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Limmud Disproves Rules About Jewish Education

December 21st, 2010 Comments off

Read about how Limmud is a revolution in Jewish education around the world.

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Jonathan Boyd is the Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based research unit and think tank specialising in contemporary Jewish affairs in Britain and Europe (see: www.jpr.org.uk). He is a graduate of University College London and the University of Nottingham in the UK, and a former Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Israel. A specialist in Jewish peoplehood, he is the author of “The Sovereign and the Situated Self: Jewish Identity and Community in the 21st Century” (Profile Books, 2003). He blogs here in a purely personal capacity.
http://jewish-peoplehood.blogspot.com/2010/12/limmud-exception-that-disproves-rules.html

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Limmud: The Exception That Disproves the Rules

There are rules in education. We all know them. Teachers should be trained, qualified and have proven expertise in their field. Students should be guided carefully through a coherent curriculum, and assessed to measure their progress. Content should be divided up logically into disciplines, and determined by recognized authorities. And the entire endeavour should be driven by a vision of an ideal end product – a strong and compelling portrait of the model graduate.

In most instances, Jewish education has assimilated these rules hook, line and sinker. In day schools, universities, adult education initiatives and even summer camps, they exist in force. All Jewish teachers should be qualified; all Jewish students should learn a coherent and organized Jewish studies curriculum; all Jewish texts should be interpreted by Jewish authorities. And all Jewish educational institutions should have a clear and compelling notion of “the educated Jew,” an idealized picture of the type of Jew their institution seeks to mould.

But there is one exception at least, in the world of Jewish adult education, that does things differently and may be rewriting the Jewish educational rule book. Limmud.

From its modest beginnings thirty years ago as a rather amateurish and hastily thrown together conference for a small group of Jewish educators in Britain, Limmud has blossomed into an international network of activity capturing Jewish hearts and minds in over fifty Jewish communities on five continents. Limmud now reaches an estimated 35,000 people every year, attracts some of the most acclaimed Jewish thinkers, artists and activists in the world, and appears to have hit on a unique Jewish educational formula that, somehow, just seems to work.

Viewed simply, a Limmud event is a festival of Jewish life and learning. It is organized almost exclusively by volunteers, it may take place over one day or several, it offers a rich multiplicity of sessions at any moment of any day, and it provides a fabulous opportunity for anybody attending to learn from anybody presenting. Yet this simple description offers little to explain what Limmud represents, and how it may be altering the Jewish world.

Limmud’s tagline – “Wherever you are going, Limmud will take you one step further along your Jewish journey” – is a remarkable statement in two connected respects. First, it instantly establishes an expectation of movement. For Limmud, standing still as a Jew is not an option. However you understand your Jewishness today, that understanding should be challenged and enriched on a continual basis. That principle is applied equally to young and old, as it is to the most and the least learned. Without ever saying this explicitly, one of Limmud’s messages is: No one alone knows the whole Truth. Truths can be found from multiple people in multiple places. Go seek them out.

Second, Limmud does not espouse a particular destination for “your Jewish journey.” No authority figure is telling you – implicitly or explicitly – what specific type of Jew you should become. Unlike most Jewish educational institutions which actively aspire for their students to become more observant, or intellectual, or liberal, or conservative, Limmud simply offers Jews a chance – on their own terms – to become more Jewish. In effect it says: You’re an adult. You know better than us what interests you and what you find meaningful. We trust you. So we’ll create a space within which you will find the most interesting and diverse buffet of Jewish experiences, and invite you to partake. Choose whatever you want. We know your plate won’t resemble anyone else’s. That’s fine. People have different needs and interests. Oh, and we’d love you to bring your own dish to the next buffet so that you can share part of yourself, as others have shared part of themselves this time.

Contrary to the argument of some of its critics, there is nothing parve or bland about this. Indeed, in articulating its mission in this way, Limmud is making a profoundly empowering statement about the future of Jewish life. It is saying: Jewish life is not determined by others. Jewish life is determined by us. Let’s work together, give of ourselves, and make it the way it is meant to be.

Expressed slightly differently, Limmud is offering Jews an opportunity to create and live within Jewish community as they believe Jewish community should be. It is a supremely democratic model of Jewish education: power rests with the community rather than with any singular authority. In a Limmud community, no one is formally defined as “teacher” or “student,” because everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn. No one is explicitly categorized as “Orthodox,” “Reform,” “Secular” or “Religious” because people are more complex than that and labels might create barriers that restrict the possibility of dialogue and free engagement. No formal curriculum or linear learning process is set, because adults should be free to determine their own learning, and trusted to seek meaning wherever they might find it. No one determines the singular correct meaning of any text, because everyone is free to interpret every text. And no one is held in particularly high regard because of the size of their financial donation, because everyone who gives something of themselves should be held in equally high regard.

These are challenging ideas. They threaten existing authority. They undermine power bases. They break down walls. And they re-write the Jewish educational rule book. Here’s to thirty more years of the same.

(Also published in The Jerusalem Report)

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Limmud: The Jewel in European Jewry’s crown

December 30th, 2009 Comments off

From the Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2009.  Another reason to register for Limmud Chicago!

Limmud:  The jewel in European Jewry’s crown

Picture the scene today. It is a cold, icy winter morning. It is the holiday season between Christmas and the new year when most of the inhabitants of the British isles are tucked away in their beds, with little intention of getting up before midday. Silence is the order of the day. But in one place, on a university campus on the outskirts of Warwick in the center of England, there is action. People are eating a quick breakfast in a university refectory and are scurrying off to lectures that begin at 8 a.m. and that will continue unabated until almost midnight.

And despite this early, cold, uninviting hour, most of the lecture halls are full with people who have decided to spend the Christmas week in a program of intense, voluntary study. There will be classes on almost every possible topic relating to Jewish culture, religion, history and literature, as well as discussions and lectures on anti-Semitism, Israel, liturgy, prayer – just think of a topic and it is there. There will also be films, evening events, concerts and, for those who wish, an entire weekend Shabbat program prior to the commencement of the main conference.

This is Limmud, an annual week of learning and study which, during the past 15 years, has become the jewel in the crown of European Jewry. Some 2,000-3,000 people register (at no small expense) for the entire week, leaving the comfort of their suburban homes in London and Manchester, to stay in the student dormitories and to devote themselves to an intensive period of self study. This year the demand was so great that the entire university accommodation was booked well in advance and they had to turn people away.

The audience is a diverse one – ranging from teenagers and students to pensioners, from beginners to rabbis, judges and professors – but there are no titles at Limmud. You attend as an individual and unless you are one of the people actually giving a lecture, you are no more or less important than the person who is sitting on the chair next to you in the auditorium or dining hall.

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