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The Limmud experience

by: Cara Wides - Last updated: 2006-01-09



The snow might have been falling mercilessly, but spirits were constantly rising for the participants of the 2005 Limmud conference in Nottingham over the winter holiday period at the end of December.

Not only was celebrating Chanukah a key feature of the conference - with doughnuts in plentiful supply - there were around 1000 lectures, discussions, performances and workshops on offer.

This was my first year, and on arrival I was presented with a thick guide listing events. Flicking to the back of this tome revealed profiles of the speakers. And what a treasure trove - journalists, including the Jewish Chronicle's Nathan Jeffay, and The Washington Post's Warren Bass, radio presenters such as Norman Lebrecht, and educators like Helena Miller, Director of Education and Professional Development at the Leo Baeck College,  and Judy Thwaites, Kesher Consultant (involved with the teaching of Judaism  to non-Jews of all ages).

One of the famous names was historian Deborah Lipstadt, an expert on the Holocaust. She talked about her victory in 2000 in a British court over the  Holocaust denier David Irving, explaining its significance.

There was a big turnout for the familiar BBC TV face Lord Robert Winston, who spoke about the clash of religion and science, and about spirituality. He used his specialist knowledge on embryology, genetics and reproduction to examine whether human spirituality is genetically determined or a supernatural gift.

Limmud didn't just focus on the Jewish world, there was a good range of events looking at interfaith issues. A panel made up of Imam Shahid Hussain,  Interfaith Adviser to the Central London Mosque, Liberal Judaism's Chief Executive Rabbi Danny Rich, British born and educated Imam Ibrahim Mogra, and Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg answered questions on pertinent topics such as peace, holy war, and the attitude of young Muslims and Jews.

Christianity was brought into this debate, with a session about the Three Faiths Forum, which encourages people of the trio of Abrahamic monotheistic religions to meet and share common experiences. This talk was gave a lot of insight into life in modern Britain, as one of the speakers was John Battle, the Prime Minister's Envoy for Faith Communities.

If you wanted an escape from all the heavy stuff, there were plenty of workshops involving storytelling, art, drama, and dancing. When you fancied just switching off for a few hours, the film-screenings were ideal.

Anyone who is unhappy that they have to wait until winter 2006 for the next conference, take heart - there are day/weekend Limmuds throughout the year. The same intellectual and creative stimulation, but without the frozen feet - I can't wait!

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