss tattoos, using biblical passages and rabbinical commentary to ask, essentially, whether or not body art is allowed under Jewish law.

    As the audience grappled with the many different ways the ancient Hebrew for “gash” and “incision” could be interpreted, Mr Stern coaxed from the group the type of lively debate the best Limmud speakers can deliver.

    He said: “When I was growing up and learning about tattoos, I was told it is not your body to tattoo or make marks on. We often think of it as a blanket ban on tattooing but maybe it matters about what you’re getting tattooed.”

    Elsewhere, comedian Rachel Creeger shared her experiences of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on the stand-up circuit — which, she reported, are becoming more frequent — before David Benkof led a game of “How well do you know Jewish jokes”. 

    It was somewhat surprising that his was by some distance the funniest session of the week, since it was essentially a roomful of elderly Jews shouting punch-lines at each other.

    A sense of the broad range of Limmud would be incomplete without poking one’s head briefly into the Challah Back Girls disco. But I soon came to the sad realisation that, however much I had enjoyed the festival (and I certainly had), the pleasure was nothing next to the euphoria experienced by a group of Jewish teenagers when dancing to Salt-N-Pepa’s song Push It — and, I suppose, it never would be. 

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