The Phenomenon Called Limmud

55,000 meals served; 900 sessions; 320 presenters, a 380 page program book and 2500 participants from 40 countries. Those attending ranged from eight weeks to 90 years; 1000 were first-timers and 300 were between 5 and 18. Such were some of the stats from last month’s LimmudUK.

Known simply as “Conference” this annual independent event is, in the words of Sir Jonathan Sacks, “British Jewry’s greatest export.”

Held in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, this year’s Conference was the biggest ever. Bringing together religious and secular, affiliated and not, traditional and alternative to celebrate, to create and to provide a catalyst for individuals to further their own Jewish learning in an inclusive atmosphere.

Conference took place on the campus of the University of Warwick in the British midlands, during a week the U.K. was experiencing its coldest December in thirteen years. Yet, despite the weather, the warmth and energy shined and the session rooms were filled. And like every other Jewish event, so were the hallways, cafes and bar area. From 8 am until well past midnight, a diverse range of learning, entertainment and schmoozing took place allowing everyone to experience Conference in their own way.

Throughout the week there was a thirst for knowledge that was difficult to quench. There was a desire to know, to learn, to become acquainted. Most impressively, despite the varied backgrounds, everyone listened – and learned – from one another.

New this year, was a successful Jewish communal professionals track featuring a diverse mix of sessions aimed to help attendees develop personally and professionally.

Limmud traces its beginnings to 1979, when a small group of British educators joined together to innagurate a winter retreat loosely modeled after CAJE.

Slowly but steadily Limmud grew for over two decades. Yet it is only in the past several years that Limmud has developed into a true global phenomenon. Exported first to New York in 2005, Limmud has now spread to 46 separate locations on five continents, directly impacting 40,000 individuals in the past year alone. Each location has adopted the Limmud model tweaked for their own particular demographic.

The lifeblood of Limmud is the grass roots efforts of volunteers – 3500 strong – creating their own events around the globe. Elliot Goldstein, who stepped down as chair after four years, told the closing gala, “Our volunteers are the essence of Limmud. They are responsible for creating the Jewish community that we want to be a part of, the Jewish community of our future. They have created an organization famed throughout the Jewish world for its quality, its innovation and its inclusiveness. Without our volunteer leadership there would be no events like the one we have all just enjoyed.”

Limmud has made a significant impact on a scale quite out of proportion to its size – both on individuals and the broader Jewish community. With a simple aim – to enable each participant to go one step further on their own Jewish journey by offering a unique blend of formal and informal education, drawing on all sections of the community.

Limmud continues to be an inspiration to us all and a true innovator in inspiring and reinvigorating communities. Along with Birthright Israel and a handful of smaller programs, they have encouraged a revolution in 21st century informal Jewish education.

Paraphrasing Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The New York Jewish Week, More power to them.

global Limmud schedule February-May, 2010

image: Clive Lawton, Limmud’s co-founder, speaking at the closing gala