Top 5 Takeaways from Limmud to Apply + How To Apply Them To Jewish Education

I'm coming out of five days of immersion in an alternative universe of Jewish learning. It's a place where rigorous text study, insider humor in the form of self-deprecating jokes, and a constant game of Jewish geography reign supreme. Where it would be really weird to roll your eyes at someone's passion for prayer, but not at all out of place to engage in an expansive conversation integrating Talmud, video games, and the #MeToo movement.

I'm talking about Limmud, the annual festival of Jewish learning and culture, which could  also be given the tagline Jewish Educator Disneyworld. There's a lot to unpack about the experience (good and bad), but in this first attempt, I want to share some key takeaways with my fellow educators. After all, most of us do not have the blessing of a multi-day experience with our learners. We don't have the captive audience of over 2,500 people who've opted to spend their winter breaks immersed in Jewish learning.

So how can we take Limmud and apply some of its lessons and best practices to our own teaching?

  1. Everyone is passionate about something, and every topic has its audience - Here’s a taste of session titles from literally one time slot of Limmud. On Sunday evening, there was a choice between sessions on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Leonard Bernstein, Israel’s nation-state law, the Mourner’s Kaddish, Israel advocacy, engaging Jewish college students, Primo Levi, dancing instruction, tractate Bava Batra, HIV/AIDS activism, women taking on the patriarchy, life with Tourettes, LGBTQ+ inclusion, anti-Semitism in the Labour party, Jews of Africa, and at least five other options. And again, that’s just a one hour time block. Throughout the week, I made it a point to attend sessions out of my comfort zone or natural inclination, and in addition to that I poked my head into a few rooms that I was sure would be empty, because the topics were so obscure that no one could possibly be interested in them. Of course, I was wrong each time. Every niche has someone to fill it, and it’s fascinating to see what excites people, particularly when it comes to their Jewish engagement. As educators, we need to think outside the box and find the things [no matter how far from our own comfort zones they are] that excite our learners.

  2. The best experiences are often outside of the learning environment and beyond your control, and that’s ok - As educators, we work hard to develop optimal learning environments, to present things in an engaging manner, and to provide our learners with meaningful encounters with content. And ideally we do an amazing job of it, creating spaces and moments that resonate, inspire, and transcend. But regardless of whether or not those ideal educational successes happen, the ultimate test is what happens once the class ends. Some of the most amazing moments at Limmud happened outside of the organized program - late night singalongs, rigorous debates over breakfast, and Q&A sessions that extended long beyond the confines of the one hour sessions. How can we make space for this kind of informal, participant directed exploration and learning?

  3. Empowerment is key - The motto at Limmud is that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. I absolutely love this ethos, and think we should do more to apply its message in all Jewish educational environments. While not everyone necessarily feels comfortable teaching or facilitating, and that’s fine, we need to empower each learner to contribute to the overall community to the best of their abilities. This could look like literally anything - from a tech-minded student working on a website to an aspiring artist making a visual midrash as a project. Sky’s the limit!

  4. Take the elephant in the room and place it in the center - So I was attending Limmud as part of a special track for people who are planning their own Limmuds around the world. Among the requirements for this program was attending a number of practical sessions on different issues facing Limmud leaders, several of which focused on Israel. This had the benefit of taking what could have been an unspoken awkwardness or reluctance to talk about something potentially controversial and put it front and center into our dialogue. It gave us the chance to grapple with the complexities of the issue at hand, and built the community through exploration and mutual understanding. Take whatever your community’s elephant is and instead of avoiding it, create a thoughtful space to talk about it in.

  5. Multigenerational learning is amazing - Most Jewish organizations spend way too much time and effort siloing people. We have programs specifically for young singles, young families, empty nesters, baby boomers, seniors, kids, teens, and any age categories I’m somehow missing. And sometimes that’s good - people want to connect with those at similar stages of life over shared experiences. But other times, we are missing so many opportunities for learning across these boundaries. This week, I participated in sessions with people of all ages, and learned so much from hevruta experiences with people my own age, my grandparent’s ages, and everything in between. I got knitting tips, insights about feminism, and had amazing conversations about Israel, texts, geopolitics, and Oprah. All key things. Create opportunities for learners of all ages to come together. They’ll all benefit when given a chance to share expertise and grow together.