Learners aplenty to come together at Limmud 2015

When more than 300 people converge on Sonoma State University for Limmud Bay Area 2015, the result will be a temporary Jewish community that is one part global and one part uniquely Northern California.

“Jerusalem of the People” panelists Daphna Dean

The bevy of more than 100 offerings for the three-day event, which begins the afternoon of June 26, is an “embarrassment of richness,” according to Elina Kaplan, event co-chair.

“I can’t imagine somebody coming and not being able to find anything,” she added.

Attendees will be able to listen to musician Sam Glaser draw connections between basic musical concepts and the Hebrew language in a class titled “Aleph Bet Meets Do Re Mi”; then take a workshop led by a doctor about how prayer complements traditional medicine; or hear about the changing face of Jewish newspapers from J. editor Sue Fishkoff; plus take in a session on Jewish mindfulness or delve into the art of klezmer.

And all of that will occur before Shabbat. Two more days of classes, workshops, panels and discussions will follow.

Ofer Hadad

In its fourth year in Northern California — and second at Sonoma State following two years at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove — Limmud began in the United Kingdom in 1980 and has spread to 70 countries with the aim of nurturing Jewish learning.

“Limmud intends to reach out and enable connection among all the stuff that’s happening outside the institutional lines,” said Estee Solomon Gray, a Limmud Bay Area organizer. “Limmud means Jewish learning, and we’re taking the definition and conversation of what that means to the next level.”

One of the marquee offerings will be a Sunday morning panel titled “Jerusalem of the People,” during which five young Israelis will examine how Jerusalem is a unique (and often fractious) mix of secular and religious Jews, and how it has evolved into an environment of social activism based on Jewish values.

Hanan Rubin

The panelists are billed as “young pioneers who are leading a social and cultural renaissance in Jerusalem.” They include Daphna Dean, the bureau chief for the Jerusalem mayor; Ofer Hadad, a West Bank correspondent and anchor on Israel’s Channel 2; Hanan Rubin, a city councilman and one of the founders of the Wake Up Jerusalem party; and Menachem Bombach, father of five and the director of the haredi campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem represents, in terms of demography, the future of Israel, where the hegemony of secular Jews [i.e. the early Zionists] is ending,” said panel moderator Elisheva Mazya, the CEO of a nonprofit that is working to make Jerusalem a thriving and pluralistic city, in part by keeping its educated young adults from leaving.

Within a decade or two, Mazya said, there will be four tribes that make up Jerusalem: secular, national religious (Modern Orthodox), ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. All will need to coexist.

Menachem Bombach

“We acknowledge this diversity in Jerusalem as a fascinating thing, as an opportunity, and not just as a challenge or barrier,” Mazya said.

The panel is being presented by Kolot, a 20-year-old pluralistic education program based in Jerusalem. Coming from a broad spectrum of Israeli society, Kolot participants — such as the panelists — seek to establish links between Jewish text, the headlines of the day and a far-reaching vision for the Jewish people.

Thus, the panel fits well with what Limmud sets out to do. Said Solomon Gray: “To be able to engage directly with these figures, who are so powerful both in their facility to inspire and their impact, is fitting.”

New to this year’s lineup is Shabbat incorporated into the program. From yoga to chanting to hiking to traditional services, organizers are presenting a wide range of Shabbat experiences in the hope that participants will explore new ways of observing.

Elisheva Mazya

“The overall effort,” Kaplan said, “is to be as inclusive as humanly possible and to allow people to learn from each other and with each other.”

An eruv will be erected at Sonoma State to comply with Orthodox standards, she said.

Because of the Shabbat component, this year’s Limmud will be capped at 350 participants, including the presenters and about 50 children. That’s 70 fewer than the attendance at last year’s gathering; Kaplan said next year the hope is to expand participation once more.

Solomon Gray likened Limmud to Burning Man, in that those who attend come with a shared set of principles and an expectation of forging community. And because it’s completely run by volunteers and presenters are not paid, it creates a shared, egalitarian space.

“It’s more productive to think of Jews not as people of the book but as people of the link,” she said. “We are all creators of linked learning experiences, and beginning to understand ourselves as the people of the link. It’s Jewish in its essence, and a signature of the Bay Area interpretation.”


Limmud Bay Area 2015
, June 26-28 at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park. Limited tickets remain; lodging is sold out. For details and full schedule, visit www.limudbayarea.org.

Shoshana Hebshi
Shoshana Hebshi

Shoshana Hebshi is a freelance writer and former J. copy editor living in the North Bay.