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This Limmud a gloriously rich Jewish smorgasbord

  • Limmud
Girls in jeans and men in kippot; women rabbis and big frum families: the multicultural mix that characterised this year’s Limmud, demonstrated unequivocally that the project is here to stay.
by ROBYN SASSEN | Sep 03, 2014

Pictured: Prof Andries Wessels

Last Friday evening’s attendance of over 500, was more populous than any Limmud Shabbat event, the world over, according to one Limmudnik with strong English ties.

And, as usual, there was a rich array of talks, panel discussions and experiences, offered in hour-long bites. So, you could have veered from sitting in a circle and sewing red thread along a squiggly line as you listened to London-based artist and Jewish educator Jacqueline Nicholls explain the biblical role of the red thread.

Then amateur photographer Jono David, who really earns his living as an English lecturer in Japan, showed hundreds of his images documenting Jews from all over the world, in states of happiness and poverty, abundance and dearth.

Indeed, there were nine Limmud sessions before candle-lighting on Friday, including a foray into the rise and fall of political Islam, a challah baking session and a screening of one of Polish film producer Slawomir Grunberg’s offerings.

Once Shabbat was heralded in, people drifted within their traditional comfort zones; there were more talks before dinner. Award-winning Louisiana science fiction writer Moira Crone, offered an audacious but deeply informative insight into how science fiction builds worlds, as she compared the first chapter of Genesis to the manner in which a story in the genre is constructed.

While she spoke, legal adviser to the Israeli government Talia Sasson, teased apart freedom of speech in Israel and local political economist Raphael Chaskalson cast an eye on Marikana and labour politics.

Featuring all the traditional rituals and a fizz pop game to encourage people to make new friends, the dinner was indeed a highlight, and it was still only Friday - the weekend hadn’t properly begun yet!

There were also lectures going well into the night, featuring such Limmud superstars as Rodger Kamenetz, who wrote the groundbreaking work, The Jew in the Lotus, 20 years ago, the Times of Israel’s Elhanan Miller, Elyakim Rubinstein who serves as a judge on Israel’s supreme court and Gidi Grinstein, the founder and president of Reut, Israel’s leading strategy and leadership institute.

Starting from 07:00 with Vijnana Yoga under Tel Avivian Tal Grunspan vying with shul, Shabbat’s array of talks, engaged with everything from the political topics of the day to biblical attitudes to the Get and Dirty Little Secrets on the Road to Democracy: Stories about the 1994 and 1999 elections as told by Howard Sackstein.

From LGBTI activism to spiritual resistance to the Nazis, an unpicking of kashrut values to an interpretation of private dreams, a comparison of Noah with the Life of Pi and a foray into the fascinating work of cartoonist Art Spiegelman, there was truly something for everyone and a convivial places to sit and enjoy nature if none of these tickled your fancy.

Yidstock was part of the motzei Shabbat celebration, featuring Farryl Roth, Naami Gottlieb - whose incredible a cappella skills Market Theatre fans will remember - Steve Barnett on drums and Joel Berkowitz from the UK.

Actor Glen Biderman-Pam and Alfred Adriaan, topped the evening with some live comedy, and if live performance was not your thing, Mike Golding dissected the question as to whether Jews should listen to Wagner, while another film by Grunberg was screened.

Late night Saturday also featured a talk on Jews in professional wrestling by digital marketing strategist Dan Herman, a lecture that was so enthusiastically attended that by popular demand, it was repeated on the Sunday. 

And with the dawning of Sunday came another rich array of talks, examining everything from Finding Your Roots on the Web, to dancing Nia, considering Israeli Diamond Dealers from Ramat Gan to Wolmaransstad to Adrian Gore of Discovery explaining success.

While one man spoke of surviving Hitler, a woman spoke of rabbis and prostitutes and former journalist Peter Bayer spoke of the Last Mensch, a book he’d written. Afrikaans-Jewish poet Olga Kirsch was celebrated movingly by Andries Wessels, while Marlene Bethlehem explained her life’s trajectory and founding Weekly Mail editor Irwin Manoim spoke of the rise and fall of the newspaper and the disturbing messages it offers the journalism industry going forward.

Jack the Ripper vied with Arthur Goldstuck for Limmudniks’ attention, while Lewandowski choristers sang their hearts out and Prof Barry Schoub beautifully explained the conquering of smallpox and polio.

As the sun set on the weekend, so did resident Limmudniks show up in the last sessions armed with luggage, happy memories and deep enthusiasm for Limmud 2015.

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