in the UK, Limmud, and being Jewish during Christmas

peace and blessings my friends. today i am writing from Warwick University in the UK. i am here for a week-long conference called Limmud. i don’t have pictures to post (yet) because my phone is not active over here, but there will be many beautiful things to see and share over my trip, i’m sure. today is only the second day and already there has been much to report. Limmud is a conference and a nonprofit devoted to inclusive Jewish learning. as an American Jewish poet, i was invited to participate, perform, and facilitate a few workshops this year. the conference has been going on for 30 years, so many of the participants come year after year and to different Limmud conferences all over the world. they are held in NYC and other places in the States too, but since it was founded in the UK, this is by far the largest. for those who know about NFTY and other Jewish youth programs, so far my experience is very much like Jewish summer camp, except for all ages and families and teachers and performers and scholars and drinkers. yes, there is a bar and i will be volunteering to work it tonight.

being in a foreign country (albeit not too foreign) all by myself and thrust into a heavily Jewish atmosphere where many people already know each other could be a bit overwhelming. i am enjoying it so far, and remaining pretty social. the fire alarm in the dorm went off at about 7:56 this morning. i thought i did it somehow, even though i was asleep. freaking out and searching for pants (very glad i did), i made my way outside with the others where we joked about this being a way Limmud helps us get to know our housemates and ensures that we go to Shul (sabbath services) today. i only froze my butt halfway off while waiting to get back inside. i did get to see a beautiful sunrise and birds that i wouldn’t have seen otherwise, so all is not lost.

last night, after shabbat dinner i attended a small workshop on Yehuda Amichai‘s poetry. he is the most famous modern Israeli poet and the session was led by a young American woman studying to become a Rabbi in England. we read poems and discussed them. it was not terrible. i’ve not read much (or any) Jewish or Israeli poetry so this was good education for me. come to think of it, i’ve read much more Palestinian poetry than i have anything Israeli. this conference is going to give me many more opportunities to continue my Jewish learning, and for an nonreligious Jew like me that is very important. last night at dinner one man got up to speak and reminded us that learning, any learning, is a continual process. you don’t simply learn something and are done with it. if you don’t constantly interact with and learn ideas again and again you will lose them. just like language, all learning is continual and requires active engagement. that was a powerful reminder for me, and i think that is why i am here. to teach and to learn is a mitzvah (good deed), one and the same mitzvah according to Jewish text. so students and teachers, when they are learning and teaching, are both engaging in the same mitzvah. this too, is something i will bring home with me.

after the conference i am going to stay in London for the New Years celebration. i still don’t have a place to sleep, so that will be a fun little mission. hopefully some friends of friends will come through before i break down and book a hostel or hotel room.

one of the things i love most about being at an all Jewish conference over Chanukah and Christmas is that i do not get all the Christmas shoved down my throat like i would back home. it is Christmas eve here and i’ve not heard a single thing about it. tomorrow will be Christmas and nobody will care, because it is also still Chanukah and that’s what we’re celebrating here together. at home i do not surround myself with Jews or Jewish things, so this is particularly different for the holiday season. i mean, i actually love Christmas music and the spirit of good cheer and peace on earth and all that mess, so i do get into it when i’m home, but it is quite nice to be reminded that another world is possible, and specifically a world created and shaped by my people is real and alive somewhere, even if i don’t choose to live in it everyday.

Shabbat Shalom! Happy Chanukah!


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