Standing Ovations for Ephraim Mirvis, the U.K.’s First Sitting Chief Rabbi to Attend Limmud Conference

photo credit Flix’n’Pix
photo credit Flix’n’Pix

His visit is good for Limmud and great for British Jewry.
It is beloved for the Limmud community to have the Chief Rabbi here
Andrew Gilbert

by Alex Zatman
exclusive to eJP

Coventry, UK; Dec. 23, 2013 – Hundreds packed into Warwick University’s largest auditorium to hear British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’at his first appearance at Limmud Conference. The overflow crowded into another room.

The audience rose as one in appreciation of his historic appearance as he became the country’s first sitting Chief Rabbi to speak at the Jewish learning festival.

“Here at Limmud you can’t escape the fact that it’s great to be Jewish and I’m delighted to be a part of it,” the South-African born rabbi said. “So far, I’ve experienced wonderful acts of togetherness.”

Positing lessons on leadership and universal responsibilities drawn from the Torah portion of the week – Shemot, his talk was punctuated by laughter, with observations worthy of a Borscht Belt comedian.

He argued that we need to learn from the way Moses cared not only for his oppressed brethren but also for the women in Midian, namely humanity as a whole. The message for today, he emphatically asserted: “When we exist only for ourselves, when we disregard members of other communities, it may be a pious way of life, but it is a treif way of life”.

“We must be committed to the well-being of every human being, we must not simply exist in a self-imposed ghetto.”

The audience gave another standing ovation as he closed and headed off to other Limmud sessions with children, teenagers and volunteers.

Former Limmud Conference Chair Andrew Gilbert told eJP: “His visit is good for Limmud and great for British Jewry. This is an important moment. It is beloved for the Limmud community to have the Chief Rabbi here.”

Rabbi Rachel Kobrin came from Austin, Texas, where she is associate rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim. “My hope is that his teaching will be a real opening for dialogue and conversation,” she said about Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ presentation. “It was a very strong statement. The essence of his teaching is that in order to fully live meaningful lives that are rooted in the tradition we need to be deeply compassionate to those that are beyond our boundaries. It was a courageous statement and one that holds within it deep truth.”

“He ticked all the boxes,” said long-time Limmud participant and Reform Movement member Leslie Michael said. “His session was intelligent, inspiring and inclusive.”

Limmud Conference 2013 is the biggest such gathering in Limmud’s 33-year history, with over 2,600 participants attending 1,102 sessions by 451 presenters. All told, more than 100 Limmud activists from 40 communities around the globe came to Coventry. “They forged lots of connections,” said David Hoffman, Limmud International chair. “People from around the globe shared different approaches to common challenges.”

Alex Zatman is Communication Co-Chair for Limmud Conference 2013.