Limmud Volunteers Imagine the future of European Jewish Life

Jim Dratwa, Limmud Belgium, presenting at Limmud Training on Tour in Prague; photo by Lucas Wxyz.
Jim Dratwa, Limmud Belgium, presenting at Limmud Training on Tour in Prague; photo by Lucas Wxyz.

By David Bilchitz

What themes dominate European Jewish discussion? Are they apt for the 21st century? Delegates from across Europe grappled with the pressing questions facing their communities at Limmud’s annual Training on Tour in Prague, during the first weekend in September. Forty activists representing 15 Limmud groups from Moscow to Paris and Minsk to Rome debated a host of issues.

For example, in the Shabbat afternoon session “Elephants in the room,” groups discussed the role of contemporary anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the relationship with Israel in their Limmud programmes.

“These questions often dominate our communities,” remarked Jim Dratwa, of Limmud Belgium, which runs an event called “How do you Jew?” “So our challenge in Limmud is to find innovative ways to address them without sidestepping these big issues.”

LImmud Training on Tour, Prague participants; photo by Lucas Wxyz.
Limmud Training on Tour, Prague participants; photo by Lucas Wxyz.

Other participants felt there is too much emphasis on these topics. Limmud Italia’s Sandro Servi said, “The seminal question for me is how we develop and nurture a positive Jewish identity. This should be Limmud’s central task.”

Indeed, Jewish identity is central to the mission of Limmud. It aims to take every Jew one step further on their Jewish journey without being prescriptive about the direction they should head in.

Earlier that day, Limmud volunteers debated the implications of Limmud’s commitment to inclusivity. From the affordability of Limmud events to lesbian/gay inclusion, volunteers debated how best to advance this key value. Shoshana Bloom, who serves on the Limmud UK Executive, described her pioneering initiative which provides programming for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
The setting of Prague could not have been more fitting. In the city where Hitler had intended to set up his “Museum to an Extinct Race,” Limmud was nurturing the future leadership of communities across Europe and exploring concrete steps to enrich and re-energise European Jewish life.

Touring Prague’s Jewish landmarks, we felt intensely the loss of the 77,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust. We saw each name inscribed on the walls of the Pinkas synagogue. On Friday night, after going to one or another of Prague’s many synagogues, Shabbat dinner saw the hallways of the Jewish Community Centre in Prague filled with song.

“The event was a major success,” said Sonja Vilicic, a Limmud trainer from Serbia. “We sought to enable Limmud groups to learn from one another and help solve each other’s problems. From the enthusiastic attitude of all participants, we realized that there was a special dynamic between the groups.”

The group enthusiastically endorsed a suggestion for a future pan-European event organized by teams of volunteers across Europe.

Bottom line: Limmud Training on Tour is shaping and nurturing the future leadership not only of Limmud but of the Jewish community across the Europe. The volunteers were creative thinkers, willing to listen and open to each other despite differences of culture, religious observance and language.

This year, 2015, saw regional Limmud Training on Tours in Israel, North America and Europe, with future ones planned for Latin America and the Southern Region, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China and India.

Training will continue at Limmud Conference 2015, the global flagship Jewish learning festival. To mark its 35th anniversary, Limmud Conference is taking place at a new location in Birmingham, 27-31 December 2015. Registration is now open. Limmud Conference is the only opportunity for volunteers from around the world to meet, network and debate the future of Limmud and the Jewish world together.

David Bilchitz chairs Limmud International.