Partnering in Jewish Learning at US Limmuds

To celebrate Limmud’s 35th year, eJewishPhilanthropy will be 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.

To kick off the series, we will focus on three very different communities in the United States holding Limmud events in the coming weeks – New York, Miami and Phoenix.

By Jenna Citron

We’ve come a long way since Jews first arrived to Nieu Amsterdam from Recife, Brazil, in 1654. Today, New York City is home to 1.54 million Jews and, ostensibly, every Jewish iteration and wrinkle. Think synagogues, JCCs, museums and other Jewish cultural institutions.

When you consider that the New York metropolitan area boasts over two million Jews – the second largest Jewish community in the world after Tel Aviv – what could anyone possibly add Jewishly?

In 2004, Limmud NY burst on to the scene. North America’s longest-running Limmud, it plays a unique community role. “Limmud NY fills a special niche in the New York Jewish community,” explained Board President Sivya Twersky. “It brings together virtually every Jewish identity across generations and modes of practice in one place for a common experience of shared history and shared future.

“Because of this, other Jewish organizations are eager to partner with us to broaden their message and work synergistically.”

This year, nine leading rabbinical seminaries from across the US are sending students to take part in a new cross-denominational track facilitated by senior faculty members of the Shalom Hartman Institute at Limmud NY over Presidents Weekend, February 13-16, 2015. The initiative includes participants from Academy for Jewish Religion, Aleph, Hebrew College, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jewish Theological Seminary, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshiva University and Yeshivat Maharat. “This could only happen at Limmud NY,” Twersky underscored.

Kids at Camp Ramah at Limmud NY;
Kids at Camp Ramah at Limmud NY;

Another example of such synergy: Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, NY, and Camp Ramah in the Berkshires are partnering with Limmud NY for the second year to offer Camp Ramah at Limmud NY, for kids ages 3 to 14.

Over 800 participants of all ages and backgrounds are expected at Limmud NY’s upcoming 11th annual conference, which will have 300+ sessions on everything from food to ‘flashTalks,’ debate to dance, improv to Israel, meditation to music, and text study to tikkun olam.

“There is something for every Jew at Limmud NY,” added Conference Co-Chair Rebecca Buzen. “You can sample Georgian khachapuri, which is their version of pizza, learn Yiddish, participate in a giving circle, study Daf Yomi and do yoga all in one day.“

Miami, too, boasts a vibrant Jewish scene – notwithstanding the stereotype of a Jewish community comprised solely of Yiddish-speaking, elderly snowbirds.

Jews arrived in Miami in 1895 and the first synagogue was established in 1912. Many Cuban Jews fled there after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, around the same time large numbers of elderly Jews began to retire to South Florida.

Today, the South Florida area, including Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, has over 550,000 Jews. The Jewish population in greater Miami alone is around 123,000, according to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation – a jump of 9% from a decade ago. Miami now has the highest proportion of foreign-born Jews of any area in the United States, and is a hub for Latin American Jews of all ages. Indeed, Limmud Miami’s steering committee includes immigrants from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, as well as Israel.

Limmud Miami Co-Chairs Romi Naparstek (left) and Francine Safdeye at Limmud PopUp on January 27, to introduce Limmud to a brand new crowd. Photo by Francine Safdeye.
Limmud Miami Co-Chairs Romi Naparstek (left) and Francine Safdeye at Limmud PopUp on January 27, to introduce Limmud to a brand new crowd. Photo by Francine Safdeye.

Limmud Miami’s second annual “festival for the Jewish mind and sol” – Spanish for sun – is coming up on February 22, with 650 already registered (450 attended last year). Their recent Limmud PopUp drew a brand new crowd of 40 to experience a taste of Limmud Miami. The cross-cultural program featured a performance intertwining Flamenco, Sephardic and Latin American song.

Although only in its second year, Limmud Miami has already created over 20 partnerships with other organizations, reflecting the range of ages and affiliations who want to be involved. For example, local teen groups have actively sought to partner with Limmud Miami. “We expect 200 teens this year,” Limmud Miami Co-Chair Romina Naparstek told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“Our community was ready for more cultural and educational programming,” Naparstek said to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We have a very diverse community that wasn’t engaged in this kind of programming. Miami has become a more cultural community and Limmud Miami brings that sense of learning on being diverse, in being different and bringing different and controversial topics.”

The JCS Alliance, which brings together young Jewish professionals to support the Jewish community through direct impact and hands on service, is another enthusiastic Limmud Miami partner. “Limmud brings culture, energy and inspiration to our Jewish community,” said Marian Mendelsohn, director of special projects of the Community Engagement Division at Jewish Community Services of South Florida. “It is the perfect match. That’s why we are excited to share our successful programming and learn from Limmud presenters and participants.”

Limmud Logo Final (1)From the Southeast to the Southwest, Limmud AZ is launching February 8, at Arizona State University (ASU) in Phoenix. With 45 presenters spanning the entire Jewish spectrum, nine sessions each hour – including “The Bible and the Boss: Bruce Springsteen’s Lyrics and the Hebrew Bible,” and talks on Jewish cowboys, Israeli wines and Talmudic ethics, as well as a children’s camp, the 300 who have already registered can expect to be challenged as they take the next step on their Jewish journeys.

Jews first settled in Arizona after the California Gold Rush of 1848-50. Though few in number, they held elected offices, from school board to mayor of Tucson, and were also miners, bankers and prominent in the entertainment business. Legend has it that there were virtually no single Jewish women in the Arizona Territories, so Tucson’s Jewish pioneers had to import wives from ‘back’ East or the West Coast.

Only after World War II, when home air conditioning became widely available, did Jewish population growth in the state start to take off. Today, the majority of Arizona’s Jews – approximately 106,000 according to the Jewish Virtual Library – live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, with a sizable pocket in metropolitan Tucson.

“I’m a strong cultural Jew,” said Sandy Adler, who along with Suzanne Swift and Elana Kanter is co-chairing the day-long happening. “I’m deeply entrenched in and fascinated by the culture and history of Judaism. Rabbi Elana of course has the text-based knowledge, and Suzanne has both a religious and community background. It’s a good team.”

Limmud AZ also has garnered a coalition of partners, among them the Jewish Federation of Metro Phoenix, Hillel and the Center for Jewish Studies at ASU.

Jewish Free Loan (JFL) has chosen Limmud AZ to launch its financial literacy program, which is funded in part by a grant from the B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy Board of the Jewish Community Foundation. JFL’s “Spend, Save, Tzedakah” workshop is being offered in partnership with MidFirst Bank’s Money Moments Program.

“We are bringing Limmud to strengthen the community, to create a welcoming environment for all Jews regardless of beliefs or affiliations,” Adler concluded. “Learning is one of the best ways to do that, and it’s something that Jews can do together without our differences hindering connectivity.”

Jenna Citron is Limmud NY’s Marketing Co-Chair. In real life, she is Director of Jewish Student Life at Queens College Hillel.