From Russia’s Far East to Los Angeles; from the UK to Australia; Limmud has exploded across the
global Jewish landscape.
Now 30 years old, this hugely successful initiative in informal Jewish education shows no signs of age.
This summer alone brings events around the world, including Limmud Fest in the UK, Limmud in
Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, Buenos Aires and New Zealand along with Limmud FSU
programs in Jerusalem and Westhampton, New York.
Established in 1980 as a small conference by, and for, Jewish educators, Limmud has become, in the
words of Sir Jonathan Sacks, “British Jewry’s greatest export.”
But, what is Limmud? From the Hebrew, to learn, Limmud is a platform for engagement in informal
Jewish education, tailored to fit the needs of each individual community. It could be anything from a
one-day event in Philadelphia, to an extended Shabbaton program in Moscow, to a week-long
conference in the UK, to small-group text-learning programs taking place over Skype. All coming
together to learn – about our history and culture – and to engage with one another.
Limmud provides a thirst for knowledge that is difficult to quench. A desire to know and to become
acquainted is always in the air. Most impressively, despite the varied backgrounds, everyone listens -
and learns – from one another.
Exported first to Australia in 1999, Limmud has now spread to 54 separate locations on six continents,
directly impacting 40,000 individuals in the past year alone; bringing together religious and secular,
affiliated and not, traditional and alternative, to celebrate, create and to provide a catalyst for
individuals to further their own Jewish learning in an inclusive, respectful, atmosphere. It embraces
everyone who wants to come. In the words of Torah educator Esther Lapian, “It has become an
international movement that is effecting Jews all over the world.”
The lifeblood of Limmud is the grass roots efforts of volunteers creating their own, unique, events.
Everything Limmud does is designed and executed by talented and committed individuals in their own
local communities – from the smallest of tasks to long-term strategy. These volunteers are empowered
to not only direct, but to own the events they create. According to Elliot Goldstein, who recently
stepped down as Chair of Limmud, “Volunteers are the essence of Limmud. They are responsible for
creating the Jewish community that we want to be a part of, the Jewish community of our future. They
have created an organization famed throughout the Jewish world for its quality, its innovation and its
But Limmud is something in addition – most evidenced, so far, in the UK and the countries of the
former Soviet Union. For in both, Limmud has become much more than an event or two – Limmud has
become a community. Literally thousands of people have bought-in to the concept, the approach, and
the core values of what Limmud can, and does, bring to the table. As a result, Limmud has become a
training ground for the next generation of Jewish communal leadership. A place to engage all corners
of the Jewish world in new, exciting and collaborative efforts.
And here, by and large, Limmud has been one of the precious few. While many organizations pay lipservice
to a younger generation, occasionally listening but rarely delegating meaningful responsibility,
Limmud allows the individual to ‘run with the ball,’ regardless of their age.
Instead of allocating dwindling resources for questionable social media campaigns, Limmud brings
people together to directly engage and to connect – with each other and with the broader community.
Instead of endless conversation on what we all know needs to be done, Limmud is actually out there,
Instead of top-down, Limmud is very much bottom-up.
Is there criticism of Limmud? Sure. Like with every program, or organization, one can find nay-sayers.
Some call Limmud ‘Judaism lite’. But with programs such as individual text study, collaborative
weekly emails on the parsha and learning sessions with scholars including Rabbi Adin Even-Israel
Steinzaltz, one wonders what the critics are seeking. Others are out-spoken when the choice of
presenters does not fit their personal philosophy; or when mixed tefillah is permitted. Limmud isn’t
perfect – but as one participant told me, “People are learning here; that’s what Limmud is all about.”
Limmud has made a significant impact on a scale quite out of proportion to its size – both on
individuals and the broader Jewish community. A belief that it is ‘not about us – but about what is
happening.’ Limmud comes with a simple aim – to enable each participant to go one step further on
their own Jewish journey by offering a unique blend of formal and informal education, drawing on all
sections of the community.
They have succeeded well. Let’s hope the community, the funders and the organizational world, are
listening and learning.
Dan Brown is the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy.com, an independent Jerusalem based resource that
highlights news, resources and thought pieces on issues facing our Jewish philanthropic world in order
to create dialogue and advance the conversation.
Dan’s column, Mind the Gap, appears regularly in The Jerusalem Report. The above article is from the
issue dated August 16, 2010.