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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

An Eye for Jewish Study – In Israel

The idea of importing  study to Israel may seem like wedging a truism between a commonplace and a cliché. You can almost hear the bookcase groan, “Enough, already! I can’t take any more!”

But  Limmud,  the Anglo-Jewish educational charity, has found a secure place here and recently  hosted a  warmly supported study morning on the theme of social justice a bare mile from where I live in Karmiel, Western Galilee. 

Although many of the lectures were delivered in Hebrew, there were also some sessions in English – a tribute both to the many English-speakers there that day - and  to Limmud’s  internationally renowned emphasis on Jewish pluralism.

Rabbi.Marc.RosensteinDiscussing the event in his Galilee Diary, Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, who lives at the nearby Shorashim community settlement, recalled how the concept of  Limmud sprang from the now-defunct North American Coalition on Alternatives in Jewish Education (CAJE).

He wrote: “In the 80s, the idea migrated to the UK, with the establishment of the Limmud conference, which has taken off in the past few decades (while CAJE has shut down), drawing thousands of people to a campus where volunteers teach a dizzying variety of topics, and achieving international acclaim. And spinoffs continue, as Limmud conferences are held around the world, in more and more places every year.”

But I can go back much further than the 1980s, when Limmud (which means ‘learning’) was indeed co-founded in the U.K., among others, by Clive Lawton, Alastair Falk, Michael May and the late Rabbi Michael Rosen.

Both Alastair, who is credited with playing the core role in the development of Limmud and Clive began adult life with  the  best possible Jewish educational credentials as leading members of Jewish Youth Study Groups, a terrific but alas also long defunct Anglo-Jewish educational organisation whose motto was “צא ולמד - ‘go and learn’”. So I’m not awarding prizes for guessing the origins of Limmud’s increasingly respected name!

My memories stem from the late 1960s but much earlier even that, when JYSG was founded by the late Harold Levy, my mother’s cousins, Professors Avrom and Michael Saltman were among the esteemed intellectuals who taught at the movement’s summer and winter ‘schools’. Avrom, now deceased, went on to become the first Dean of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv while Michael is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Haifa.J.Y.S.G.

One unforgettable Jewish maxim I learned at JYSG is that the ancient rabbis insisted there’s no such thing as co-incidence and that everything happens for a reason.

So will someone please advise why, on the day of Karmiel’s ‘Festival Limmud’, when lectures included a ‘freakonomic’ look at the laws surrounding the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye”, the Israeli media buzzed with a fantastic story. I quote from Israel Hayom:

“Two patients who desperately needed kidney transplants, one Jewish and one Arab, received donations that saved their lives -- with the Arab patient's wife donating a kidney to the Jewish patient, and the Jewish patient's son donating his kidney to the Arab patient.”

We should all learn from that!



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