The Time Has Come to Build Limmud USA
[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 11 – Jewish Peoplehood in Practice – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.]
by Dan Brown
A strong, national Limmud is the perfect vehicle to connect,
and engage, American Jewish young adults in Jewish Peoplehood
The American Jewish community is facing a paradigm shift from the how and why Jews connected to community institutions in the past to how Jews of today – especially young adults – are relating, and connecting, to the Jewish “establishment” of the 21st Century. These changes, often referred to as generational, are so much more than simply looking at the different characteristics of, say, the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers to Generation X or Y. For while today’s young adults are fully immersed in the pace and technology of our times, they are also invested in timeless values. “They want to give and to serve. They want involvements that engage their minds as well as their hands.” 
And what better way to engage their minds Jewishly than through Limmud, the second largest informal Jewish education initiative globally.
Established in 1980 as a small conference by, and for, Jewish educators, Limmud has become, in the words of Sir Jonathan Sacks, “British Jewry’s greatest export.”
But what is Limmud? From the Hebrew, to learn, Limmud is a platform for engagement in informal Jewish education, tailored to fit the needs of each individual community. It could be anything from a one-day event in Boston, to an extended Shabbaton program in Atlanta, to small-group text-learning programs taking place over Skype. All coming together to learn – about our history and culture – and to engage with one another.
Limmud provides a thirst for knowledge that is difficult to quench. A desire to know and to become acquainted is always in the air. Most impressively, despite the varied backgrounds, everyone listens – and learns – from one another.
The lifeblood of Limmud is the grass roots efforts of volunteers creating their own, unique, events. Everything Limmud does is designed and executed by talented and committed individuals in their own local communities – from the smallest of tasks to long-term strategy. These volunteers are empowered to not only direct, but to “own” the events they create.
But Limmud is something in addition – most evidenced, so far, in Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. For in both regions, Limmud has become much more than an event or two – Limmud has become a networked community. Literally thousands of people have bought-in to the concept, the approach, and the core values of what Limmud can, and does, bring to the table. As a result, Limmud has become a training ground for the next generation of Jewish communal leadership. A place to engage all corners of the Jewish world in new, exciting and collaborative efforts.
In the U.S., unfortunately, no such training ground exists. More importantly, on the national level, not one single initiative exists for Jewish engagement that encompasses all segments of our community. Further, not one of the long established alphabet soup organizations have demonstrated they have the understanding, or the resources, to move forward in this critical regard.
Enter Limmud USA
Consider: While many organizations pay lip-service to younger generations, occasionally listening but rarely delegating meaningful responsibility, Limmud allows the individual to ‘run with the ball,’ regardless of their age.
Consider: Limmud brings people together to directly engage and to connect – with each other and with the broader community.
Consider: Instead of endless conversation on what we all know needs to be done, Limmud is actually out there, doing.
Consider: Instead of top-down, Limmud is very much bottom-up.
Consider: Limmud is a place to practice the “How” of Jewish Peoplehood in the 21st Century.
Will the task be challenging? Without a doubt. Limmud already has a strong foundation in multiple American Jewish communities. This foundation needs to be built upon – both locally and nationally. Local Limmud programs need to be strengthened so they can become feeders to a national initiative. In the U.K., Limmud has demonstrated that strong local programs can exist in tandem with the major annual Conference held every December.
Philanthropically, this will also be a significant undertaking that needs to bring together as one the organizational strengths and financial capabilities of multiple resources. No easy task. Importantly, the funders need to be ones that are willing to trust young people to do for themselves. Part of what makes Limmud what it is is that control is not in the hands of funders. The funding community needs to be bold, recognize the upside and be willing to “turn over the keys.”
Can this happen? Yes.
Just look at the potential impact: as a community we gain the ability to engage the minds as well as the hands of today’s young adults. Through this engagement we will nurture both commitment and Peoplehood. We help instill a sense of Identity and connectedness that will propel the community to even greater heights in the years ahead.
As we have learned from the recently released “Connected to Give” report, “the more connected American Jews are to Jewish social networks and Jewish communities, the more likely they are to give, not only to Jewish organizations but to non-Jewish organizations as well.”
If this happens we score a major win – for the individual and the community.
Dan Brown is the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy.com.
This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 11 – Jewish Peoplehood in Practice – published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.
 2012 Millennial Impact Report, Achieve and Johnson Grossnickle Associates