The Limmud Phenomenon

Limmud-UK recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. At the time of its founding, there were no other country-wide events that catered to Jews of all kinds. The only American institution that mirrored the Limmud-UK experience was the recently departed CAJE. As a matter of fact, many of the early presenters (and performers) at CAJE also presented at Limmud-UK. And while the annual CAJE conference purported to be a conference for educators, pedagogy was probably dwarfed by Jewish education in the largest sense of the word.

There were attempts to model Limmud-UK even before the demise of CAJE. For example, a group of young educators and communal leaders in New York created Lishma, a similar kind of experience that lasted for a few years. Then CAJE went out of business. (I do acknowledge the noble effort of those who are forming NewCAJE.)

Now Limmud represents just about the only effort that is transdenominational and cuts across community lines around the country.

But unlike Limmud-UK and unlike CAJE, they are at best regional events (and usually city-wide only). And depending on in which community they take place, the format is different. In the New York area, it is a three day weekend at a conference center out of the city. In Philadelphia, it is a Saturday night/Sunday at the Y that is in center city. And in Atlanta, it is a Sunday at a local college. As a result, the barriers of access are different in each Limmud. A number of them are working hard (such as the Taste of Limmud in New York) to try to mitigate some of those barriers.

What these events have in common—besides a yearning for Jewish education and community—is that they are volunteer driven. And that is an important notion to keep in mind as we move forward and consider what the salient elements in institutional building are for the future of the Jewish community. We know that passion will be a chief component in the success or failure of Jewish communal institutions and organizations. And while Limmud may take place only once a year, the volunteer groups that drive them form their own community around which they gather throughout the year—all without the benefit of a formal organizational structure and physical edifice.

What other kinds of things can we learn from the Limmud experience for the future?

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