The Limmud Phenomenon Rekindles the Global Jewish Flame
“Participants report one of Limmud’s strongest impacts is in connecting them to Jews “who are different than me.” Bringing together Jews of all (and no) denominations, ages and nationalities, Limmud nurtures a profound sense of peoplehood even as it serves as a networking hub across Jewish communities.”
Shining bright as the Chanukah lights, Limmud – the cross-communal, international Jewish learning movement that reaches over 30,000 participants annually – is countering assimilation and disengagement seen widely in the Jewish world. “The Limmud International Study: Jewish Learning Communities on a Global Scale,” released today, demonstrates the value of self-motivated, informal and intensive Jewish learning. The learning clearly serves both as an expression of and impetus to Jewish involvement, impacting positively on participants’ Jewish identity and leadership.
In 2011 alone, Jews gathered for Limmud events in countries as far flung as Argentina, New Zealand and Turkey. All told, over 60 communities in 24 countries have held Limmud events. Nearly 2,500 Jews from the UK and abroad will attend Limmud Conference over Christmas week (December 25-29, 2011) at the University of Warwick in Coventry, in what has become a UK Jewish tradition since 1980.
“Limmud is a counter-cultural experience,” said Professor Steven Cohen, of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, who co-authored the study with Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, of Research Success Technology in Israel. Cohen continued, “Limmud counters prevailing patterns of decline among mainstream Jews throughout the world, and it counters the trends that challenge international connections among Jews worldwide and their historic attachment to Jewish peoplehood.”
Fielded in October 2011, the survey respondents reported unusually high participation rates in Jewish learning and in organized Jewish life, scoring far above levels reported in studies of the general Jewish population.
“Participants from each country displayed distinctive patterns of engagement,” Cohen remarked. US participants lead other major participating countries with 81% who reported being involved in Jewish learning in the wake of their Limmud experience. The Americans also top Limmudniks from other countries with respect to organizational involvement. Israelis score highest in leadership involvement, averaging 2.6 organizations where they fill a leadership role. They are also the most active in launching new Jewish communal initiatives, with 24% setting up new groups or organizations since first participating at Limmud.
Belying an image of Israelis as having little interest in Judaism, Jewish texts or Diaspora Jewry, the Israeli Limmud survey respondents display the highest levels of Jewish engagement and involvement. They attribute to their Limmud participation their continuing involvement in other Limmud events, other Jewish learning venues and Jewish community initiatives. With a majority having attended a Limmud in another country as presenters, Israelis function as an important resource for the global Limmud enterprise.
“These Israelis, like many under-recognized counterparts in Israel, are rediscovering their religious tradition, re-appropriating the Jewish bookshelf, and are passionately engaged in building a relationship with engaged Jews in the Diaspora,” said Cohen. “They are reconstituting and revitalizing the Jewish people through the Limmud communities of learning they frequent around the world.”
The survey – the first ever undertaken of Limmud worldwide – also points to Limmud’s role in the resurgence and renewal of Jewish life in Europe. While respondents in all countries attribute to Limmud a significant impact on their Jewish knowledge and Jewish identity, Europeans rate it the highest of all country groups. Thirty-six percent of the European Limmudniks said that Limmud has greatly affected their sense of Jewish identity.
While most participants are affiliated with a denomination, with 79% in the UK to 60% for the rest of Europe, Limmud is not a denominational initiative. “Limmud’s success at reaching Jews wherever they are in their Jewish journey and taking them further is thanks to Limmud offering a meeting ground that transcends religious and communal differences,” said Limmud International Co-Chair Dr. Helena Miller, director of Research, Evaluation and Living Bridge Programs at UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), in London.
Indeed, participants report one of Limmud’s strongest impacts is in connecting them to Jews “who are different than me.” Bringing together Jews of all (and no) denominations, ages and nationalities, Limmud nurtures a profound sense of peoplehood even as it serves as a networking hub across Jewish communities.
In the spirit of Limmud, almost all the research was undertaken by volunteers and performed pro bono.