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Four Questions for Limmud FSU Organizers

by Daniel T. Allen

Although we were able to rest and reconnect with friends at this year’s Limmud FSU organizing committee retreat, we also made real progress towards the development of our next event. Organizing a Limmud is a tremendous team effort and, for those on the organizing committee, it’s crucial that each year is bigger and better than the last.

So this retreat weekend, which has now become an annual tradition, is the first step towards a successful conference. We spent a lot of time brainstorming as a group, sharing ideas and outlining a plan of action for the next several months.

Based on our experiences, we’ve come up with a list of questions that all Limmud FSU organizers need to ask themselves at the beginning of a new event cycle.

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Yes, it may be too early for a Passover analogy, but bear with us on the four questions shtick…

1) How is this Limmud different from all other Limmuds?

 In a place like New York, where there’s no lack of Jewish events each year, it’s crucial for Limmud FSU to stand out. Therefore, we spent a lot of time talking about what makes our conference unique.

It’s an ongoing conversation, but we like to think that it’s a combination of intellectual curiosity and creativity that makes our Limmud FSU special. There’s also an excitement that our attendees feel about exploring and defining their Jewish identity together.

Also, we pick a theme, which helps steer the programming and makes each year a little different from the last. Last year was “Innovation” and past Limmuds have honored great Jewish minds like Albert Einstein and Shalom Aleichem. 

2) Who were the “fifth sons and daughters”?

On Passover night, we read about the four sons: the wise son, the simpleton, the wicked son and the son who does not know how to ask.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us that there is a fifth child, the one who is not present at the seder table.

Limmud FSU organizers need to spend a lot of time talking about the unengaged members of the Russian-speaking community. Why haven’t they heard about Limmud FSU? How can we make sure they attend the next conference? 

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3) At other Limmuds presenters present once, but should they present twice?

For several years now, a handful of repeat presenters have been the real crowd-pleasers.

While it’s important to line up popular presenters, it’s also important to refresh the roster for each conference.

It’s important for Limmud organizers need to strike a balance between tried-and-true favorites and new speakers that will give participants a reason to return year after year. 

4) At all other conferences we listen to all kinds of lectures, but at this Limmud only those related to Jewish life.

Another point of balance is how to create a program that balances the particulars of the Jewish world with a wide range of interesting areas like art, science, history and politics.

For example, last year’s conference featured a presentation about thinking innovatively from Eli Itin, the innovation evangelist for Amdocs Israel. We also saw Rabbi Shmuley Boteach debate investor and philanthropist Feliks Frenkel about the existence of God.

How can we define appropriate topics for a Russian Jewish conference? Which topics are off-limits?

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Well, that’s the exciting part of organizing a Limmud!