As Havdallah winds down and a few minutes lapse before dinner, the LimmudLA conference contains the same energy as previous years, but with perhaps more diversity within the ranks and more intensity in the classrooms.
Two years ago, when I was last here for the first LimmudLA, my first experience of the weekend-long Jewish learning experience, I found myself running from Torah study to marketing study group to comedy hours. And at that time, the largest number of participants in the all-volunteer experience were modern Orthodox; this time that group remains well represented, but there are more Conservative, Reform, secular and alternative types. More talk of Tikkun Olam (healing the world and social justice), of equality for women (a session on the Agunah, for example) and much talk of Israel, but from new angles.
I have been to four different sessions on Israel, Zionism, Plurality, and all boiled down to one theme – if Israel doesn’t confront the religious unrest among Jews, to create a more pluralistic approach to Judaism, the country could become deeply compromised economically as well as ethically. The religious Right has a stronghold on the politics of the state that seems disproportionate with their numbers. I am sorting through the words I heard all day, Shabbat, when I couldn’t take notes, but tried hard to remember.
I will write more about this, but I’m left with the question of why there’s so much talk of this domestic issue now, when I haven’t heard it so much before.
And the answer I got from Dr. Ariel Picard, director of the Center for Education at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem was quite encouraging: Israel is maturing, and it’s time to look inward. The issue of safety and strength may not be settled, but in many quarters, Israelis are feeling more secure.
The issue of respect for religious differences may be the great civil rights fight of Israel’s future. And we’re hearing a lot about that here at LimmudLA. In Costa Mesa.