“What is Limmud?” – Answers from the “Training on Tour 2013 North America” Trenches

Participants inTOT13NA are standing before the Limmud International map, showing the more than 65 communities in 28 countries; photo by Leah Fuhr.
Participants in TOT13NA are standing before the Limmud International map, showing the more than 65 Limmud communities in 28 countries; photo by Leah Fuhr.

by Eliana Leader

About a year ago, my life changed when I was introduced to Limmud in Atlanta. As a Jewish community professional, I often hear about Jewish programs and learning opportunities around the city, but rarely do I get to accept an offer or participate in an event strictly for my own personal growth. Jewish community is available and abundant in Atlanta, but I have had a difficult time finding “my place” in all of it, even in my own home town.

“What is Limmud?,” I asked when a friend invited me to my first Limmud event.

Boy, did I get an impassioned, yet vague and confusing, mouthful. Finally, she said, “Just come, you’ll get it when you’re in it.” She was absolutely right. After my first Limmud weekend I was hooked. But while participating in Limmud certainly speaks for itself, it shouldn’t have to.

LimmudFest Atlanta+SE volunteers (article author middle); photo by Leah Fuhr
LimmudFest Atlanta+SE volunteers (article author middle); photo by Leah Fuhr

I jumped at the chance to get more involved locally, joining the LimmudFest Atlanta+SE programming committee as Shabbat chair. (Join us this coming Labor Day weekend August 30-September 2!)

As a new Limmud volunteer, I was given the opportunity to explore what it’s all about by brainstorming with Limmud leaders from all over North America over four days in Chicago at the end of June at Training on Tour 2013 North America, or TOT13NA.

Limmud activists from 14 North American communities, including Canada and, for the first time, Mexico, came to teach, learn and share. Our training was led by a fantastic team from Limmud International, including Clive Lawton, among the founders of Limmud back in 1980, and Shoshana Waskow, a Limmud Chicago founder and new Limmud International Steering Group member. It was the largest such gathering to date.

At TOT13NA, we intensely debated, contemplated and analyzed how to better our individual programs and spread the Limmud message while staying true to our shared mission. By working and training together, we strengthened our North American Limmud network. I learned that what we lack in geographical proximity, we more than make up for by sharing our tools and best practices.

“TOT13NA was an incredible experience – getting to know people from many Limmud teams across the United States and Canada,” said Limud Mexico Founder Renato Huarte. “I got the feeling that we shared our main obstacles and many possible ways to tackle them. The Mexican representatives were part of the diversity represented in Limmud in North America, and we took home lots of energy to build our second Día Limud coming up this October.”

TOT13NA included new and veteran Limmudniks from cities with multi-day retreats, and others with one day “tastes” of Limmud. No two cities put on the same program, and each city and Limmudnik had something to teach and something to learn.

From Limmud NOLA (New Orleans) I learned that Shabbat can actually be a cross-denominational experience, where all synagogues come together as one for a weekend of Torah and ben adam l’chavero. Lemood (Montreal) taught me that seriousness is over-rated, and that creativity and playful wit are great Jewish marketing tools. LimmudLA showed me that while leadership transitions can be exceedingly difficult, with a committed group and proper volunteer training, change can be a boost, rather than a setback.

Almost every single person who works with Limmud is a lay-leader or volunteer, which presents its own set of opportunities and challenges, but ones that all Limmud programs – in more than 65 communities in 28 countries – share.
The cross-pollination of ideas about volunteer care, creative programing, marketing, conflict management, and pooling resources was intense and enlightening. Most significant, we felt we were building a North American-wide Limmud network. One concrete manifestation of this reality: we plan to swap volunteer spots so we can attend and learn from each other’s Limmuds.

So, what is Limmud?

In true Limmud-ness, every TOT13NA participant shared a slightly different answer: An organization dedicated to Jewish learning in all its variety. A place to craft your own Jewish identity. Jewish learning without limits. A pluralistic, volunticipant-led community experience. An “unexpected” Jewish festival. A Communiversity. My spirit animal.

Who is Limmud for? It is for anyone and everyone who asks the question: “What about Judaism speaks to me?” “Where do I find meaning and purpose in my practice?” “What is being Jewish really all about?”

In truth, all those answers are right. So just come. You’ll get it when you’re in it.

Eliana Leader is the Executive Director of Young Israel of Toco Hills synagogue, and the Experience Imagineer of Jewish Kids Groups, an independent and ridiculously cool Sunday school and afterschool program in the Intown Atlanta area.