February 21, 2008
LimmudLA: Chance encounters, many choices
(Page 4 - Previous Page)Sunday, 7 p.m.
It is time for "All of Jewish History in One Hour," with David Solomon.
The largest of the meeting rooms is packed, and butcher-block paper stretches across every wall -- one millennium per wall. Solomon, an Australian who lives in Israel, holds the tip of his marker up against the first wall and runs -- really runs -- down it's length. He scratches 10 vertical spikes across the long line he's just drawn, and sets out to fill in the timeline for Judaism's first thousand years, starting with Abraham and getting roughly to David. His energy is exhausting, his knowledge and ability to present striking. He is more performance artist than lecturer as he runs around the room sharing details and stories. With each new millennium we swivel, face another wall, and he never stops talking -- really, really quickly.
Solomon finishes to a standing ovation, but the crowd lingers, surrounded by our entire history. My ancestors, I think, are each one tiny dot somewhere on those lines.
Suddenly the "chain of tradition" is no longer abstract. It is a hastily drawn scratch of permanent marker on yards and yards of white paper that surrounds a group of Jews in a hotel meeting room in Costa Mesa, in 2008.
Sunday, 9 p.m.
Singer Debbie Friedman, a Limmud regular around the world, taps straight into the energy as soon as she starts her concert. From her soulful "Mi Sheberach" to the raucous dancing of "Miriam's Song," she has kids and adults moved and moving. For anyone who has been to a Debbie Friedman concert, that is usually how it goes. But for much of Limmud -- heavy on the Modern Orthodox participants, disturbingly light on the Reform -- Debbie Friedman is brand new.
Next up is the band Moshav, and their reggae/rock/folk music in English/Hebrew/Arabic brings the whole crowd to their feet.
Halfway through, the band calls up a man named Sagi Salomon (right in photo) and his girlfriend, Rachel Bello (left). Sagi takes the mike and addresses Rachel, saying she was the one who made Judaism an important part of his life, which is why he's going to do what he's about to do at LimmudLA. He then gets down on his knee and asks her to marry him, handing her a silver band engraved with the Hebrew words, "I betroth you to me forever" -- a purchase he made just that day at the LimmudLA Shuk vendors' fair. She shouts "Yes, Yes, Yes," into the microphone, the Moshav Band strikes up "Siman Tov U'Mazel Tov," and Rachel and Sagi are lifted up on chairs, floating above the crowd.
Monday, 12:40 a.m.
I'm exhausted, but I don't want to sleep, because I'm afraid I'll miss something.
I'm too tired for the comedy show or any of the late-night film screenings. In the LimmudLA Cafe, a table of young Russians are singing folksongs. At the bar, there is a big game of Taboo going on, and several tables seem to keep breaking into song. Downstairs outside the ballroom, an impromptu Israeli disco has broken out near the folk-dancing sound equipment.
But I go to our room, knowing that in the morning I have the impossible task of writing this, to communicate just how energizing this has been.
Monday, 9 a.m.
There are more sessions and performances this morning, but things are winding down. I am sitting in the LimmudLA Cafe with my laptop.
The organizers have told me Limmud is meant to be a year-round endeavor that transforms the community. I don't know yet how that will happen.
What I do know is that 600 Jews are going back to their communities pumped up about our culture, our traditions and our bonds. More of us know more about each other, more of us are part of something bigger. So when another ridiculously hard-working cadre of volunteers brings us LimmudLA 2009, my guess is there will be 1,000 people, maybe more.
I know I'm going to be back.
And trust me, I've got connections. Lots and lots of connections.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller talks with another participant. Photos by Mitchell Griver.