Limmud NY 2010: Jewish Learning Without Limits
The most tangible highlights of the conference were the actual sessions. At more than 300 sessions, clergy and laypeople alike led prayer services, musical performances, films, panel discussions, and lectures. I participated in a chavruta session about the oneness of G-d, was challenged to think about my cultural identity beyond the mere "Eastern European Ashkenazi Jew" label, air guitared on stage during a performance by Avi Fox Rosen (the brother of Luminescent Orchestrii bassist Benjy Fox Rosen, whom I quoted in my last post), participated in Avi Fox Rosen's anti-fascist sing-along (which included two songs by Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird, whom I saw him perform with in New York last year), and learned about Jewish communities in India. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The heebnvegan rock star I was most looking forward to meeting was Eve Jochnowitz, who runs the Yiddish-English vegetarian blog In Mol Araan (Into the Mouth). (Click here to read my 2007 post about "Vegetarianism in Yiddish's Hey-Day," and click here to read my 2008 post about just how few Jewish vegetarian blogs there are.) On Friday, Jochnowitz spoke about gefilte fish and noted that, as a vegetarian, she instead uses two different recipes for vegetarian alternatives. Afterward, I asked Jochnowitz if she feels there is a conflict between her vegetarianism and her research interests in the culture and history of Jewish food. She said that there might be "dissonance" but not "conflict." She added that she has been vegetarian since she was 15, but she knew that she would wind up vegetarian since she was 5. On Sunday, Jochnowitz presented about Jews' "culinary resistance to mortality." She showed various tombstones in Yiddish with fascinating food references, including one epitaph mentioning that the deceased was an "ethical vegetarian." I'll post more about that tombstone after Jochnowitz writes about it on In Mol Araan.
Although it's harder to pin down specifics and make a point, there was something to be said for the diverse community at Limmud. I spoke to many people who were vegetarians, yet I also dined with a shochet and noticed that two Chasidim were walking around with fur shtreimels. The people I met at meals and more informal chats made for great conversations about such topics as vegetarianism, leather tefillin, Jewish punk, why I do not wear a kippah outside of a religious setting, and degrees of Shabbat observance.
Limmud NY is an annual event, and there are other Limmud conferences across the country and around the world. For more information, go to LimmudInternational.org.
On one of the "expression boards" posted on the walls, one attendee selected Saturday's vegetarian cholent as a highlight of the conference. Another agreed.
I thought that the juxtaposition of g'nizah paper (which has to be buried because it has G-d's name on it) and paper recycling represented the wonderful combination of observance of Jewish tradition and modern-day, progressive concerns for our world.