people sit smiling in a crowd as they take in a learning session
Listening to a session at Limmud Bay Area, June 2015 at Sonoma State University (Courtesy/Limmud Bay Area)

Learning fest Limmud Bay Area is trying out a new model this year

There’s no lack of Jewish learning events in the Bay Area — that’s one of our community’s many strengths. But Limmud stands apart for its size, diversity of participants and presenters, and most of all, its residential aspect: Several hundred people of all ages spend the weekend together to learn, teach and share ideas.

That’s how Limmud Bay Area operated for five years, first in Pacific Grove and most recently at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. This time around, however, they’re doing it differently — instead of a full weekend in one spot, organizers have put together a one-day “Taste of Limmud” on June 25 offering Jewish learning workshops at three locations: Berkeley for breakfast, San Francisco for lunch and Palo Alto for dinner.

“This has never been done before,” said Mila Wichter, founder and president of Limmud Bay Area. “You can buy an all-day ticket and run from place to place, although you’ll miss some sessions because of the overlap. But that’s Limmud — you’ll always miss something!”

Wichter is simply expressing the reality of the typical Limmud schedule, which can offer up to a dozen different sessions to choose from at any one time. This month’s Taste will make it easier, with just two options at a time, but even so, the range of topics is wide — Jewish text, technology, Israel, history, LGBT inclusion, campus anti-Semitism, art and dance, taxes, philanthropy, prayer and more.

Limmud is a global grassroots Jewish learning phenomenon, originating 37 years ago in England and now held in more than 80 cities around the world. Driven almost entirely by volunteer labor, including presenters, who typically are not paid and range from world experts in their field to amateurs presenting a topic they happen to love, Limmud attracts a wide range of people, including families, to their pop-up learning-and-living communities.

After five straight years of weekend-long gatherings, Limmud Bay Area organizers decided to take this year off as they restructure the event for June 2018. Hence Taste of Limmud, produced in concert with Kevah, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that facilitates adult study circles in Jewish text and values. Nine of the presenters at Taste are local teachers and rabbis, while another nine are Kevah teaching fellows, Jewish educators who are receiving advanced training in adult Jewish learning.

Taking place on the same day as San Francisco’s Pride parade, one of Taste’s focuses will be diversity and inclusion. Kevah Fellow Rachel Cohn, a rabbinical student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, will examine how the rabbinic texts view various types of differences and disabilities; and local attorney Mark Fickes will look at how Jewish and U.S. legal thought approach LGBT equality.

Other intriguing sessions by Kevah Fellows include Yiddish teacher and Jewish educator Max Edwards, who will teach a session on silence in the biblical narrative; “Head and Shoulder, Knees and Toes: Serving God with our Whole Bodies,” by rabbinical student Eliyahu Freedman; and a look at how evolving technology is influencing our belief in God by rabbinical student Tobias Divack Moss.

One big change coming to Limmud Bay Area is that, starting next year, it will be offered to Jewish organizations as a platform for holding their own gatherings. For example, Wichter explained, if a synagogue wants to hold a retreat, instead of getting bogged down in the logistics of finding a place to hold it and arranging for kosher food, the shul can hold its event at Limmud, where the planning is all taken care of.

“They will have their own space, and they can benefit from our full programming,” Wichter said. “This is something we have built and we can now offer to the community.”

Limmud Bay Area, like every Limmud, has depended so far on a core group of volunteers. Now organizers actively are looking for more, to expand the number of people who, in the words of Wichter, “have a stake and a say in how it happens.”

That will, she added, “make the program even more varied and rich.”

Limmud Bay Area, Sunday, June 25. In Berkeley from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Kevah, 2095 Rose St., Suite 202; in San Francisco from 12 to 4 p.m. at Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St.; in Palo Alto from 4 to 8 p.m. at Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way. Register at limmudbayarea.org by June 21.

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Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J. She can be reached at sue@jweekly.com.