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Limmud sets the benchmark high - again

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Another highly successful Limmud conference took place over the weekend at the Indaba Hotel and Conference Centre in Fourways, Johannesburg. This was the 10th Limmud South Africa conference, and it is clear from the number and diversity of the participants that it is growing from strength to strength.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Aug 05, 2015

The hotel was packed to capacity from Friday night to Sunday. Many of the most popular sessions were so chock-full that people were standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor of the auditoriums. Participants included people from across the religious and political spectrum and it was evident that there were many young people coming to their first Limmud, as well as older ones who had been before and now were “regulars”.

Limmud is known as the fastest growing Jewish organisation in the world. It has bases throughout North and South America, Europe, Israel, Asia and Africa. There are currently 80 Limmud groups in 40 countries. In 2014 there were 62 Limmud events worldwide, run by 3 000 volunteers, with 28 500 participants.

Speakers at the numerous sessions at the Indaba Hotel included international and local specialists on particular topics. For example, Avi Melamed, an intelligence analyst with the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, gave several talks on the dynamics of radical Islam, its sources, and the highly complex situation in the Middle East today, as the region descends further and further into chaos.

Another high-profile speaker was Jewish Orthodox feminist Dina Brawer, a leader of Jofa - the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance - who spoke about the growing strength of the demands from women in the Orthodox movement to have greater participation in religious rituals and halachic deliberations. Brawer is currently studying at the Yeshivat Maharat in New York for her smicha, or rabbinic ordination.

A contentious panel of world experts on European countries - Sweden, Poland, the UK, France and others - discussed the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and whether there is a future for Jews in that region.

Another equally contentious panel on the Israeli situation discussed the political divisions in Israeli society today, ranging from the left which is severely critical of Israel’s current government, to the settler movement, which has members at high levels in the government.

South African issues were discussed in several key sessions, including a talk by Wits University Vice Chancellor Adam Habib. He spoke on how he is trying to ensure that open debate remains viable on his campus, amidst all the racial and political tensions among contemporary South African students, and the difficulties he faces in ensuring that the passions generated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict don’t prevent this.

Another panel consisting of three DA parliamentarians - Michael Bagraim, Glynis Breytenbach and Darren Bergman - discussed the current state of the opposition in South Africa and what it is like to be in parliament these days under the Zuma-led ANC government.

One of the biggest problems the Limmud participants faced was trying to decide which session to attend, given the very wide range of stimulating topics and speakers. There were sessions devoted to politics, spirituality, religion, history, Jewish identity, activism and outreach, Israel, tikkun olam, arts and culture, and more.

Limmud has gone out of its way to ensure that people from all Jewish streams feel comfortable and catered for. This year it succeeded more than ever before in attracting Jews from across the spectrum, providing both Orthodox and Progressive shul services, and ensuring that all food was kosher.

Contrary to the first Limmud, when the Orthodox movement purposely stayed away after its rabbinate urged their congregants not to attend, Orthodox Jews were present in large numbers, both as delegates, members of panels and speakers.

Limmud moves to Stellenbosch this weekend. If this year is anything to go by, people will be waiting eagerly for the follow-up next year.

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