‘Big tent’ learning festival lands in NJ

‘Big tent’ learning festival lands in NJ

Participants sing at last year’s Limmud NY conference at Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonkson, NY. 
Participants sing at last year’s Limmud NY conference at Hudson Valley Resort and Spa in Kerhonkson, NY. 

 A celebration of Jewish learning, life, and diversity offering something for every age and level of observance is coming to central New Jersey next month.

Limmud NY, which bills itself as “Jewish learning without limits,” will hold its ninth annual retreat Feb. 15-18, featuring lectures, workshops, and performances.

It is expected to draw up to 800 participants — including singles, families, young adults, and seniors, from the unaffiliated to the Orthodox — to the East Brunswick Hilton.

Limmud NY, the local incarnation of what has become an international network of learning festivals, previously held its annual conferences at Catskills hotels, but organizers chose the new location in the hope that it will make the gathering more accessible, particularly to New Jersey residents, said its president Sivya Twersky, a Teaneck resident.

“We have no target groups and we have no theme,” she told NJJN. “You just have to be Jewish and want to learn more about your identity as you move along your Jewish journey.”

Approximately 300 programs will be offered by 100 presenters from around the world, including academics, artists, professors, musicians, rabbis, poets, activists, and performers. As many as 15 sessions run simultaneously at any given time, said Twersky.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County is a cosponsor of this year’s event.

Among the better known presenters are food writer Joan Nathan; Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt; American Jewish World Service president Ruth Messinger; author Rabbi Daniel Gordis; and Rabbi Ethan Tucker, cofounder of New York’s Mechon Hadar, a progressive yeshiva.

Attendees can expect to “learn so much about where they are going and where they have been,” said Twersky. “People actually sit down with their lunch in the lobby and talk to members of the Jewish community they would never be able to otherwise meet. We help new people to break down barriers. We also have people who have come to almost every conference.”

Limmud was launched in the United Kingdom about 30 years ago and has spawned regional affiliates in the United States, the former Soviet Union, South America, and Asia.

For presenter Rabbi David Ingber, named by Newsweek and The Daily Beast last year as one of America’s 50 most influential rabbis, Limmud is a chance to “open your heart and open your mind.”

“It’s an opportunity for adults to have what many college students have come to take for granted, that is big tent or large tent Judaism they can find at any Hillel across the country,” said Ingber, founder of Romemu, a Renewal congregation in New York City that bills itself as “Judaism for Body, Mind, and Spirit.” Jews of all colors and affiliations come together to experience diversity at Limmud.

Another presenter, Nadine Epstein, the editor of Washington-based Moment Magazine, describes herself as “a Jersey girl at heart.” Raised in Asbury Park and Deal, where her father still lives and her mother served as executive director of the JCC, she will speak at Limmud about the history of New Jersey’s Jews.

She said her native Monmouth County became “the original Silicon Valley” after the Army headquartered its Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth during the World War II era.

“The Army was really the first organization to open its ranks to Jewish scientists and technologists,” said Epstein. “It brought a huge number of Jewish scientists from Brooklyn and New York, including my dad. It really had an impact on the Jewish communities of central New Jersey.”

Other presenters from New Jersey include food writer and entrepreneur Jeffrey Yoskowitz; Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute; and Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor-in-chief of New Jersey Jewish News.

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