I have just returned from participating in the "Limmud UK" Conference. For some years now friends and acquaintances have gone and returned with great experiences from a week of learning, Judaism and meeting people. This year I received that "gift" from Partnership 2Gether and from the Jewish community in England.
"Limmud UK" is one of sixty-three "Limmud" groups around the world, a meeting of Jews from all streams of Judaism: Orthodox, conservative, reform and secular, pluralistic Judaism, which unites and enables each Jew to belong and express his own uniqueness in the path he has chosen for being Jewish. In Israel there are six "Limmud" groups: in the Galilee, the Arava, the Negev, Modi'in, Jerusalem and "Limmud" FSU.
We began our journey at Rosh Hanikra at the "Limmud Galil" Conference, one of the many Limmud groups throughout the world, and from there we flew to England.
The "Limmud UK" Conference took place during the week of Hanukka and Christmas, and the light and the flame were with us in all cultures. At the foundation of the creation is light, the source of illumination and warmth, and so it was with me, during a week that created something new in me - a different connection to the Jewish world. Through drawing closer to Diaspora Jews in the Diaspora, without mixing religion and state, I discovered that I am proud to belong to the Jewish people. In Israel during that same week there was much conflict between the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) and the secular, between light and darkness, between sanity and insanity. And in England, at Warwick University, a miracle was taking place - for me it was the miracle of the oil, for me a bright light was lit, which I hope to continue to hold more and more and to sustain it with good oil so it will continue to burn and light my life for a long time.
During the week there were 2000 sessions! In English! Each hour I had to choose from 30 wonderful possibilities. It was difficult to choose and I had to pass up so many interesting things. From morning until after midnight I absorbed more and more knowledge, meetings, joy and learning, in a wide variety of subjects connected to the Jewish people and culture, and also to Israel.
The British English wasn't easy for me, my imagination worked overtime in order to understand the English, therefore I often chose speakers without such strong British accents…
Hanukka candles were lit each day in a moving ceremony, hundreds of people joined together, recited the blessing, sang Hanukka songs and celebrated, a special and tremendously emotional experience.
Through Ruth Calderon I encountered the issue of Tzedek (justice) and Tzedaka (charity) in connection with the ritual of the Gmara. I understood that the young social protesters in Israel last summer acted out of "halacha", they demanded justice and not charity, they preceded many others in raising the flag of Judaism and knowledge. They surprised the religious community and us in their knowledge of what a healthy society should be. Daphni Leef also was at the Conference, but I didn't make it to her sessions.
I learned about Rabbi Akiva, about Beit Hilel and Beit Shamai, and many others. I attended a lecture by Alisa Olmert, who spoke on the experience of "tikun" through plastic arts. I met Rabbanit-Rav Elliot Kukla, a woman dressed in men's clothing – suit, tie and "kippa" – from the United States, who provides spiritual care to those dealing with physical and mental problems of terminal illness and families dealing with mourning and loss. I encountered Ruth and Naomi and their amazing stories, which awaken inspiration in the power of love, devotion and hope through difficult losses in one's life. Through her I discovered a text in the Talmud, which speaks about what a person needs at difficult times in his life: only a hand – "Give me your hand" says Rabbi Eliezer to Rabbi Yonatan at a difficult time in his life. So simple and so beautiful - in order to be healed and comforted a person only needs someone beside him.
I learned what a "piyut" is, sung by religious and secular together, by men and women. The words close to prayer, but not prayer. Early in the morning we sang "Shachar evakeshcha" of Rabbi Shimon Even Gvirol with Tirza Leibowitz, the granddaughter of Yeshayahu Leibowitz who works for human rights in the world. I heard a German Christian converted to Islam called Halima, speak about Islam and Judaism, about the connection, the influence and similarities between the two religions. We discussed topics of light and darkness in our lives through texts from the "mekorot" (Jewish sources) with Yaffa Epstein from Jerusalem. On Shabbat I participated in an alternative "tfila" with Ittay from the Humanistic Beit Midrash in Australia.
Through an amazing film "Seasons of the Soul" by Michael Kagan I encountered the cycle of life and cycle of the year, the holidays and their significance with a close connection to nature. I understood how the circle of life and the holidays is at all times within us and around us.
I dealt with "Ru'ach Eluhim" (divine spirit) through texts presented by Ruth Gan Kagan. "Ru'ach Eluhim" as floating, filling, inspiring, restful, surging, overflowing, speaking from within, guiding, carrying, terrifying.
I understood that we are part of God and God is part of us. That He belongs to all of us, that our religion is so beautiful, I felt a huge sadness that we here in Israel have moved away from it, because of the extremism and because of the mixing of state and religion. I fell in love with the Jewish "aron hasfarim".
In addition to the lectures, I heard concerts of violinist Lior Kaminetsky, kosher gospel music of Joshua Nelson, Reggae music of Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer, "piyutim" of Ramon Tasat from Argentina, Cabernet of Rebecca Joy Fletcher from New York. I danced and celebrated.
I saw a film about Jews in Arab countries and the silence around their suffering in the countries of their origin, suffering which became so dwarfed by the murder of Jews in the Holocaust that there remains no written testimony. I saw a film about a Muslim child who befriends a Jewish boy in Brooklyn, about the pain in discovering their differences and the almost impossible.
I met and had interesting discussions with Alexandrus from Greece, Emily from California, Monique from Sourth Africa, Helena from England, Mariette from Holand, Ittay from Australia, Renato from Mexico and many others.
We traveled to "Limmud UK" as a group from the Northern Galilee-Great Britain Partnership 2Gether region and presented a session on the Galilee, the beautiful scenery, the people, the land and the olive trees.
The beauty of "Limmud UK" is the openness, the togetherness, the shared learning, the joy, that made it possible for me to be part of that great something with other open-minded Jews from all over the world and awakened in me an intense desire to continue learning.
The lecturers, the volunteers, the participants were one large group learning and spending time together in many different situations. In the halls, at meals, on the paths of the University, I met intelligent and learned people with whom it was fascinating to speak.
I saw a conference produced and organized by 300 young people, the age of our children serving in the army, in a professional and meticulous manner. Everything ran like clockwork and worked in a perfect organization, all in a quiet and patient way.
If only in our complicated country we could know how to learn together, to narrow the gap and bring closer the different streams of Judaism, in the way of acceptance and love which we saw in England.
My thanks to Partnership 2Gether, the Jewish Agency and UJIA, who sent us to this amazing conference, which for me was such a powerful experience, and thank you to my fellow participants and to the leaders of the delegation.
With love and appreciation,