Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Limmud NY 2014 report

I'm a bad blogger, or at least a lazy one--I didn't post, take notes, take photos, and/or shoot videos at this Limmud NY Conference.  This year, I just sat back and enjoyed.  (And that's not an entirely bad thing--more on that later.)  So I'll give you some verbal "snapshots" from this year's conference.

On Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve (Friday evening), my husband and I went to Blu Greenberg's and Yitz Greenberg's session, "Where There's a Rabbinic Will, There's a Halachic Way."  I'd heard Yitz speak before, and I'd read Blu's books, but I'd never heard her speak before, so I'll concentrate on her part of the presentation.  She'd come up with the title, which is a quote for which she's famous, out of conviction that it's true, based on her research.  As an example, she cited a decision by the very early (Talmudic?) rabbinate to accept the testimony of a woman who was the only witness to her husband's death, thereby granting her the status of a widow and, in so doing, freeing her to marry someone else.  In doing this, they broke two previously-established laws--they accepted the testimony of one witness instead of the mandatory minimum of two, and they accepted the testimony of a female despite the fact that women aren't accepted as witnesses in halachah/Jewish religious law.  I found this a very informative session.

On Shabbat morning, I got a pleasant surprise.  When I turned around to face the Torah scroll as it was being carried around the room at the Shabbat morning service, I was startled to see that the guy directly behind me was wearing a name tag that read "David Staum."  David Staum?!  "Are you the Evolving Jew?"  In true Jewish fashion, he answered the question with a question:  "Are you Shira Salamone?"  For him, it was much more of a guess, since my own name tag showed my real name, but he took a chance that the older woman wearing a tallit and with a cane hooked over her chair matched the way I'd described myself on my blog.  What fun!  It isn't every day that I meet a fellow J-blogger at shul.  :) 

After services, my husband and I went to listen to Israeli author Gidi Grinstein discuss "Why a Vibrant Diaspora is a Zionist Imperative."  Being old enough to remember the days when Zionists were trying to negate the Galut and persuade all Jews to move to Israel, we found this a somewhat startling idea to come from an Israeli.  The Hillel (standing on one foot) version:  Jews and Judaism have survived because we did/do not put all our eggs in one basket, as the old saying goes, and could rebuild elsewhere in the event of persecution and/or tragedy.  (The longer version can be found in his book, Flexigidity:  The Secret of Jewish Adaptability, which is now on my reading list.)  The key to the Jewish People's continuing existence is that we are a worldwide network of communities.

Naturally, I was too busy enjoying Shabbat lunch to get to the next session on time, and missed a good chunk of the panel discussion "A Search for Spirituality as Defined (or Not Defined) by Jewish Law."  The panelists were Kenneth Brander (an Orthodox rabbi, Dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future and a former pulpit rabbi), Mary Zamore (a Reform rabbi who's an activist in the Jewish Food Ethics movement), Ethan Tucker (an egalitarian non-denominational rabbi who's rosh yeshiva and chair in Jewish Law at Mechon Hadar), and Renana Ravitsky Pilzer (Orthodox, Head of the Beit Midrash at Israel's Hartman High School for Girls and a founder and leader of Kehilat Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem, which, to the best of my knowledge, is the "Mother Minyan" of all Partnership Minyanim).  I mention all their credentials because one of things that I enjoyed about listening to the panelists was the atmosphere of mutual respect.  This mutual respect  along the entire spectrum of Jewish observance has always been, for me, a defining and welcome characteristic of Limmud.  As to what was actually said, I was particularly struck by Mary Zamore's response to an audience question about musical instruments in the synagogue:  She wondered whether the use of musical instruments during services made the service less like praying and more like going to a concert, an interesting perspective, and, to be honest, one that I would not have expected from a Reform Jew.  Limmud can be full of surprises.

After Havdalah and dinner, I danced mein feesehlach off, naturally, at the back of the room at the Naomi Less concert, then at Israeli folk dancing.  Also naturally, there was a late-night jam session, with a bunch of people on guitar, one on banjo, and even, believe it or not, a full drum set borrowed from the "concert room" and put to excellent use.  Around midnight, I thought I'd turn in, but my husband had other ideas, and next thing you know, we were raising the average age at the dance party by at least thirty years.  :) 

On Sunday morning, I went to hear Ari Shavit talk about his book, My Promised Land, the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, and current Israeli political and security issues.  He's more of an optimist about the Kerry talks than I am.  That said, I simply had to buy the book afterward, and it's sitting in my backpack as I type.  I'll have to get back in the habit of posting book reviews.  (Oops, I never posted a book review about Like Dreamers!  I reviewed it on Goodreads, instead.  That's what happens when I write in more than one place, which is one of the reasons why I'm not on Facebook.)

Ahem, what was I saying before I so rudely interrupted myself?

Oh, yes--I was talking about sessions!

Ellen Flax posed the intriguing question, "Is the Kindle Kosher?"  Not only are there halachic issues involving turned an e-reader on and/or off on Shabbat (if you accept the prohibition against turning electrical devices on or off on Shabbat), there's also the question of whether the print on the screen is a form of writing, also forbidden on Shabbat.  But beyond that, there's an ecological issue--what does one do with a discarded e-reader?  Apparently, not every component can be recycled, whereas trees are a renewable resource.  I'd never considered the possibility that printed books might be more earth-friendly.

Speaking of electronic devices, one of the reasons why I decided against taking photos or shooting videos was that I was disturbed, as I often am, nowadays, by the amount of time and number of locations--appropriate or not--that people use their smartphones or tablets.  Where is it written that one must answer a phone call immediately, whether the timing is good or not?  Nu, isn't that what Voice Mail is for?  As for checking one's smartphone, tweeting and/or texting during a talk or concert, call me old-fashioned, but I think that's rude.  Besides, if you spend too much time shooting videos at a concert, you kinda miss the concert, and might as well be watching it on tv.  I've given up shooting videos at concerts--I'd rather sing along and dance than shoot.  :) 

Ahem--more sessions, please!

David Suissa, an Israeli Jew from the Arabic-speaking Jewish community, called his session "The Great Train Robbery and the Peace Process," and asked, "How can you negotiate peace if the other side thinks you're a thief?"  First, the Arab world considered the State of Israel an interloper that was making the Arab world pay for the sins of Europe (i.e., the Shoah/Holocaust).  Then, Israel made the fatal mistake of not combatting the accusation that the land on which the State stands was stolen (hence the title and question.)  Why would the world give Israel credit for returning Gaza when it held the opinion that Israel had never legitimately "owned" Gaza in the first place?  And now, the Palestinian leadership is milking Palestinian victimhood for all it's worth--they get more international sympathy (and, presumably, more international funding) from the continuing "occupation" than they would get if they actually had a state.  This was certainly one of the more intriguing arguments I've heard for ending the occupation.

I honestly can't remember whether it was Ari Shavit or David Suissa who suggested that a good "holding position," in a era in which peace doesn't seem possible, would be that, since roughly 75% of Israeli settlers live west of the security barrier and 95% of the Palestinians live east of the security barrier, the 25% of settlers who live east of the security barrier should be unilaterally withdrawn (heaven help them).  Naturally, that didn't go over too well with some folks in the audience, as nothing seems to have been gained from the "hitnatkut"/unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.  I'm among the once-burned-twice-shy skeptics.

But enough serious talk--it was time for more music!  At Sunday night's Limmudapalooza, I enjoyed Jake Goodman's clowning around, danced to Naomi Less's singing and guitar-playing (not to mention the rest of her band), and was delighted by Scott Stein's very fine piano playing and singing.  Even the Jewish a capella group Six13 got in on the act--literally--bringing their spirited singing and beat-boxing to the onstage and in-the-house party.  I got a kick out of their demonstration showing how one creates percussion sounds with the voice alone.

Later, TavChe GravChe gave a delightful concert of Sefardi music.  I didn't have much luck trying to sing in Mizrachi-accented Hebrew, nor could I dance to a "Turkish nine" rhythm, but I did manage to sneak in quite a bit of dancing, along with half the audience.

On Monday morning, a couple of bloggers, ex-bloggers, would-be bloggers, and a curious person or two got together with David Staum to talk about Jewish blogging.  The names of good and/or controversial bloggers were tossed around to those interested in knowing whom to read and/or avoid reading.  It was nice meeting a sometime-commenter, in addition to having bumped into David at "shul."  I never did get around to asking for "how to read your stats" advice, though, so anyone who can explain how I can figure out how many people are reading an individual post is welcome to write some instructions as a comment (or two).

Last, but not least, the Pew Study of American Jews got analyzed.  Rabbi Leon Morris and sociologist and Pew consultant Steven M. Cohen had a few interesting comments on the matter, as you can imagine, particularly from a Reform angle, as that's their place on the "observance spectrum."  I got a kick out of Cohen's "naase v'nishma, we will hear and we will do" approach--get 'em to "do Jewish" by, for example, inviting them to Shabbat dinner in your home, taking them with you to do a service project, etc., and, after a year, they'll stop asking what's in Judaism for them because they'll already know.  :)  I was also amused by Cohen's statement that the Pew people had never met such a contentious bunch of consultants as the Jewish ones, and that they'd enjoyed all the arguing.

The final words of the Limmud NY 2014 Conference went to the Holy One--I'm happy to report that  we were able to get (considerably more than) a minyan for Minchah (Afternoon Service).  And since the hotel had jumped the gun a bit and had already removed all the chairs from Aspen I and II, the entire minyan stood and was counted for G-d.

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Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Apparently, I'm an optimist: What I meant to say was that "we were *raising* the average age at the dance party by at least thirty years. :)"

Wed Feb 19, 07:17:00 PM 2014  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I didn't want to distract my readers with a gazillion links in my post, but here's information regarding some of the institutions that I mentioned:

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF)

Mechon Hadar

Shalom Hartman Institute Midrashiya Girls High School

Kehilat Shira Hadasha

Wed Feb 19, 10:52:00 PM 2014  
Blogger David Staum said...

No lazier than me. I haven't even posted anything about Limmud yet! I'm hoping to this weekend. Again, it was great to meet you!

Fri Feb 21, 01:35:00 PM 2014  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It was fun meeting you, too, and I'm looking forward to reading your Limmud post. Sorry I didn't have an opportunity to introduce you to Conservadox. Maybe next year. :)

Fri Feb 21, 02:49:00 PM 2014  

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