Jewish Journal

My First Limmud Experience

by Susan Esther Barnes

July 16, 2014 | 1:30 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

The existence of Limmud first came to my attention a couple of years ago. It started, as I understand it, in the UK, and has been spreading ever since. The idea is that a bunch of volunteers gets together to create a conference on Jewish learning, while various people volunteer to teach. The presenters are participants, and, in many cases, vice versa.

This year the Limmud Bay Area conference was happening about a half hour’s drive from where I live, so how could I not go? Even better, I was accepted as a presenter on the topic of Jewish Practices Regarding Death and Dying. In addition, I signed up as a volunteer greeter during the first day registration process.

I can’t say the atmosphere was as warm and welcoming as the Kavod v’Nichum annual conference, but considering there were so many people there from so many different backgrounds, they did a pretty good job. Plus, they had one of the most useful and informational program guide booklets I’ve seen in a while.

The theme of the event, as explained in the plenary session, was based on a lovely teaching by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner in his book, “Honey from the Rock.” It starts, “Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,” and goes on to talk about how the pieces fit together. Each of us was given a puzzle piece, and asked to bring it to a table by the registration area, to help complete the puzzle.

One of the most intriguing programs in which I participated was called, “Casual Conversations: from Selfie to Groupie.” Participants were asked to think about their Jewish identity and to write descriptive words of it on three small white boards taped to a background photo of a beach. Then the participants were photographed in front of what they had written. This program is taking place at several different Jewish venues, and the plan is to publish selected photos in a full color coffee table book, scheduled to be released next year.

I attended a number of excellent sessions, including “The Bad Jew Portal: An Outsider’s Approach to Torah and Tradition” by Irwin Keller of Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati, a class about Hippocrates and Maimonides by Dr. Tricia Hellman Gibbs, and “The Basic Nuts and Bolts of Media Bias” by Gary Kenzer of Honest Reporting. Not to mention the inspirational concert by Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson.

My session about Jewish Death and Dying went quite well. I told participants a little bit about myself and my experience in the subject area, then asked them to tell me their fears and concerns about it, as well as their questions. I wrote down all of the questions on chart paper at the front of the room, then we proceeded to answer and discuss the questions.

I’m afraid we didn’t have time to get through all of them, but we did cover most of them. I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and quality of the questions and the participants. I hope to be able to do this kind of session again in the future, and I look forward to attending Limmud again next year.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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