There is a great deal of talk about Jewish Peoplehood these days, some of it abstract, some of it philosophical. But one of the most practical and hopeful examples of Jewish Peoplehood in action today is Limmud, a loose network of grassroots, non-denominational, multi-generational and volunteer-driven, informal Jewish learning experiences that has become one of the most compelling success stories in Jewish life. And the fact that it is inclusive, open to a wide variety of opinions, and often run by young volunteers, makes it particularly noteworthy at a time when highly established Jewish organizations are struggling.
Started in 1980 in England for Jewish educators, Limmud has now reached lay people in more than 50 communities around the world, described as “a new sociological phenomenon” in that its participants are as enthusiastic about the product – from cooking to politics, and culture to Talmud — as they are diverse in their Jewish backgrounds.
This past weekend, Limmud FSU, which caters primarily to young Russian-speakers, be they in Moscow, Tel Aviv or New York, drew more than 800 people to its day-long program in West Hampton, N.Y., featuring 60 different sessions and more than 100 panelists.
The hit of the day was American astronaut Garrett Reisman of New Jersey, the first Jewish astronaut to travel to the International Space Station, who impressed the crowd by delivering his talk in Russian before showing a film about his recently completed mission on the shuttle Atlantis.
Matthew Bronfman, who chairs Limmud FSU’s international steering committee, attributes the group’s success to its pluralistic spirit. “Everyone’s Jewish journey is personal,” he said. “We try to provide a forum for everyone to connect in some way and in a way that motivates participants to engage for life and to become leaders in their communities.”
Combining Jewish study, spirituality, socializing, professional networking and a driving spirit of volunteerism, groups like Limmud are our communities’ hope for a vibrant Jewish future.