Israeli reggae/rock, the New Testament taught by a Jewish Orthodox scholar, Reform social action, art, cooking, dance, yoga, technology, archaeology, literature and film — all this may sound unrelated, a little too something-for-everyone — but these all will be among the offerings at the upcoming LimmudLA taking place over President’s Day weekend in February. It’s all part of what makes the four-day conference so powerful, organizers say.
“There is a whole universe of people who have decided Judaism is X, and there is no better place to kind of get an eye-opener of what the wider potential is than at this conference,” said Caroline Kelly, chair of LimmudLA.
This will be Los Angeles’ fourth year hosting a Limmud conference, a Jewish learning and cultural initiative that began in the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago and in the last few decades has spread to 50 locations on six continents. Last year, 750 people attended LimmudLA at the Costa Mesa Hilton, where it will be held again in 2011.
The conference is planned and run almost entirely by volunteers, and all but a few presenters are drawn form the ranks of participants who pay their own registration to take part in nearly round-the-clock sessions — usually there are at least 10 going simultaneously.
This year’s program is still in the works, as participant-presenters continue to register, but some guests are already lined up.
LimmudLA is responding to calls for greater Reform participation with David Saperstein, head of Reform’s Religions Action Center in Washington. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University, is an Orthodox scholar who has described herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Rabbi Arthur Kurzweil — scholar, magician, genealogist and entertainer — represents Limmud’s eclecticism, as does Yavilah McCoy, an Orthodox, African American Jewish educator and founder of Ayecha, a nonprofit organization focusing on multi-dimensional Jewish identity.
Longtime Limmud favorite Clive Lawton will teach his eclectic Torah, and instructors from Israel’s Pardes Institute and Shalom Hartman Institute will bring scholarly weight.
The music scene — late-night concerts, jam sessions and small discussion groups — will be headlined by Israeli songwriter Nurit Hirsch and Aharit Hayamim, an Israeli band that has dominated the festival circuit in recent years with a funk/ethnic/reggae/rock sound that includes the shofar, the Irish flute and African drums. Five comedians are on the presenter lists so far, and Kelly says programming will stretch late into the night with films, poker tournaments, networking sessions, and music and dance.
LimmudLA’s teen population has tripled since the first conference, and teens at Jewish high schools in Los Angeles have been training throughout the year to lead sessions. For the first time this year, LimmudLA has hired a youth director to create a mini-conference for children.
The cost of the conference is $500 per adult until Dec. 31, and $600 thereafter. Children and teens are less, and scholarships from a $25,000 pool are available through Dec. 31. A limited number of two-day passes for Sunday and Monday are available, but there are no single-day passes.