Monday, February 17, 2020

LimmudFest NY 2020: A mixed blessing

One of the things I noticed about LimmudFest NY 2020 was that, unlike what we saw at the Hadar National Shabbaton, there weren't any babies--there were hardly any families present at all.  Another attendee pointed out that there was also a "generation gap" of sorts between the 20-30-somethings who were running the event and the 60-and-older crowd--there were hardly any attendees in their 40s and 50s.

It was also hard for me to miss the way that we gluten-free folks were treated--not one piece of bread, bagel, cake, cookie, cracker, or pastry that we could eat was served all Shabbat, and only 1 gluten-free offering--quinoa salad--was sold for lunch on Sunday.  Adding insult to injury for me, because I also have trouble digesting dairy, the dining room sold only pizza for dinner on Sunday, meaning that I had absolutely nothing to eat for dinner other than the Kind bar that I had brought from home just in case.  As far as I know, the kosher restaurant nearest to the Jewish Theological Seminary, where LimmudFest NY 2020 took place, is located at around 102nd Street, 20 blocks south of/downtown from JTS--that's roughly a 45-minute walk, or 2 subway stops, away.  Did they expect us to bring our own food?  The volunteers got quite an earful from me, asking why they'd bother to request a list of our food limitations if they hadn't intended to do anything to accommodate them.

On the plus side, the highlight of LimmudFest NY 2020 for me was being present at the Torah-reading service on Shabbat morning, which was led almost entirely in accordance with the tradition of the Bagdadi Jews of India by Calcutta native Rahel Musleah (pronounced Matzliach).  She even read (most of) the Torah reading from a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) in a blue Sefardi/Mizrachi-style "tik" (case) (keep scrolling 'til you get past the Ashkenazi version) that her family had donated to Calcutta's Magen David Synagogue over 100 years ago and had taken with them when they'd left India for Philadelphia.  (Rahel had explained, at her session on Erev Shabbat [Sabbath Eve], that most Torah scrolls--her synagogue had over 70, each read at various times--were donated in memory of loved ones, and, therefore, were taken by the donor families when they left India:  Indian synagogues now have only one or two scrolls bought for those occasions when they have a minyan.)  I was glad that Rahel reversed the usual positioning of the Torah scroll, turning it and reading it with the klaf/"parchment" (the Musleah-Family klaf is made of deer-skin) facing the congregation so that we could see what the interior of the tik and the scroll looked like and how the klaf was read--a scroll that's in a "tik" is placed and read in a vertical position, with the klaf covered by a scarf (which is draped over the tik) between aliyot.  I remembered that part, and, during the Torah reading at the Minchah (Afternoon) Service, made sure that the klaf was covered with the scarf between aliyot.

I also learned about two important groups that I hadn't been aware of before.  One is Matan, which trains Jewish educators in methods for including students with disabilities.   I wished they'd been around when we were raising our son, but I'm glad they're here for others facing challenges in raising "special ed" kids.  The other group is the Sephardic-Mizrahi Q Network (SMQN).  Ruben Shimonov gave us a quick verbal tour of both his Bukharian/Bucharian community and this new group.

The Limmudapalooza Sunday evening entertainment was a bit lacking--only one singer and one comedy group?  This may not have been entirely Limmud NY's fault--it appears that Songleader Boot Camp also took place this past weekend.  I am selfishly glad that Noah Aronson stayed in NY--I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.  But I did miss the multi-singer concerts that we'd enjoyed during previous Limmud NY gatherings.  (I've now added a "Limmud" label to the end of all of my Limmud posts, so just click on the label for information about music at previous Limmud get-togethers, and a few videos.)

I don't know whether I'll go to Limmud NY next year.  There were just too many things missing, including people and music, and yes, a rice cake on which to spread some of the white fish and some non-dairy cream cheese to put under it.  (What the heck happened to the food arrangements between 2012 and 2020?)  One attendee was surprised that no one in Limmud had thought to hire a grant writer to help cover expenses and reduce the cost of attendance, wondering why on earth the organizers had thought that it was acceptable not to include the cost of non-Shabbat meals in the registration fee.  Good question.  One of my criteria for attending next year's LimmudFest NY will be that the cost of all meals must be included in the registration fee.  We paid over $700 for this shindig, and the registration fee did not include hotel reservations.  Where did they get the chutzpah/nerve/gall to charge us extra for food?!  (By comparison, Hadar's National Shabbaton cost only about $100 more than LimmudFest NY, and included two nights in a hotel, a concert with four musicians, gluten-free bagels and cake, dairy-free cream cheese, and peanut-free nut butter for those with allergies,  though, granted, the Hadar Shabbaton lasted only through Sunday lunch.)  Another criteria is that I must be able to get information in advance about provisions being made for those with food sensitivities.  There's no darned good reason, in this day and age, for people with food sensitivities to be deprived of the pleasure of eating cake on Shabbat like everyone else.



Blogger Jackie said...

I have dietary restrictions. After all these years of being an adult, I have only myself to blame if I end up without food at any event outside my home. Complaining about the cost is more than fair — Limmud is very expensive and relies on volunteers who get no subsidies whatsoever for working the event. But anyone with particular dietary needs knows better than to rely on strangers to stay well-fed out of the home.

Tue Feb 18, 04:35:00 AM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

My chief complaint is that we were asked specifically what our dietary limitations were, but our answers were ignored. I've been in this boat often enough to know that if I *don't* inform people in advance, I have only myself to blame if there's nothing that I can eat. But I resent it when I specify a food restriction and I'm ignored. And yes, I do understand that I have to explain what gluten is--been there, done that.

Tue Feb 18, 11:26:00 AM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

There are also not one, but two halachik issues involved. How exactly, does one walk into a dining area that's under kashrut supervision *carrying on Shabbat* what is obviously *food brought from home*?

Tue Feb 18, 11:50:00 AM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

They can't play this both ways--if the only food we can eat on Shabbat is the food that's provided by the caterer, then the food provided by the caterer has to be food that we can eat.

Tue Feb 18, 02:56:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The caterer could easily have gotten kosher parve gluten-free oat challah (over which I've been saying a motzi for years), gluten-free crispbreads, and gluten-free cookies, all with reliable hechsherim (markings on the packaging indicating that a product is kosher), at Kosher Marketplace on Broadway at about 90th St. (If they were willing to trust the hashgachah [kashrut supervision]--or if they'd ordered in advance and gotten the OK-certified goods from the commissary--they could even have bought kosher parve gluten-free cakes and pastries from By the Way Bakery next door to Kosher Marketplace, but I'll grant you that such purchases would probably have been too expensive--that place ain't cheap). This is New York City, for crying out loud--you don't have to order online, you can call the stores and have gluten-free kosher parve baked goods delivered.

Tue Feb 18, 04:05:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Jackie said...

Did they say your dietary needs would be catered to, or did they simply ask what they were? I’ve frequently eaten pre-prepared in my hotel room on Shabbat and yom tov. Was I breaking halacha?

Tue Feb 18, 05:10:00 PM 2020  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jackie, why would they bother asking what my needs were if they didn't intend to cater to them? What would be the point?

We didn't reserve hotel rooms. We cheated halachically by taking the subway from our home in a different borough of New York City. But while it's possible to be discrete about traveling, it's much more difficult to be discrete about carrying. Even if I could have figured out how to bring my own food without being caught in the act, where would I have eaten it? And what's the point in joining other Jews for Shabbat if I can't share a meal and bentch with them? This wasn't a business trip!

Tue Feb 18, 06:32:00 PM 2020  

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