KERHONKSON, NY — Of the more than 700 Jews of all ages and denominations who came together to study, sing, and shmooze at the seventh annual Limmud New York conference in a Catskills hotel over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, 93 hailed from New Jersey.
With a mission “to celebrate Jewish life and learning in all its diversity,” the conference offered more than 300 sessions ranging from Torah study and discussions about God to songwriting workshops and film screenings.
The New York/New Jersey area is hardly a desert of Jewish study or culture. Why would area residents need a Limmud?
Penny Arons of Montclair answers with one word: “Diversity.”
“We have to be diverse or we’re not successful,” said Arons. “Diversity doesn’t happen at every event in New York. It’s either limited by age or denomination or sexual orientation. People are willing to encounter different people here and be open to them.”
Limmud’s diversity was visible that Shabbat morning at the Hudson Valley Resort, with six different worship options ranging from traditional Orthodox to Jewish Renewal, three family services, and a yoga class.
Arons, who serves on the Limmud NY board, has been at all seven New York Limmud conferences — as have her children, Chloe, nine, and Matthew, 12. Limmud provides a camp program with activities for schoolchildren while their parents attend classes. But children are also welcome to attend sessions, and the Arons children divided their time between camp and regular sessions.
“I like going to sessions with people of all ages,” said Matthew Arons. “I like learning from totally different people, from rabbis and musicians. I was at a session on talking about death with your children that was very exciting. And there was a musical session where we just sang a lot of songs about civil rights and justice, songs by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.”
The Aronses were part of a 23-person contingent from Montclair, the largest from any NJ town. Most, like the Arons family, are from Congregation Shomrei Emunah, where Rabbi David Greenstein “has been very supportive,” said Penny Arons.
This was the second Limmud for Bert Rosenheck, a resident of Parsippany and a member of Morristown Jewish Center-Beit Yisrael.
“It’s wonderful. I heard some really edifying presentations over the last couple of days,” said Rosenheck. He pointed to a number of sessions, one contrasting how Maimonides and Abraham Joshua Heschel saw God’s role in the lives of humanity, another on the demographics of Jews in Israel, and “a very interesting talk about intermarriage and conversions,” he said.
He and his wife plan on returning next year.
“It’s a tradition now,” he said.