[To celebrate Limmud’s 35th year, eJewishPhilanthropy is offering a look into Jewish communities around the world through the eyes of Limmud volunteers. Limmud, the global grassroots Jewish learning movement which was founded in the United Kingdom in 1980, is today in 80 communities and 40 countries.]
By Jacob Dallal
About half a year ago, I heard that there was going to be a Limmud in Tel Aviv – for the first time. It immediately drew my interest. I’d almost gone to Limmud a few times: in New York, in Jerusalem. But in these cities Limmud seemed so obvious. For Limmud to take place in Tel Aviv, however, represented to my mind a coming of age – or a coming to terms – for the city that prides itself for being an independent, secular entity within the State of Israel.
I lived in Tel Aviv a decade ago and I returned two years ago. During that time, the city changed significantly – and for the better. One notable change is that Tel Aviv has become more open to Judaism – on its own terms. There are dozens of Jewish learning initiatives. Over Shavuot last month, there were nearly a hundred places to learn something. Another thing that has changed is the immigrant scene. There have always been olim (immigrants) in Tel Aviv, most of them non-Orthodox. But today, the population of western olim – from North America, Western Europe and Latin America – has reached a critical mass and has come out of the woodwork. And, regardless of their level of observance, they are generally more open, knowledgeable and tolerant of religion than their Israeli-born Tel Aviv peers. Their presence can be felt a variety of ways from community Shabbat meals to new or revamped congregations (that include singing during services and serving a proper kiddush!).
A decade ago, when I was in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, I used to feel like I was abroad. Today, I feel like I’m in a nice secular-observant-traditional hodgepodge. On one side of the street on Friday evening, the smart restaurant begins to fill up; on the other, so does the synagogue.
For me, Limmud TLV represents the ultimate culmination of these trends. Tal Grunspan, a secular Tel Aviv native, created the Jewish learning festival with a large contingent of volunteers, including many olim.
Secular and religious, immigrants and natives, residents of greater Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel attended the two-day event in mid-May. It was a happy mix of participants interested in learning and being exposed to people and ideas in the very broad Jewish spectrum.
I sat in on the more traditional sessions of Rabbi Benny Lau and Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who presented on the life and teachings of the Chafetz Chaim. I also attended a session on vampires in Jewish tradition. And there was plenty else to choose from.
“Limmud TLV is a social start-up which is creating a new and different space for expression of Jewish and Israeli culture and creativity in Tel Aviv,” Limmud TLV Chair Tal Grunspan shared with me. “A grassroots organization, it was founded by a group of young, vibrant volunteers, who, together with the participants at our first event, have formed a community. Our motto ‘Who is wise? He who learns from all people,’ from Pirkei Avot, embodies the values of our learning community.”
Limmud is sweeping Israel by storm, with nine existing communities, each with its own flavor.
But for me, Limmud TLV is the crossing of a rubikon – not only a sign of Limmud’s vitality, but a harbinger of good things to come for Tel Aviv and for all of Israel.
Israel’s Thriving Limmuds
By Martin Joseph
Limmud TLV joins the growing family of Limmuds in Israel, spanning the country from north to south.
Limmud Galil imported Limmud from the UK in 2002. Several hundred people converge on Rosh Hanikra, abutting Lebanon, for the annual overnight gathering every Chanukah. “We are active year-round,” said Chair David Bentolila, “with a monthly bet midrash, two Shabbatons, hikes, and other programs.”
Limmud Haifa, which launched last November, will hold its second gathering next week, on June 9, 2015. In addition to a youth track, there will also be a track for Russian speakers. Based on early registration, Founder Golan Ben-Chorin anticipates the crowd will exceed the 250 who attended in 2014.
In Israel’s center, Limmudi’in, as Limmud Modiin is known, has enriched the landscape of the 90,000-strong city between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem since its first event in 2010. Last summer’s Limmudi’in 5, which drew 950 participants, featured Mekorok, a beit midrash for youth rock bands who create original music based on Jewish texts. Over 1,000 participants are expected at Limmudi’in 6 next fall, where a dialogue between students from all 14 city high schools is being planned.
Limmud Jerusalem will return to Mt. Herzl on August 27-28, 2015, where it launched three years ago. Co-Chairs Nadia Levene and Regev Ben David and the volunteer team expect a diverse, polyglot crowd exceeding 500 people.
In the south, Limmud Arava, founded in 2007, began with 180 locals. Its February 2014 event, which featured celebrity singer Ehud Banai, attracted 420 people – 30 percent of them from other parts of Israel. The next festival is scheduled for February 18-19, 2016.
Yerucham, 35 minutes southeast of Beersheva, is home to 10,000 residents who originally hailed from Morocco, India, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, and Bukhara, and range from ultra-Orthodox to secular. “Our goal is to be a bridge for communities to learn from each other,” said Limmud Yerucham Chair Orly Reicher. The first Limmud Yerucham last December drew 250 participants, including lots of teenagers. The next event is scheduled for December 2015.
Limmud FSU Israel has been held in Ashkelon, Beersheva, Jerusalem, Kibbutz Ginosar and Upper Nazareth since its founding in 2008. Over 800 participants take part and there is already a waiting list for December 2015.
Additional communities, like Limmud Sharon, are in the planning. Watch this space!