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Jane Enkin

REVIEW OF LIMMUD CONFERENCE: A BUFFET OF GREAT MUSIC, STORY TELLING, TEACHINGS

Jane Enkin February 29, 2012

“Limmud's promise: wherever you find yourself Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey.” Winnipeg's Limmud 2012, a weekend of Jewish learning, built on the success of last year's debut and the tradition of International Limmud. The lovely weekend was preceded by months of work by the volunteer and professional members of the planning committees, and a week or so of intensive work by many additional volunteers. This huge effort made for an interesting, smooth-running event. Everyone received a schedule, a name tag and lots of give-aways – this week I'm enjoying the many sample magazines and newspapers. The Limmud Winnipeg website names a few of the many people who supported chairs Leslie Wilder and Rose Aziman.

As valuable as the learning sessions is the time for gathering and chatting. Saturday night there was time to mingle before and after havdalah. The alumni choir of Camp Massad sang songs in harmony and then led the havdalah service with the familiar Debbie Friedman tune, which gave everyone a chance to sing along. There was lots of happy energy between sessions and over breakfast and lunch, all enhanced, of course, by delicious meals and snacks.

After havdalah , I went to Mexican teacher Moy Covalin's session with my ten year old daughter. There was a minor, polite rebellion when the Limmudniks discovered that the session was planned as a lecture about Israeli Dance and Ethnofit rather than a movement session. Perhaps because he heard the disappointment, or perhaps because there were fifteen children in the room, Covalin quickly suggested presenting a half and half program. He was inspired by his taste of many traditions at Winnipeg's Folklorama to share Israeli culture with audiences all over Mexico. The video he showed us, an attractive though somewhat bizarre hybrid, showed his dance company in Mexican costumes, dancing traditional Mexican folkdance steps to Israeli standards like Bashana Habaa, recorded with a Latin beat. Covalin's Ethnofit combines fitness and folk cultures – sharing the universal appeal of dance and music by celebrating differences.

Then came the part we all loved. A truly multi-age group, from seniors to under-fives, got on our feet and enjoyed simple dance moves. The music was the real deal – the Gypsy Kings played Volare, a band from Benin played African fusion; and the movements were specific to each country. I've taken enough African dance workshops and watched enough East Indian dance to feel confident that those moves were based on traditional dance. This beginner session was very gentle, but it's easy to see how Ethnofit builds to be a good workout.

After a glamourous buffet of Israeli foods and fancy cakes, we heard a concert by Brooklyn and Israel based musician Brody. I found him very, very mellow and bland. He labels his work rap, hip hop and rock; I didn't hear any percussive energy or interesting, original wordplay in his non-specific English lyrics. “I'm lonely, my one and only...I won't give up my dreams” etc. On the other hand, he has a really beautiful singing voice, and with his gentle pre-recorded music, he reminded me of contemporary Israeli singer/songwriters, especially when he sang from the Bible in Hebrew.

Brody did make a great impression on my daughter, especially in his Sunday teaching session, which she retold to her family in great detail,. I'm very grateful to him for giving her this experience. She liked hearing about his life story and his teenaged spiritual adventures. On a trip to Israel, she told us, he would go with friends deep into the forest and scream. When no one yelled “Why are you screaming?”, they knew they were far enough from everyone to meditate, write and sing. He taught listeners what he had learned about Jewish mysticism and music, about the right, chesed oriented side that is always giving, and the left, gevurah oriented side that says no when necessary; and about ways that aspects of divinity are linked to musical notes. “If you talk long enough,” he taught, “there will be an answer.”

I attended two sessions about Jewish communities in Africa, along with my fifteen year old son. The Ugandan Abayudaya converted about 100 years ago. American David Epstein works with NGOs to improve spiritual life for the Jews of Putti Village, and health, education and economic life for them and their non-Jewish neighbours. He showed vivid photos and played some of the music recorded in Putti. For more information, please visit www.puttivillage.org

Winnipeg resident Jon Nginduru Jr. grew up in the more recently formed community of Jewish converts in Kenya. “I was shocked when I found out there were white Jews!” he told us. He is an entertaining, enthusiastic storyteller, and I hope we in Winnipeg will have many chances to hear him. We learned a lot about village life, about the ups and downs of prejudice and respect from non-Jewish neighbours and school authorities, and about sustaining a small community. I loved hearing about gatherings for the week of Sukkot, when the whole community of 3000, from many villages, would get together. “I didn't see my mother for days at a time – every woman treated each child as her own.”

Another outstanding storyteller was Toronto's Michael Soberman. He works for the UJA on Initiatives for the Next Generation. With the delivery of a consummate comedian he told about early experiences that confirmed his Jewish identity. It's very nice for me that my son had as great a time as I did at this one. I could try to tell you about the penguins and everything else that had us all laughing so hard, but really, you had to be there.

Storyteller Eli Rubenstein came to Limmud from Toronto to tell folktales and other stories from the Jewish tradition. My son went to hear him twice – more proof that Limmud can really work for teens. Eli is an old friend from my days in the Jewish storytelling community in Toronto. With clear, gentle delivery, and delight in the bitter and the sweet of our old stories, Rubenstein's presentation flowed smoothly from old folktales, to retellings of Shalom Aleichem and I. L. Peretz, to anecdotes from the life of righteous gentile Janusz Korczak along with stories Korczak wrote, interwoven with teachings. Faced with the challenge of loving the whole world as you love yourself, the Baal Shem Tov advises “Love the one you're with,” as the way to begin.

My daughter had fun at Zumba with Winnipeg teacher Sharon Delbridge and both my children had a great time at improv with Winnipeg's Michelle Broder. My husband would have preferred a more varied group at the teen panel on living Jewishly.

Although I didn't get to her Sunday sessions, I was lucky to attend the Service in Song led by American Rabbi Barbara Aiello at Temple Shalom on Friday night, so I had a taste of her sweet stories about hidden Jews in Italy, as well as her own Sephardic Italian upbringing. She lit her great-grandmother's candelabra with us, and told us that when her grandmother first came to the US, she headed down to the cantina, the basement, to light. Her father said “You don't have to do that here, we're free here.” Answered the grandmother, “You never know.”

Many people I spoke with had high praise for the Torah teaching of American Rabbi Saul Berman, who spoke at Herzlia Synagogue before Limmud. I'm so glad that visiting scholars and Rabbis are integrated into community

 
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