Impressions of Limmud South Africa 2008

by Maskil on September 7, 2008

It’s almost a week since Limmud SA’s 2008 all-day session on Sunday, 31 August. I don’t think I’ve digested the whole experience yet, but I just wanted to capture some comments and impressions before they dissipate in the heat of other priorities.

I haven’t seen any official statistics yet, but the event was well attended; I would venture to say very well attended. I’m guessing that 2007’s attendance figures (as well as the estimates for 2008) were exceeded by a comfortable margin. There was also a “vibe”, a “buzz”, something that wouldn’t show up in the numbers.

In a previous post, I discussed the SA Orthodox rabbinate’s decision to boycott Limmud. I experienced Limmud as a festival, a celebration of Jewish culture and learning, exploration and discovery. Quite frankly, I can’t see how they could have added value, while their disapproving presence would have just soured the event for many. I look forward to their absence from next year’s event as well. (The boycott was the subject of one of the sessions, but quite frankly I wasn’t that interested.)

The standard of the sessions was exceptionally high. I only attended one lecture that disappointed somewhat (no names, no pack drill). I came away with a whole lot of new insights, like Gershom Gorenberg’s observation about the “division of duties” between the observant and the secular, with the former attending to ritual while the latter have adopted social justice as their “observance”. Needless to say, I believe the latter is the authentic Jewish way…

Now we just need some sort of “virtual presence” mode, so we can attend all the sessions, instead of having to choose between them. (That’s a joke.)

There was also a marvelous full-day track for kids. Unfortunately we’d already made other arrangements for our daughter, because I know the activities would have been right up her street. We’ll know for next time.

Talking about next time, reminder to self: take along a backpack or day pack to hold all the usual conference stuff, and still have both hands free (when exploring the shuq, for instance).

The event was run entirely by volunteers and was, to my mind, extremely well organized. I have no criticisms to make; just a couple of suggestions for the future that I hope to pass onto them for next year:

The ecological footprint of the event was probably relatively small. One thing I did notice, though (at both the refreshment stations and the cafeteria), was “genuine” garbage, leftover food and the plastic crockery/cutlery disappearing into the same garbage bags. If there was any intention of recycling, this would obviously make it a whole lot more difficult and unpleasant. I would suggest setting up (assisted?) stations where delegates can scrape leftovers into one receptacle and drop recyclables into another.

The final programme distributed on registration included times, speakers, subjects, rooms, etc., but just not the “track”, e.g. Art & Culture, Spirituality, Torah. This was only included in the Conference 2008 Handbook. Please could we have the track on the programme as well? Perhaps also include a version or release number on the programme, so delegates can ensure they’re referring to the latest.

One of the spinoffs of Limmud for me is that I’ve resolved to attend at least two Jewish cultural or educational events each month. They’re out there, usually free, usually of a high standard. You just have to make the effort to attend.

Kol Hakavod to everyone involved in either organizing or sponsoring this event. May it go from strength to strength in South Africa. We really need the break from the drabness, dourness and sameness that is increasingly characterizing Jewish society here.

p.s. I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’m imagining it, but this time I took careful note: Jews will stop anywhere, anytime and have a conversation! On the stairs, in a doorway, in the middle of passage, you name it. Fortunately we all managed to get to our destinations eventually…

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