The fully online lineup features David Lammy, a cocktail tutorial and pre-Shabbat challah-making
Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle, 23 December 2021
Despite being entirely online for a second year in a row, this year’s Limmud Festival holds many of the typical treats: cocktail-making, lots of opportunities for networking and a big-hitting figure from the Labour Party.
But while there will be plenty of current affairs sessions at the five-day gathering, which begins on Friday with pre-Shabbat challah-making, there is little on the programme about antisemitism in the Labour Party and on the left.
“It seemed to be a less popular choice this year,” said one of the leaders of the programme team, Harry Lampert, who first came to Limmud as a child of five or six and will be contributing a cocktail-making session, including Tequila Shacharit, this time.
This year’s major political guest is Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy, who follows in the footsteps of other Labour names who have addressed the annual event including leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry.
At the time of writing, an in-person children’s and family programme had been scheduled in a London venue. But whereas organisers had originally planned a hybrid event for the main festival, a couple of months later they presciently decided it would be safer to remain wholly online for a second year.
“I know someone from my synagogue whose first Limmud experience was last year,” Mr Lampert said. “She was a bit unsure what it would be like, being an online event. She ended up going to a session at every single available slot. She has signed up again this year. It’s nice to know that even moving online we haven’t lost our touch.”
Although it is impossible to replicate the socialising of a physical festival, Limmud hopes the use of a new online platform, Hopin, will aid interaction between participants.
“A huge amount of work has gone into building something that is more immersive than Zoom,” said Limmud deputy director Jon Freedman, “because we really want to make it easy for participants to speak to one another when they are not in a session — to discuss the session they have just been to… or to network and generate ideas about projects they want to work on.”
A networking facility will allow Limmud-goers to strike up a three-minute conversation with another participant at random between sessions, just as if they had started chatting while in a coffee queue.
The online format has helped in recruiting presenters from abroad. “I am very keen for this year’s festival to feel international,” said festival chairman Ben Combe. “We always aim for that but obviously there are logistical challenges – flying people in. It is so much logistically easier than it would be when you are all in-person.”
The veteran New York Orthodox politician Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, will be one of the speakers from overseas, as will Joel Carmel, a Londoner who made aliyah and now belongs to the radical soldiers’ group opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Breaking the Silence.
Three hours of Monday’s progamme will have a special focus on Europe with sessions ranging from Yiddish in Sweden, where it is recognised as one of five official minority languages, to opening a new Jewish school in Bulgaria during the pandemic.
“One aim is to use the ease of online to take people around the continent and dip in and out of Jewish life and culture outside of their own bubble,” Mr Freedman said.
Over the years, Limmud has been a significant platform for extending the range of women’s voices and this year is no exception. Tamar Kamionkowski, who teaches at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, offers a feminist reading of Leviticus, while Dana Pulver has set the rabbis to music in “talmudic ballads”.
The programme offers “as much variety on different topics as you’d expect to see,” Mr Freedman said. The 300 or so presenters range from the veteran campaigner for refugee children, Lord Dubs, to master milliner David Shilling, whose session is entitled “The Mad Hatter”.
Amid the history, Bible and philosophy classes, there will be comedy and music, from Jerusalem’s Niggun Ensemble pre-Shabbat to Grammy award-winner Joanie Leeds, who will give a concluding performance on Tuesday night.