When I first heard about LimmudLA, I immediately became consumed by negative judgments. The minute my dad said something about classes, my brain started assuming the worst. Classes, school, learning! On the weekend? As a teenager, this was nothing I wanted to be doing.
But then I got to LimmudLA, a conference in Orange County last month with 700 Jews of all kinds, including about 35 teens. I made friends. I was having fun. I was definitely wrong.
Rebel. This is typically a negative term. During LimmudLA, however, it simply meant that you said and asked whatever was on your mind. This seemed to be the theme of the teens’ program. We had special classes dedicated to any question we had.
I have grown up in the Orthodox community of Los Angeles, where it’s not always easy to inquire about anything that’s on your mind. LimmudLA set aside time when we could do that.
But the classes seemed almost insignificant compared to all the other exhilarating fun. The concerts, in particular, were amazing.
I had already seen Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu perform once, but I never thought he could top it. He did. He set the tone for the rest of that night.
I was able to see two other acts. One was by a very loving and relaxed artist who started the night by throwing Hershey’s Kisses into the crowd. She, of course, won my approval right away.
The next act was a band of teenagers that I had met over the course of the weekend. Not only did they all have incredible personalities, they were astonishing on stage.
The truth was, I was only able to have fun when I let go of all my negativity. I was feeling particularly self-conscious that night before the show, and I didn’t feel like going down to the concert. But I did.
About halfway through the performance, I decided I wanted to have fun. I was at LimmudLA and I shouldn’t have to carry around my self-judgments. The dimly lit rooms didn’t hurt either. So, I grabbed a friend and danced. I let loose and chose not to care what anyone thought.
In the beginning of the concert, I was jealous of this girl who I saw dancing, having fun. She didn’t care what anyone thought. Now, I was jealous not because I wasn’t dancing, but because I wished I could dance like her.
Shocked at how amazing that night was, I didn’t think LimmudLA could get any better. After all, it was still a conference.
Without a doubt, the next night was even more energetic and free. The youth of LimmudLA decided a party was in order, so we made one. We had a very cool DJ, a cool vibe and a great group of people.
We were all in one of the conference rooms relaxing, playing Twister. As the music started playing, some people started dancing. Then, more people started dancing. Next thing I knew, it was 2 in the morning, and I felt like I was in an everlasting techno dance club.
You could do whatever you wanted to do, dance however you felt like dancing and scream whenever you wanted. The loud music took care of that one. I felt in a surreal state of blissful happiness. Every morsel of self-judgment that I felt the previous night was insignificant. I forgot it was ever there. I was free. I was me.
I didn’t want to leave. I had made friends and had experiences that I didn’t want to leave behind. I told myself there’s always next year — LimmudLA 2010. I can’t wait.
LimmudLA. I will never assume again.
Shanni Suissa is a 10th-grader at Tarbut V’Torah High School in Irvine.