Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Limmud NY 2012 Conference: Some highlights

Surprise, surprise: Friday night's dinner was chicken. I found that quite unexpected, given the number of vegetarians in attendance. For the record, even I, a meat-eater, could see that the vegetarian stuffed-pepper entree was unacceptable because it contained no protein source. Nu, adding a few beans to the "stuffing" would have killed you? I sincerely hope that all of the vegetarian entrees will be both tasty and nutritious next year.

Kudos to the Limmud volunteers for arranging for vegetarian and vegan options, "simple food" without spice or sauce for those who needed it, a gluten-free and "allergy" table (providing such goodies as gluten-free corn thins [yum!] and peanut-free almond butter [double yum!] in the dining room), and gluten-free goodies outside the dining room at the coffee bar.

Okay, on to the study sessions.


  • I was, apparently, too tired after packing, schlepping to Manhattan, spending two and a half hours on a bus, checking in, and rushing to prep for Shabbat/Sabbath to remember much of what I did after Shabbat dinner. My apologies to Shai Held, for not being able to "retrieve" much of what he said at his interesting session on the Midwives. But I do remember him making the point that the story of the Midwives (Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 1, verses 15-21) is (one of) the earliest recorded instance(s?) of civil disobedience, making it an appropriate discussion topic for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend.

  • We learned from Joel Hoffman that the first b'rachah (blessing) of Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) is just as problematic as the closing quote that "I've never seen a righteous person hunger, or his children asking for bread" (rough translation, from memory): Does HaShem really provide bread/food for all flesh? One class participant said that HaShem provides, but we humans interfere, due to politics, business decisions, distribution (dis)arrangements, etc., which was an interesting point.

  • The next session that I attended was the "Women's Rights under Fire in Israel" panel discussion was very enlightening. (My husband studied How Pirkei Avot Can Save Judaism.) Meesh Hammer-Kossoy was upset that the initial television report on the conflict at the Orot Banot girl's school in Beit Shemesh was telecast on a Friday night/Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve, thereby making it impossible for the parties directly involved--the Dati Leumi/Religious Zionist community and the fanatics from among the Chareidim/"fervently Orthodox"--to participate in the discussion. Liz Nord said that she's received phone calls quite literally in the middle of the night from Chareidi women who don't dare express their opinions in public, lest their children be declared off-limits as playmates, telling her how grateful they are that the treatment of women in and/or by the Chareidim community is coming under fire. My discussion with Regev Ben-David after the session was, well, awkward. I asked what we in the Galut/Diaspora could do to support tolerance, and, if I understood correctly, he seemed to indicate that the problem was an internal matter to be worked out among Israelis.

  • After dinner, I went off to try to make sense of International Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which American-Israeli lawyer Anne Herzberg did her best to clarify. Oy. I don't have that much brain-power on a Saturday night. But I seem to recollect that she does think that the blockade of Gaza is legal.
We spent most of Sunday at three different Israeli folk dance sessions. It was a good antidote to a day of sitting. :) But we did get to this interesting learning session:

  • Rachel Friedman's "Deborah: The Power of Prophecy and Song" was pretty powerful stuff. Rachel pointed out that Devorah is one of the very few female Biblical characters whose identity is not tied to any man--she's not a matriach, not a powerful male character's sister, not a queen, not a princess, etc. She served as a leader and judge of her generation before she herself recruited Barak to fight the necessary battle. Like Moshe/Moses, she remains off of the battlefield itself, lending morale and courage. And like Moshe, but unlike his sister Miriam HaN'viah/the Prophet, she begins a song, rather than putting in a short appearance at the end.

  • Since my husband had volunteered to staff the Help Desk--Limmud is run almost entirely by volunteers--and I was keeping him company and attempting to make myself at least semi-useful, we missed almost all of Joel Hoffman's "The Story of Hebrew." More's the pity, because what little we heard sounded fascinating. Joel said that Eliezer Ben Yehudah promoted the Sefardi pronunciation of Hebrew because he didn't want to use the Hebrew pronunciation--Ashkenazi--that he associated with the Eastern European yeshivot. (Yeshiva, roughly translated, means "school of Jewish studies." Contemporary pre-college yeshivot usually offer secular studies, as well.) He also said, if I understood correctly, that there was no proof of which pronunciation of Hebrew that is currently in use is closest to the ancient pronunciation of Hebrew, Yemenite Jewish claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Many thanks also to whoever pointed out that Yaakov/Jacob seems to have had only limited interest in the children of his unloved wife Leah and the concubines, while being practically obsessed with Yosef/Joseph and Binyamin/Benjamin, the sons of his beloved wife Rachel. This may be one logical explanation for his seeming indifference to the rape of Leah's daughter, Dina.

And there you have a taste of the Limmud NY 2012 Conference, Hillel-style (standing on one foot).



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