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LimmudLA: Chance encounters, many choices

by Julie G Fax

February 21, 2008 | 5:00 pm

A group of women break into dance in a hotel hallway. Photo by Mitchell Griver

A group of women break into dance in a hotel hallway. Photo by Mitchell Griver

LimmudLA - By the Numbers

Participants:* 634
Sponsors: 14
Presenters 133
Sessions: 262
Films: 21
Artists: 23
On-site volunteers: 227
Steering committee: 14
Chairs: 2
Executive director: 1
*Participants for the entire conference. An additional 16 joined for Sunday only and an additional 32 participated as vendors in the Shuk on Sunday.

Cost of LimmudLA: Still being calculated. The fee of $450 per adult covered only part of the actual cost, while Limmud subsidized the rest. Significant scholarships were awarded. The Jewish Community Foundation provided the largest grant at $250,000, paid out over three years.

Breakdown by denomination:
Conservadox 56
Conservative 144
Chasidic 11
Humanist 4
Just Jewish 32
Modern Orthodox 150
Orthodox 30
Post-Denominational 27
Reconstructionist 5
Reform 68
Renewal 4
Secular 9
Traditional 14
Unaffiliated 14
Prefer not to answer 21

Breakdown by age (range, 0-87):
0-2 28
3-12 68
13-17 9
18-34 163
35-50 163
51-64 135
65+ 25

Breakdown by geography:
Within CA
Conejo Valley 5
Los Angeles Area 412
San Gabriel Valley Area 14
San Fernando Valley 79
Ventura County 7
Northern California 8
Orange County 20
Long Beach 7
South Bay 6
San Diego 8
Santa Barbara 1

Other states:
Colorado 1
Florida 3
Georgia 1
Illinois 3
Massachusetts 4
North Carolina 1
New Jersey 4
New York 22
Ohio 1
Pennsylvania 4
Texas 1
Virginia 1
Washington 1

Other countries:
Canada 6
Israel 7
United Kingdom 9

Friday 4:51 p.m.

We have 27 minutes until Shabbat, and we need to check in to the Costa Mesa Hilton, register at the LimmudLA desk, unpack and get three children and two adults showered and into our Friday finest before candle lighting. All this while my husband, Alex, and I are still shaking off the tension of three hours -- three hours -- on the 405. The hotel lobby is chaotic, but it's an excited kind of mania, because no one here really knows what to expect from LimmudLA. Yet we're all aware that we're about to become part of something momentous: Southern California's initiation into this potentially transformative Jewish festival/Shabbaton/retreat.

More than 100 volunteers and one paid professional worked insanely long hours over the past two years to bring together more than 600 Jews from every denomination, age group and area of Southern California for 262 study sessions, 21 films, two concerts, a comedy show, an off-Broadway play and countless hours of connecting.

Over the past few years, Limmud has spread from its original location in England, where it began 27 years ago, to 30 communities around the world -- Istanbul, Johannesburg, Basel, Berlin, Sydney, New York -- brought to life by an organically grown volunteer army in each location.

So two years after conference co-chairs, attorney Shep Rosenman and chronic community activist Linda Fife, dreamed of bringing Limmud to Los Angeles, here we are, arriving, chaos and all, for day one.

5:25 p.m.

I make the candle-lighting window, but the 405 hasn't yet worn off, and the schedule is 93 pages long, so I'm feeling overwhelmed. I try to figure out which services to go to. Liberal Egalitarian with Debbie Friedman, Jewish folk singer extraordinaire? Traditional Chasidic? Traditional Egalitarian? I end up bopping around between them and don't get much out of any of them.

Dinner is raucous, and when Rosenman stands on a chair to welcome everyone to the first annual LimmudLA, the ballroom erupts into cheers.

He offers advice that would have served me well for services: Limmud is about choices. Own your choices.

But I still haven't learned my lesson as, after dinner, I slip out of "Feminophobia in Religion" after just a few minutes and sneak into a back row of "Guerilla Girls of the Talmud," which sounded like it would have been really great if I had heard the whole thing.

There are more sessions scheduled, but Alex and I head into LimmudLA Cafe, stocked with snacks and drinks. In one corner, three tables are pushed together, and people are singing Shabbat songs, telling stories, sharing some schnapps. Most of us are schmoozing. As I head off to bed around midnight -- while the place is still going strong -- I think about choices. Tomorrow, no more sampling, I decide. Tomorrow I commit.

Saturday, 9 a.m.

While I usually go to an Orthodox shul on Shabbat morning, today I'm going secular. Limmud, after all, is about stepping out of your comfort zone.

I head into a session about secular spirituality -- Judaism without a supernatural God -- headed by Mitchell Silver, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and head of the Boston Workmen's Circle, a Yiddish secularist society.

Not the venue where I would expect to have my most spiritual moment in a long time.

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