An abridged history of Limmud
1980 to 1983
The first Limmud Conference took place at Carmel College, organised by Alastair Falk, Michael May, Jonathan Benjamin and Clive Lawton, who had been inspired by a visit to the “CAJE” Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education of North America which had started four years earlier. The gathering of 80 people included Jonathan Sacks. It was aimed at building bridges between professional and non-professional educators and between those of differing religious commitments. Within a year, participation had nearly doubled and the first one-day Limmud (organised by Simon Kaplan) had taken place in Glasgow; and the third Limmud Conference (co-ordinated by Steve Miller) was the first to offer ‘Torah lishmah’ – the Study of Torah for its own sake.
1984 to 1990
Limmud Conference moved to Portsmouth Polytechnic and then Oxford, which was to be its home for nine years. Firsts included the attendance of scholars sent by Yad Vashem and Melitz. 1985 was the first Limmud Conference to offer Young Limmud, and to be attended by guests from Israel. Alastair Falk returned from a year in Israel to become Limmud’s first part-time Director. While Limmud continued to grow, its programme was primarily directed towards educators in the community. In 1990 Andrew Gilbert was elected as Limmud Chair (the first of seven years under his leadership).
1991 to 1995
Participant numbers continued to grow. Family education was launched and a Beit Midrash arrived thanks to Pardes. As Eastern Europe opened up, participants came through the Rich Foundation and the JDC from the Baltics, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and many other countries. The first ever Interfaith Colloquium, run by Jonathan Magonet, brought priests, nuns, imams and scholars of other religions to Limmud (1994). Limmud ulpan sprang up, together with a day Limmud in Leeds (1993). The last Limmud Conference in Oxford saw 26 tracks, 250 sessions and over 140 presenters. Limmud Conference’s first Mission Statement sought to distance itself from communal tensions between the Orthodox and progressive Jewish movements, and Hugo Gryn taught at Limmud Conference for the last time.
With 1000 people attending, Limmud Conference became Europe’s largest Jewish educational event, including almost 200 young adults through a bursary scheme supported by Jewish Continuity. Adin Steinsaltz, renowned translator of the Talmud, hosted a breakfast shiur for Limmud activists. The first Chavruta programme took Tzedaka as a theme. Hirsch Goodman, editor of the Jerusalem Report, wrote afterwards that ‘there should be a Limmud in every country where there are Jews.’
100 volunteers were now involved in running Limmud, as Limmud Conference moved to Manchester and incorporated Shabbat for the first time. The first edition of the Shabbat Handbook, ‘The Seventh Day’, was written in conjunction with the Union of Jewish Students and funded by the UJIA. Sessions included a panel debate amongst the Presidents of the five national synagogue movements. Clive Lawton was appointed as part-time Director of Limmud.
After 18 years in a volunteer’s spare room, Limmud finally rented office space. Working with the UJIA and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Limmud helped to launch the Florence Melton Adult Education Programme. Limmud Conference went to Nottingham and hosted Avrum Burg, then Speaker of the Knesset, along with 1499 others. These included a delegation of Israelis from the Galil (through UJIA’s Partnership 2000 programme) which led in 2002 to the creation of Limmud Galil. Thanks to Gideon Smith, the Limmud database was born other new arrivals included Rafi Zarum, sandwich lunches, Intensives, a licensed bar, and the Acoustic Café.
1999 to 2001
The first Limmud Family Camp took place, and a South London Limmud Day attracted 500 people. Limmud Oz took place in Sydney. The first Manchester Day Limmud stunned the North with its quality, with further Day Limmuds in Leeds and South London and Glasgow’s own Limmud Katan programme. The first Melton scholars graduated, and in the first half of 2001, Limmud launched its Beit Midrash with an inaugural Chavruta programme. Limmud employed its first full-time administrator, Helen Lyons. In November 2001 Limmud was honoured by the World Jewish Congress at a ceremony in Jerusalem, and received an award for services to Jewish education.
2002 to 2004
Essex, Glasgow, Thames Valley, South East London and Newcastle all ran their first Day Limmuds, while Bournemouth ran a third. Limmud went truly international with teams in Canada, Israel, The Netherlands and the USA all starting plans for satellite conferences. The first Limmud Live event took place at Jongleurs in Camden, London. Limmud Jerusalem, Limmud Galil, and a group in the Netherlands inspired by Limmud in Holland held their first events. 200 Limmudniks pitched their tents for the first Limmud Fest in Ellesmere, Shropshire. The Melton class grew to 120 pupils from its home in the London Jewish Cultural Centre. Limmud Live flew in performers from the USA and Israel to host a packed-out evening at the new London Arts Depot. Limmud Oz moved to Melbourne; Limmud Toronto brought the buzz to North America; and events in Israel, France (Limoud) and New York began.
2005 to 2007
Limmud Fest moved to Suffolk, and incorporated TikkunTrek, combining Jewish learning with cycling, hiking or kayaking. Day Limmuds took place in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Thames Valley and Scotland. The first Cambridge Day Limmud event took place and new teams formed in Hackney, Liverpool, and 12 new international communities, including Moscow, Cape Town, Lyon and Budapest, as Limmud’s first International Project Coordinator was appointed. ‘Taste Of Limmud’ – with thoughts from a diverse range of presenters on the weekly Torah portion – completed its first cycle, to more than 1,000 subscribers. As Limmud events around the country continued to grow, Limmud appointed its first full-time Executive Director, Raymond Simonson.
2008 to 2009
A bumper year saw Regional Day Limmuds as the Limmud activity with the most participants, with over 3,300 people taking part in events in Scotland, Wessex (Bournemouth), Liverpool, Leeds, South London, Hackney and Thames Valley. Limmud’s volunteer base grew to number over 700 volunteers from across the UK with events in Cambridge, Brighton and Hove, Newcastle, Leeds, and a long-awaited return to Manchester. Presenter Gregg Drinkwater of Colorado was quoted in the press describing Limmud Conference as: ‘The most vibrant, creative Jewish experience in the world’. 15 new communities joined the Limmud International family: Argentina, Ashkelon, Atlanta, Bulgaria, Chicago, Colorado, Durban, Hungary, Los Angeles, Minsk, Philadelphia, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Yalta, leaving Limmud’s footprint in 46 different communities
2010 to 2012
Hackney Mini-Limmud was a sell-out as part of the ‘Global Day of Jewish Learning’, Estimates suggested that more than 35,000 people around the world engaged in a Limmud experience as it spread to 60 Jewish communities across 5 continents. A new initiative Limmud L’Am conceived by Shoshana Bloom, helped those with learning disabilities to participate in and present at Limmud Conference and other Limmud. After 4 years as Limmud’s organisational Chair, Elliott Goldstein was succeeded by Carolyn Bogush. By 2012, one in four of the Conference Steering Group had been at the event as children. Steven M Cohen carried out a study on Limmud’s impact around the world. The title itself reflected how far Limmud has come – “Jewish learning communities on a global scale”. Raymond Simonson left his role after six years as Executive Director to become CEO of JW3, the new Jewish Community Centre for London, and was succeeded by Shelley Marsh.
2013 to 2014
Ephraim Mirvis became the first orthodox Chief Rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth to participate in Limmud Conference, joining Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharanksy and Michael Sherbourne, who had campaigned tirelessly for his release during the Soviet era. In a spirit of radical simplicity, Limmud’s summer event was reborn as Limmud in the Woods. Kevin Sefton assumed the role of organisational chair, leading a new board structure including Karen Radkowsky, its first trustee based outside the UK. Limmud volunteers were named by the Jewish Chronicle among the top ten most powerful people in the Jewish community. Limmud’s Training on Tour hit three continents and multiple languages – Berlin, Buenos Aires and Sydney. Limmud looked to the long term as Jonathan Walters led reviews into Limmud catering and finding a new site for Limmud Conference.
On New Year’s Eve Limmud Conference bade farewell to Warwick University. Limmud communities Arizona, Mar del Plata, FSU Australia, Tel Aviv, Chile, Essen and FSU Volga-Urals held their first events while in the UK Leeds celebrated their bneimitzvah event, with packed Limmud days also taking place in Manchester, Thames Valley, Scotland and Harrow. Johannesburg’s David Bilchitz the first non-British chair Limmud International, and Limmud volunteer and representative Richard Verber was elected the youngest ever Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies.
2016 to 2017
David Hoffman took over as organisational chair, and Eli Ovitz as Executive Director. Limmud International and Limmud FSU celebrated their 10th anniverary, as North American Limmuds combined to set up a regional hub, and the Chavruta Project celebrated its 20th anniversary. After 37 years, 2017 saw Limmud Conference become Limmud Festival. As over 2,500 participants flocked to a third year at Pendigo Lake, there were active Limmud teams in more than 80 communities around the world.