Lighting up the Jewish World – Chanukah at Limmud Festival 2019

Photo credit; Jonathan Hunter / Limmud.

Mexico Master Chef Allstar Gina Roditi, Idan Raichel, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, SpaceIL’s Kfir Damari, and Yiddishpiel among the thousands who participated from 33 countries

“Limmud Festival exists to bring people together across the lines which divide us, through our common passion for Jewish culture and learning,” said Limmud Festival Co-Chair Hannah Brady, joined by fellow Co-Chairs Dan Heller and Ben Lewis. “Over the week, we encouraged every participant to discover something new, venture outside their comfort zone, break down barriers and broaden their horizons.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Hunter / Limmud.

A diverse cross-section of people from widely varying backgrounds met in an environment of mutual respect. As the biggest gathering of Jews in the UK following the December 12 elections, politicians including Jess Phillips, Wes Streeting and Lance Forman addressed issues head on. Antisemitism, too, was on the agenda.

Limmud Festival is gloriously intergenerational. In 2019, the youngest participant was just 5 months old, and the oldest – 98; the biggest age cohort was in their 20s. A large group from the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), the umbrella organization representing 165,000 young Jews across 35 countries, and the Yesod delegation, which focuses on strengthening the future of Jewish life in Europe by investing in key individual Jewish communal professionals and educators discussed the vibrant future they are building in their communities, and the challenges they face.

Photo credit; Jonathan Hunter / Limmud.

A grassroots undertaking, the Festival steering committee was comprised of 30 people, supported by hundreds more volunteers putting in over 4,000 hours on-site to ensure a seamless, joy-filled gathering.

The strikingly diverse program offered 1,000 sessions spanning films, stand-up comedy, food and singing workshops, speed dating, and performances. The new UK community mikvah initiative featured prominently. So, too, interfaith dialogue – think “Hands off our headscarves,” presented by two women, a Muslim and a Jew, who cover their hair, or “A rabbi and a minister walk into a bar,” – presented by a rabbi and a minister. Numerous sessions dealt with Jewish approaches to forestalling climate change.

Beyond Bible, Talmud and Chavruta, presenters explored LGBTQ+ issues, like “Becoming Eve: my life from a Chasidic rabbi to transgender woman,” with activist Abby Stein, as well as Jewish world innovation, from “Changing the World with Tikkun Olam Makers,” to “Technology and Torah, the story of Sefaria,” to say nothing of landing an Israeli satellite on the moon. Esther Gilbert, the widow of Martin Gilbert, looked at the Jewish presence in Martin Gilbert’s histories. Everything was on the table at Festival – from the findings of the US National Study of Jewish Grandparents, to Jewish comic book superheroes to what the Torah says about Artificial Intelligence, and the environment as an avenue to peace making.

Starting em young at Limmud; Photo credit; Jonathan Hunter / Limmud.

Many partner organizations bring presenters to Limmud Festival, like the Jewish Agency for Israel, World Zionist Organization, March of the Living and others.

“Limmud pioneered bringing together Jews of every persuasion and age to engage in respectful dialogue and debate in a welcoming, non-judgmental environment,” said Limmud Chair Shoshana Bloom. “Going forward, we are determined to be even better – opening Limmud to more people, creating more avenues into leadership roles within Limmud and empowering more people to catalyze change within our communities and in society at large.”