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Jane Enkin

Rabbi Larry Lander

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Jane Enkin's Review of Limmud 2016- Lander, Hyman, Henteleff, Weinberg and More

by Jane Enkin, March 28, 2016



As Limmud 2016 was winding down, I had my “only-at-Limmud” moment. I looked in on the “Yiddish Shmooze” just as the group began to sing Tumbalalaika. Then I strolled over to listen at the door where Eli Herscovitch finished a smoking clarinet solo and started a sing-along Tumbalalaika. A sweet synchronicity!



I began my day learning about personal theology with two wonderful teachers who were open to a real connection with Limmud participants.  Rabbi Larry Lander of Etz Chayim Synagogue introduced a few texts but devoted most of his session to discussion.  We spoke about ways to express love toward God, to feel d’veykut or connection to God.  We spoke about the range of ways God was present in our childhood homes – “Good night, God bless,” “God forbid something bad should happen,” “God will smite you if you do something bad.” Lander outlined different ways to define God, including God who behaves like a person, God as light, Spinoza’s God as nature and Kaplan’s God as the highest value.  Lander said confidently that an individual must pick one way to define God, then listened good-naturedly as participants contradicted him, saying that they each image God in myriad ways.  “God is a long-answer question,” we heard. 



In the discussion I enjoyed hearing from visiting presenter Sandra Lilienthal, who shares Lander’s (and my own) interest in Yiddish prayers written for women’s private devotions in the home.  What stood out for both of us was that while these traditional private prayers focus on asking God for protection and care, most of the participants in the discussion spoke about expressing gratitude.  They spoke very beautifully – which speaks well of Lander as a strong and encouraging teacher.



Steven Hyman, a lawyer who has worked in Spiritual Care, led the session “Does God care that I’m ill? Confronting God’s role in illness, death or recovery.” He presented some traditional Jewish approaches to these questions, responded with sensitivity to participants’ thoughts, and described his own individual views and the experiences that led him to them. The Torah describes leprosy as a punishment. But a simple view of punishment or consequences is already challenged in the book of Job and questioned further in the Talmud. Other ancient sources say, “Who are we to know God’s ways?” Some people find comfort in the thought that God is limited in power, unable to prevent tragedy.  Others see illness as a test or lesson – I find painful experiences can make me feel more empathy, some find inner strength. Hyman found the teachings of astronomer and Jesuit Father George Coyne fascinating. He says that even at the molecular level, there is free will, so cell function may work for or against our health. For Hyman, although learning or strength may be associated with illness, it’s important to affirm that there is “no point” to poor health, or to recovery.  He closed by speaking of the value of the mitzvah ofbikur kholim, visiting and supporting the sick.



For a change of pace, I went to meet Ari Weinberg for the first time and hear his presentation “Drama on stage: planning a season for Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.”  Weinberg, Artistic Director of WJT, was lots of fun, seldom standing still, and showing his excitement about long-term plans for the theatre.  Weinberg hopes to relate to the Jewish community and to what he termed the “theatre ecology” of Winnipeg, inspiring local directors, actors and writers in ways that value their particular skills and support their development. He searches for plays that show a range of Jewish identity, and mentioned that audience members request a balance of fun shows and “gutsier” and political plays. He said that about 70 percent of scripts that come his way concern the Holocaust, and 15 percent feature New York Jews. It’s pleasing to note that along with readings of two excellent Holocaust themed plays, Sheltered by Alix Sobler and The Girl Beneath My Feet by Leigh-Anne Kehler, the recent So, Nu? Festival of New Winnipeg Jewish Plays featured a reading of The Boy Genius by Sara Arenson, with characters who are very clearly raised in the Winnipeg Jewish community, and a full production of the Winnipeg-set play Shiksa.  We are among a very few communities to have a dedicated Jewish theatre – support it, and enjoy!



There was a great lunch with lots of opportunities to touch base with friends. Breaks at Limmud are really valuable – I chatted with Renee Billauer who spoke on the great pioneers of several genres of comedy in “Honey, I shrunk the Yids;” I saw Agam-inspired collages and Shabbat blessing paintings in the style of Martina Shapiro made by participants in Svetlana Tchernov’s workshops; I had a taste of Phil Spevack’s storytelling from his presentation “4000 years of Judaism with music (& humour)”; and I heard a little about the latest archaeological discoveries in Israel presented by Haskel Greenfield.



I attended Jim Wilets’ second session of the day, “What next? The factors affecting Israeli/Palestinian Peace.” Wilets is Chair of the Inter-America Center for Human Rights with years of experience in international law. As I expected, Wilets doesn’t perceive a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in the Middle East, and he yearns for an atmosphere in which moderates can come together.  Sadly, he is much less optimistic than he was a few decades ago, seeing many missed opportunities for improved relations.  Discussion was mostly concerned with frustration on many levels.



I had my first opportunity to see Saul Henteleff’s documentary My Jewish Death. This very personal, lovely film visually centres around Henteleff’s adventure – he takes the role of a deceased person at the Chesed Shel Emes, Winnipeg’s chevra kadisha  and non-profit Jewish funeral chapel. Henteleff is ritually washed, dressed, wrapped in shrouds, placed in the simple pine casket (“we have a choice of one”) and taken for burial. Interviews with three Winnipeg rabbis and Chesed Shel Emes director Rena Boroditsky add perspective. I’m glad to have seen the film on a (relatively) large screen and to hear the fascinating questions and impressions from the Limmud audience, thoughtfully answered by the filmmaker and Boroditsky. MTS customers can find the film at  and it will be distributed more widely later in 2016. Boroditsky will be honoured at the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Kavod evening in May with the Larry Hurtig Jewish Communal Professional Award.



The last session of the day I spent cruising. I heard Matthew Leibl give a very detailed explanation of a few verses on ritual sacrifices in the Torah.  Gray Academy students Hannah Levit and Sophie Hershhfield invited participants to learn a few Yiddish phrases and sing some beloved songs.  Rabbi Alan Green of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue taught “Kabbalah on one foot,” and answered questions about the place of mysticism in the modern world. Along with Michael Eskin, Eli Herscovitch read his short story about generations of Montreal immigrants, Love and Smoked Meat, and played some great music.



Morris Henoch, who has been involved in leading March of the Living trips since 1988, movingly answered his question “Why continue on?”  He showed a video of the way Auschwitz looks in our time, chilling in its delicate emptiness, energized by a song performed by Vadim Dresyn, composed when he was a grade 11 student. While slides of teens and seniors witnessing together showed on screen, Henoch read his poetic speech.  He described the teens, the ways in which the survivors and children of survivors support the young people as they confront the reality of loss, and the reasons he is sure that Holocaust education is of vital significance. Heartbreakingly beautiful.


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