London, December 19, 2016: Thousands of participants from a record 40 countries will converge at Limmud Conference 2016, the global network’s flagship Jewish festival, to celebrate Chanukah and address major issues confronting the Jewish world. Gathering in Birmingham, UK, 25-29 December, they will also mark two milestones: 20 years of the Chavruta Project and Limmud International’s 10th Anniversary.
“We will celebrate Limmud’s illuminating impact the world over this Chanukah,” said Limmud Conference Chair Ben Crowne, a forensic accountant when not chairing a Limmud initiative. “Limmud is where our communities gather to learn, debate and develop responses to the important Jewish conversations of today and tomorrow. That includes UK politics and the controversies within and between the Labour Party and the Jews. That also includes inclusion for people with disabilities, Jews of colour, LGBTQ Jews, and interfaith families. Our community punches above its weight in refugee relief. We’re devoting a day to this critical issue.”
The Limmud Chavruta Project, marking its 20th anniversary, is a prime example of taking the Jewish conversation to the next level. These discussion-provoking source books, exploring money, war and peace, creativity, responsibility, time, prayer and food, among others, are used around the world. Limmud volunteers in Canada, Israel, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US collaborated to produce them.
Coinciding with Limmud International’s 10th Anniversary, Limmud is operating an upgraded Limmud Development and Connection Programme (LDC) to facilitate connections between Limmud activists around the world. Activists from over 45 Limmud communities, the highest number ever, will convene at Limmud Conference 2016 to learn from each other – including first-timers from Barcelona, Chile, Seattle, Venezuela, and Vienna. There will be a dedicated financial sustainability training track for these volunteers, supported by the UJA-Federation of New York.
From eight communities outside the UK in 2006, Limmud today boasts 84 communities in 44 countries. Limmud FSU, geared to communities in the Former Soviet Union as well as emigres around the world, is also marking its first decade.
For the first time, Limmud Conference is dedicating a day – Tuesday, 27 December – to the UK Jewish community’s role in relief for non-Jewish refugees, including Afghans, Syrians and Yazidis.
“The gloriously diverse program offers something for everyone,” said Conference Chair Steve Weller, who runs a cruise ship recruitment company and a training consultancy business in his day job. “We’ve emphasized inclusion, with sessions on autism, sign language, and mental health. And, since we open on Christmas, we’ll look at how the rabbis in the Talmud told the story of Jesus. You can hear about the Palestinian high tech sector. You can make craft beer, learn the secret Jewish history of vodka or explore whether Darth Vader was King David’s father.”
This year’s 500-plus presenters include
- Yosef Abramowitz, a founder of the solar industries in Israel and Africa, was named by CNN of as one of the world’s leading six Green Pioneers.
- Maggie Anton, award-winning author of historical fiction series Rashi’s Daughters and Rav Hisda’s Daughter, who just released the non-fiction Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know What.
- Noah Aronson, a renowned composer and performer of Jewish music who travels to communities worldwide sharing his unique melodies and soulful spirit.
- MP Luciana Berger (Labour), will share her story of the antisemitic abuse she has faced, the multiple convictions she has fought for and won, and her thoughts on how we can combat antisemitism.
- Shelley Cohen, founder of the Jewish Inclusion Project, is a global expert on inclusion, who advocates for children with disabilities in Jewish educational and recreational settings.
- Mimi Feigelson, an Israeli Orthodox rabbi, who serves as Mashpi’ah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) and lecturer of Rabbinic Literature and Chassidic Thought at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.
- Aaron Gross, professor of Jewish studies at the University of San Diego and the founder and CEO of Farm Forward, the organisation executing the US-based Jewish Initiative for Animals.
- Briana Holtzman, director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network, which supports and strengthens the global field of Jewish teen philanthropy.
- Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of the Church of England Diocese of Lichfield and Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews.
- Jewsalsa, a unique French community of artists, which combines Klezmer, Salsa and Oriental music.
- Ilana Kaufman, a black, professional Jew, will talk about Jews of colour at a time when around 20 percent of the Jewish population today is racially and ethnically diverse.
- Sir David King, the UK’s permanent Special Representative for Climate Change, who heads a slate of sessions and panels on climate change and consciousness.
- Gur Koren, an award-winning Israeli playwright, director and actor.
- Jon Lansman, a British Labour Party activist who worked on Jeremy Corbyn’s successful 2015 campaign for the Labour party leadership and subsequently founded Momentum, the pro-Corbyn organization.
- Peter Lerner, chief international spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces.
- Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Jewish Studies at Emory University, and author of Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, The Eichmann Trial, and Holocaust: An American Understanding, will offer a behind the scenes look into the making of the movie, “Denial.”
- MP Khalid Mahmood (Labour), who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the UK as a child, is England’s first Muslim MP.
- Ahmad Nawaz, 15, survived a Taliban attack on his school in Pakistan. He is a UN Global Education Ambassador.
- Jodi Rudoren, deputy international editor of The New York Times. She was recently the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief.
- Avivah Zornberg, who teaches biblical narrative through the prism of midrash and psychoanalysis and lectures throughout the Jewish world, just released Moses: A Human Life (Yale University Press).
The smorgasbord of sessions – over 1,400 – includes documentaries, panels, food and improv comedy workshops, yoga, dancing, singing and performances. In addition to Talmud and Bible, sessions will address “Identities in Motion,” on Jewish community development; Jewish social entrepreneurship; and, the implications of regional turmoil in the Middle East for Israel. Participants can learn about interfaith initiatives from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian interfaith activists. Other sessions will offer a look at the late Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer/songwriter, a Jewish reading of Star Wars, or a chance to gamble at the dreidel casino.
Limmud Conference 2016 has been arranged by a 28-strong volunteer Steering Group, supported at the event by hundreds more volunteers. “Special kudos are in order for this year’s Conference team for attracting so many first-time participants, about 10 percent of all who have registered,” said Limmud Chair David Hoffman. “The newcomers, like the returning Limmudniks, are truly cross-generational, from the youngest, aged three months, to the oldest, who is over 95. And, this is a really international event – with participants from 40 countries. We are proud that Limmud continues to expand as an international, inter-generational, cross-communal, and volunteer led phenomenon!”