The Song of Limmud
By David Hoffman
“There is one who sings the song of his own soul, and in his soul he finds everything, full spiritual satisfaction. And there is one who sings the song of the people. For he does not find the circle of his private soul wide enough, and so goes beyond it, reaching for more powerful heights…. He unites himself with the soul of the community of Israel…”
Rav Avraham Isaac Kook
Today, I have the great privilege of taking office as Chair of Limmud, the global network of Jewish learning festivals founded in the UK in 1980, which has now spread to over 80 Jewish communities in 43 countries.
This past week, a record 2,800 participants from nearly 30 countries gathered in Birmingham, two hours north of London, to celebrate a milestone: the 35th birthday of our annual Limmud Conference, which is Limmud’s flagship event.
I was bitten by the Limmud bug when I came to my first Limmud Conference in 2002. I was bowled over by its sheer size and the range of offerings. But music was really my way into Limmud; that was what most blew me away. Music that was really Jewish, and still really rocked. Actually, that’s how I felt about the whole experience. Here was Jewish learning that rocked, too.
That got me volunteering with Limmud. First just helping out, then performing as a volunteer presenter, running the open mic Acoustic Café, and then planning the music on the programming team. This led in turn to other Limmud roles – helping restart Limmud in my home town of Manchester, co-chairing Limmud Fest (our summer festival), joining the board of directors and, most recently, chairing Limmud International for two years.
I’ve also had the huge buzz of experiencing Limmud in action around the world. Taking part in different Limmud communities has given me a new sense of what being Jewish means, and what Limmud can contribute to that. Sometimes Limmud stands for a different sort of learning – something you can’t necessarily find in synagogue. In some places, Limmud is where you can go to be with other free spirits – outside the confines of a sometimes stifling structure.
In other places, it’s about a whole new approach to Jewish identity. Attending Limmud Keshet Poland in 2014 was a real eye-opener in that sense. I was surprised and moved by the Limmud’s role there. It is a safe space to explore a Jewish identity that was something entirely new for many Polish Jews – often because their family’s Jewishness had been repressed under the Communist regime – and for them the very experience of being with 700 other Jews was itself important. Limmud communities perform this role across Eastern Europe and, through Limmud FSU, in the former Soviet Union, as well as for Russian-speaking Jewish emigres around the world.
My passion for Limmud is closely tied to my passion for music. Music is for me the most meaningful expression of my Jewish identity, and how I gain the most from the Limmud experience.
But the truly remarkable thing about Limmud is that, at Conference, thousands of others will also have an amazing Jewish experience which is entirely different from mine and entirely unique. The same is true for the 3,000 or so volunteers worldwide who made Limmud events happen over the last 12 months and form our communities around the world. And even more so for the 33,000 people who attended a Limmud event somewhere in the world in 2015. Every Limmud experience is different. All of them are rich, fulfilling and utterly inspirational.
And this has borne fruit. Limmud generates inspired and enthused volunteers who go on to raise the bar for the wider Jewish community. In the UK, the birthplace of Limmud, many communal projects are being led by people for whom Limmud was their crucible, forging them into today’s communal leaders. They have had a Jewish experience which is multi-generational, cross-communal, exciting, fulfilling and entirely mind-blowing. Coupled with the confidence in their success gained at Limmud, this has propelled them to lead and shape other Jewish organisations and institutions.
My vision for Limmud is to promote and nurture this growth. My challenges and my opportunities as Chair of Limmud, are to:
- Build on and expand Limmud’s unique strengths in convening Jews of all stripes, and fostering discussion and debate among them, so that all of our Jewish communities can benefit from the cross-communal understanding that this brings.
- Continue to spread Limmud’s model of celebrating Jewish learning and Jewish doing, wherever there are Jews, so that myriads more people worldwide can experience Limmud as part of their own Jewish journey – whatever that is and wherever it takes them.
- Welcome, nurture, and mentor ever-increasing numbers of volunteers, who will become our future Jewish leadership, open-minded to different ways of doing things, embracing Jewish diversity, and respectful of others. And who are as excited as I am to be a part of the Limmud family.
That’s the song of Limmud, and I am proud to help compose the next verse. Bigger. Louder. And to keep on singing it as we help reshape the Jewish world in the 21st century!
David Hoffman is Chair of Limmud.