Growing up I hated school. I also hated Hebrew school. Until later in life, I didn’t have positive associations with the word ‘education.’ Last week I went back to school and loved it. Along with 150 presenters (they are like the teachers) and 500 students, we gathered at Jerusalem’s Har Herzl complex for a two day celebration of informal Jewish learning known as ‘Limmud.’ This was my first Limmud and I would defiantly go back. Here are three reasons why.
1. Limmud took me out of my intellectual Jewish ghetto
Even though my Jewish ancestors left the shtetl long ago, for better or for worse, I have a tendency to reconstruct one in my my mind. A golden ghetto that, similar to my Facebook feed, is populated by ideas that I like and are familiar to me but don’t necessarily challenge me. Limmud took me out of my intellectual comfort zone in a really good way.
My first class was an interfaith musical presentation called ‘Culture at the Crossroads’ with Hanna Yaffe, an Orthodox Jewish vocalist, Father Emmanuel Atajaynyan, an Armenian priest and singer, and ‘Wast El Tarik,’ an Israeli/Palestinian and East/West fusion folk band.
Daniella Futterman, the lead singer of ‘Wast El Tairk ’, told me her band is “somehow a little world of what we would pray for to see happening in this place. We overcome our differences, we overcome the disagreements and the cultural differences which are existent, but we overcome this in order to meet each other and we have music as the space for this.” Unfortunately I don’t spend a lot of time with Palestinians or Christians and my life is pretty homogeneously Jewish. Just being in a class with people who were living the type of coexistence I value was both challenging and inspiring.
Another new taste of Jewish food for thought was a class with the fabulous Jerusalemite painter Batnadiv HaKarmi. She led a presentation about the connection between visual art and biblical exegesis using the paintings of Rembrandt. Through studying the paintings she showed how the master’s personal relationship to the stories in the book of Genesis were actually reflected in his work.
Comedian Benji Lovitt presented on the history of Israeli comedy in TV and movies. It turns out that Israeli screenwriters have been making fun of immigrants to Israel, like me, since founding of the state. In a moment of perfect comedic timing, we watched a clip poking fun at the JNF and as it turns out, the former head of the JNF, who was laughing along with us, let us know she was in the audience.
2. Limmud is a great place to meet and learn from influencers
An influencer is someone whose opinion make waves in their respective community. Michael Jordan is an influencer in the basketball world. Bill Gates is an influencer in the world of computers. So at Limmud, I got to learn with influencers from the Jerusalem’s ecosystem.
Lahav Harkov, a Jerusalem Post reporter whose name I usually see on my Twitter feed concerning all things Knesset, presented a model Knesset workshop in which the students (I was one of them) got to act out, including arguing, the process of passing a law in Israel’s parliament. I also had a great schmooze with Josh Yuter, a Jewish rabbi and blogger who has over 40K followers on Twitter for his thoughtful musings.
On a fascinating panel about Jerusalem culture, moderated by Deena Levenstein, I got to hear from Karen Brunwasser, the deputy director of the Jerusalem Season of Culture and one of the principle organizers behind the Jerusalem Sacred Music festival. Brunwasser said a great quote, “Jerusalem is a microcosm that represents all our greatest challenges and opportunities.” David Ehlrich, the founder of Jerusalem’s iconic cafe Tmol Shilshom (where I wrote one of my best poems), was also on the panel. He suggested that reading Yehuda Amichai’s love poems to Jerusalem, next to Amichai’s house in Yemin Moshe, was a great way to feel the Holy City. There were a lot more wavemakers from the Jerusalem community. Among them, Jerusalem City Councilman Aaron Leibowitz and former MK Dov Lipman. The list goes on, the point is Limmud is great for networking too.
3. The Limmud platform itself is worth plugging into
Besides the ‘what’ of Limmud, the amazing content, and people, the ‘how’ of Limmud, the way the platform works, is something I really admire. I would call Limmud a grassroots, volunteer-run, crowd-powered, pop-up Jewish university. Let me unpack on those buzzwords. ‘Grassroots,’ because the majority of the 150 presenters and 500 students who came were from the Jerusalem community and the surrounding areas. ‘Volunteer run,’ because nobody was getting paid, the conference was running on the goodness of the people’s hearts who wanted feed the minds of the Jewish people. ‘Crowd powered,’ because like Wikipedia, or open source coding, the Limmud’s experience is collectively created by the crowd. A call goes out for presenters, people who are passionate about something step up to be presenters. Others step up to do tech support or first aid. I work in social media so I volunteered to manage Limmud’s Twitter feed. ‘Pop-up,’ because less than 48 hours after the informal education celebration began on Thursday morning, it disappeared Friday afternoon. Finally, ‘Jewish university,’ because the energy in the hallways and classrooms, the plethora of presentations to choose from, and the students running around with their schedules, made me feel like I was back at college.
Limmud started out in London in 1980, took off, and is now held in 80 locations, 40 countries around the wold. Their slogan is “wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey.” Looking back, I am definitely a few steps ahead. For more info visit Limmud Jerusalem’s website.