Becoming a Limmudnik! Jewish Learning as Global and Personal

Courtesy Limmud

By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in my first “Limmud England” (this year’s theme: “Made by You,” December 24-28th, Birmingham). Thousands of participants, including many regulars and countless first-timers, were treated to a Jewish learning feast that represents a unique and transformative experience within the Jewish world.

Established in 1980, the Limmud organization has seen its brand expand and its operations continue to flourish across the Jewish world. This year, participants from 38 countries would be exposed to some 600 presenters at this flagship event on the Limmud calendar. Collectively, in 2016, Limmud would operate 74 events in some 44 countries, involving 4000 volunteers and 35,000 participants![1] An amazing storyline for any organization.

As the Limmud mission itself suggests:

Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey.[2]

In order to carry forward this mandate, the following educational principles are core to the Limmud experience:[3]

  • Everyone should be a student and anyone can be a teacher.
  • Learning embraces personal development, knowledge and skills.
  • Learning changes people, inspires action and opens new worlds.
  • We encourage the creation of a learning environment in which people are able to reflect and grow.
  • There are many inspirations that can offer opportunities for learning.

What are the specific ingredients that set Limmud apart from other such Jewish educational encounters? I think these organizing concepts reflect the distinctive components of this learning model:

  1. Advancing a leadership model that promotes the selection, appointment, and development of young adults as key decision-makers and organizers.
  2. Creating a culture of voluntarism, representing a critical organizing principle to Limmud’s success.
  3. Casting a wide net that allows organizers to invite faculty and recruit participants from across the Jewish globe.
  4. Promoting cross-denominational and inter-ideological connections in order to engage and welcome a vibrant cross section of participants and presenters.
  5. Fostering a multi-generational culture as a central tenet to the Limmud learning experience.
  6. Constructing an organizing model of individualized Jewish growth and education where choice and diversity are central factors.
  7. Establishing alternative learning communities.
  8. Developing a distinctive and compelling educational brand, by fostering generations of Limmud loyalists who support this model of learning.

A 2011 study of the Limmud model added to a richer appreciation of the success that this educational instrument has enjoyed globally. Sociologist Steven Cohen and Israel researcher Ezra Kopelowitz co-authored this analysis, providing a number of valuable observations:[4]

  • “Participants from each country displayed distinctive patterns of engagement.”
  • “Israelis function as an important resource for the global Limmud enterprise… Israeli participants are key in building bridges with Diaspora communities.”
  • The survey also demonstrates Limmud’s role in the renewal of Jewish life in Europe. European respondents attributed to Limmud the highest impact on their Jewish knowledge and Jewish identity of all country groups.
  • “The learning clearly serves both as an expression of and impetus to Jewish involvement, impacting positively on participants’ Jewish identity and leadership.”
  • Limmud has played a central role in the renewal of Jewish life in Europe.

End Notes:

Folks who are serious about growing their personal Jewish journey ought to experience Limmud. There is much to be garnered from this model, both in terms of its content and with reference to its organizational philosophy. There may be value for various Jewish institutions to partner with Limmud in order to expand their educational reach.

Where else in our communities are divergent views being introduced and debated? The Limmud story must be seen as a counter-cultural response to traditional forms of Jewish study. Today, it represents a proven formula, deserving communal endorsement and support.

Steven Windmueller Ph. D. on behalf of the Wind Group, Consulting for the Jewish Future. Dr. Windmueller’s collection of articles can be found on his website: