Warm, diverse gathering at fourth Limmud Bay Area

More than 300 Jews from across Northern California gathered for this year’s Limmud Bay Area, a three-day event in June that  drew rave reviews, according to one of the organizers.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” said co-chair Liki Abrams.  “It was warm, different, celebratory. People come to Limmud to discover the [diversity of the] Jewish world as much as to discover themselves. It’s not just a weekend away. People are looking for answers.”

The event was held June 26-28 at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, its second year at the site after two years at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, and registration was capped at 300 adults and 50 children.

After three years of scheduling the program to avoid conflicting with the Sabbath, this year’s Limmud Bay Area started on a Friday afternoon, and organizers consulted with rabbis and Jewish educators to help create a pluralistic Shabbat environment.

They put up an eruv, or religious boundary, hired students to run the elevators for Orthodox participants and organized multiple Shabbat services. Some Saturday sessions involved electricity, but others did not.

Organizers said they found the rewards worth the added work, which co-chair Elina Kaplan illustrated by describing the Havdallah service on June 27.

“I looked behind me and saw a sea of white [clothing], punctuated by black kippot, knitted kippot, baseball caps and bare heads,” she said. “Everyone had their arms around each other, and we were all singing the same tune. In that moment, it was clear that every bit of effort that went into planning the weekend was worth it.”

Another new element this year was teen programming alongside the 100 or so adult classes, workshops and panels. A dozen teens participated.

Not affiliated with any strand of Judaism, Limmud aims to be a dynamic, pluralistic gathering of Jewish learning. Its first conference was held in Great Britain in 1980, and it has since spread to 70 locations worldwide.

Limmud Bay Area organizers have made no official decision about next year’s gathering, but they said they hope to return to Sonoma State in June and, once again, incorporate Shabbat.

Sara Weissman
Sara Weissman

Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and a former J. intern who graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She can be reached at editor@newvoices.org.