Before I even get to Birmingham and Limmud, I see a Facebook post from a friend: “Something has happened to Limmud. There are more Conservatives here every year.” Knowing him, that statement is one of outrage rather than contentment. Without knowing his personal experience, I can assume his upset stems from a change in programming that has taken place over the past years, where the previously solidly-liberal conference has opened its doors to voices from the political and religious right, creating pockets of what may seem like foreign thoughts to an otherwise homogenous organisation.
As I’ve now been here for a couple of days, for my third Limmud in England and seventh in total, I can say this change has had a ripple effect, and the mood and even culture of Limmud has undergone many changes for the better.
I was one of those few conservative voices a few years ago, and felt then as if I had walked into enemy territory. The idea was perhaps novel for parties, the mixing and debating – often wildly contrarian views – and bringing the “other” into what had already been so firmly and successfully moulded and established.
It has been three years since I was first at Limmud England, and what was a rarity is now, if not common, at least a pattern taking form – several sessions each day, teaching from a politically conservative or religiously orthodox perspective, and on the panels now a true diversity of opinion. Plainly speaking – I now feel welcome at Limmud, and truly part of the learning and teaching experience, and that speaks to the strength of the participants and to the concept of Limmud itself, having opened its doors and welcomed the sometimes uncomfortable and unexpected.
Most unexpected, perhaps, has been the reaction from the audience, as they’ve come up to me after the sessions or greeted me in the halls. Not, as I perhaps had expected, with criticism and opposition but more often than not with an affirming and welcoming tone. This may be a sign of the times, of society turning toward a more conservative viewpoint as we all experience a global upheaval, or it could be these meetings are so rarely tested that any theory of animosity is and remains just that. Either way, my third Limmud in England has been a surprisingly hopeful experience.