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Bright sparks light up Limmud

This year's conference is hailed as a "transformative experience for thousands", with people from a record 40 countries having attended

    Children enjoying a Limmud learning session. Photo: Eli Gaventa
    Children enjoying a Limmud learning session. Photo: Eli Gaventa

    It has been a festival of lights to remember at this year’s Limmud conference in Birmingham. 
    Every evening, hundreds of participants lit candles for Chanukah. In the marquees reserved for menorah lighting, Maoz Tzur seemed to be playing on an endless loop as people streamed in.
    One night, Lt Col Peter Lerner, the IDF’s chief spokesman to the foreign media, stood to attention next to the communal menorah he had just lit before an audience of hundreds.
    Over 2,800 attended this year’s Limmud, which ran from Sunday to Thursday this week. People came from a record 40 countries, including Venezuela and Chile, to what Judy Klitsner, a popular Torah lecturer from the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, called “this miraculous explosion of Jewish experience”. 
    Probably no one travelled further than Marlene Katz of Melbourne, who had stopped over for her third Limmud UK visit on the way to Israel.
    Hailing the success of this year’s event, the organisation’s new CEO Eli Ovits said: “Limmud Conference was a transformative experience for thousands of Jews this year. Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive with many stepping up to support our efforts. 
    “It’s a truly global export of Anglo Jewry, continuing to make its mark. What a wonderful way to enter 2017!” 
    By day, the lounge of the Hilton Metropole was a hive of networking — the government’s special representative on climate change Sir David King could be seen one lunch time with Israeli green entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz. 
    At night, Limmudniks wound down from Talmud and tikkun olam with bottles of light beer or “mo-jew-to” cocktails, served by volunteer bar staff sporting “Party Like It’s Purim” T-shirts.
    For Rachel Kass, 22, it was her first Limmud. The postgraduate student from Borehamwood, who did did four hours volunteering a day during the conference, said she found experience "incredibly enlightening. The most exciting thing is speaking to people, there is an eclectic range of people from all Jewish backgrounds and people who are not Jewish as well.
    "Someone recommended to go to at least one session a day out of your comfort zone. I am from an arts background so I went to talks on science and they were some of the most interesting I went to."
    The compactness of the hotel venue has made it far easier for less mobile participants. Sally Roland, from Oxford, who has been coming to Limmud for 13 years and “wouldn’t have missed it for anything”, said she was able to bring her 94-year-old mother Jesse, a retired doctor, for the first time this year.
    “I can only say the Limmud volunteers we had for caring, Lauren and Sam, provided us with every possible support,” Sally said.
    Mrs Roland Senior said, “That’s what so good, it’s all in one place. The food has been great, the organisation good.”
    Her daughter said her mother had heard the Chief Rabbi twice and once “I left mum with Luciana Berger while I zipped of to see Avivah Zornberg, who was definitely the highlight”.
    The session presented by Dr Gottlieb Zornberg, the British-born Israeli Bible scholar, was a favourite with Isaac Joory, 30, from Paddington, who was attending his first Limmud. “Incredible lady,” he said.
    Mr Joory had come on the recommendation of a friend and was “bowled over by the breadth of what is on offer” at the event which “exceeded expectations”.
    On the final evening, the Limmud House band played a musical tribute to recently departed stars including Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Lemmy of Motorhead.
    For some, attendance at the five-day learning fest brought hope of romance. Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, the new director of the Council of Christians and Jews, who met her husband Andy at the conference nine years ago, said two single women approached at the bar on the first night and asked her, “How do you do it?”

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