Intensive learning remains the focus of Limmud NY, an annual pluralistic Jewish conference, but for 2019 it is dropping the residential component, i.e. staying overnight in a hotel, and moving from Princeton to New York City.
“We’ve done 14 residential conferences, and we needed to take a break, step back, and reassess,” said Rachel Kanter of Montclair, who serves as co-president of the mostly volunteer-run organization, along with Penny Arons, also of Montclair. “We are looking at the future of Limmud and want to make sure what we are doing is in step with the mission of Limmud and that we are doing the best we can.”
The new model relieves volunteers from the responsibility of arranging the intensive logistics involved with the hotel where the conference would have been held. In return, the attendees, who can now come on a daily basis, are relieved of the cost and commitment of a full weekend of programming.
For the last 14 years, hundreds of people — approximately 700 to 800 — from the tri-state area have gathered for three days of community and study, with topics as diverse as the crowd. Authors, academics, artists, musicians, and journalists present on everything from contemporary Jewish fiction to Israeli politics to photography and new Jewish music. Often, Limmud NY participants are also presenters.
Every year there are films and entertainment, Shabbat meals, and worship across the spectrum of observance. Multiple talks and events occur contemporaneously, from early morning until late at night. There are educational tracks for children, teens, college students, and adults. In addition, common areas encourage participants to mingle and socialize.
Over the years, the conference has been held at hotels in the Catskills,
Connecticut, New Brunswick, and most recently, Princeton.
Limmud NY is part of Limmud, an international organization headquartered in the United Kingdom with more than 80 communities around the world that hold conferences. Limmud’s model of Jewish learning in a volunteer-run festival environment started in the UK in 1980.
In 2019, Limmud NY, running over Presidents’ Weekend, Feb. 15-18, will move to Romemu and Congregation Rodeph Sholom (both synagogues on the Upper West Side of Manhattan). The only programming on Shabbat happens Friday night with Kabbalat Shabbat, dinner, some learning, and a tish; Havdalah is followed by music and entertainment.
The bulk of the program occurs on Sunday, Feb. 17, from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Monday, which has traditionally included a half day of programming, will take a deep dive into resilience, with a focus on happiness and resources for healing.
According to Arons, last year 125 people signed on just for the day on Sunday, which raised the question of whether it was worth hosting the full weekend experience. With the new format, organizers hope to entice individuals and groups for whom staying over and participating in the complete conference was cost prohibitive.
“For a lot of people, a residential conference is out of their price range,” said Arons. She pointed out that among Limmud experiences around the world, day-conference models are more common than hotel-based versions. “We reached out to the global Limmud organization and they were supportive of the idea,” she said.
Both Arons and Kanter acknowledged that some people who annually travel to the conference may opt out this year without the organized communal hotel stay. “Losing them is upsetting,” said Kanter. “But change is difficult, whatever it is in life, but we have the possibility of reaching out to more people, new people. That tempers our concerns and excites us about the conference.”
This year, Limmud NY has partnered with six organizations based in New York who are co-sponsoring the program and providing some of the presenters: Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, Hadar, Hillel, Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Camp Ramah.
Registration for Limmud NY is open and more information can be found at limmudny.org. Participants interested in leading a session are encouraged to submit proposals by Dec. 20.