Bringing the eco-friendly into Limmud tent
“IT’S A fallacy that Jews don’t camp and this proves it.” So said Limmud in the Woods co-chair Jon Pam after more than 300 supporters spent a wet and windy Bank Holiday weekend in tents pitched in the Oxfordshire countryside engaging in panel discussions, prayer sessions and community-building activities.
Held at a scout centre near the sleepy village of Wroxton, the programme leaned heavily towards the environment, sustainability and organic food production. Sessions on meditation, vegetarianism and tree-hugging appealed to the happy campers.
For Annelies Libbrecht and her Milan-based family, the weekend provided an opportunity to mix with like-minded couples and their children. “The community spirit is great,” the Belgian-born mother-of-three explained. “The kids can run free and we learn a lot. We moved to Italy last year so there’s a language barrier and we are not really involved in the community there yet. But here we meet a lot of friends.”
Seven-year-old Erin Silk was among a dozen children who tried their hand at archery in the better Sunday morning weather. “I only got one on target but I love it because it’s really fun,” she said.
While the atmosphere was laid-back, it was hardly surprising that the Gaza conflict was a hot topic of conversa- tion around the campsite. And Israeli politics featured in Nir Cohen’s Shabbat afternoon session — an adapted version of Monopoly, with miniature models of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett among the playing pieces. This crash course in the complexities of Israeli government occasionally sparked into life with outbursts over settlement building and the prospects for peace. But as Limmud chair Kevin Sefton pointed out, the weekend also offered an escape for community members at a time of rising antisemitism. “People have concerns over what’s happening in the community, but here we can come and just be ourselves. At the moment we really need that.”
Perched on a bale of hay, Mr Sefton highlighted the differences between the Woods event and its predecessor, the Limmudfest. “The atmosphere is very different here. We have more freedom and flexibility,” he said. “People see the differences between a conference and an outdoor event. We have to allow it to grow over time.”
Catering was a major challenge with around 2,000 meals — all vegetarian — served during the five-day gathering. Larger items such as lasagnes and quiches were made off-site and transported to Oxfordshire. Everything else — vegetables, challah, desserts — was prepared by Limmudniks. “We have to make sure there’s something for everyone,” said kitchen manager Danya Simons. “There are people with allergies. We have a shomer who comes in and makes sure everything is up to scratch.”
As with all Limmud events, attendees volunteered at least four hours of their time to run areas including food production. Those paying reduced fees as part of the Yad scheme contributed additional hours of work on each day of their stay. “We have a good vibe going on,” Ms Simons added. “People come and get stuck in, even if it’s not their volunteer shift.”
Diners ended meals by separating every piece of their biodegradable crockery and cutlery into innumerable recycling bins.
Still on food, Gefiltefest veteran Shana Boltin’s vegan sausage-making class included a lesson in preparing s a u e r k r a u t . He r favourite version of the cabbage dish is a jalapeño one, but the session stuck to a mainstream recipe.
Discussing organic kosher meat, Biblical Foods founder Leon Pein guaranteed the rapt attention of his audience by describing non-organic chickens as “a bit like porn stars. They are manufacturedtohavehugebreastsbuttheirbodies cannot carry the weight. They look good in a supermarket, but that’s all.”
‘We can be ourselves. At the moment we really need that’
In the field housing young Limmud, Evie Leviten-Lawton was overseeing activities for 70 children aged four to 14. She said the priorities were organising a “mix of fun stuff, running around and Jewish sessions and learning”.
As temperatures dropped on Saturday night, a session examining the kashrut of whisky drew a small but knowledgeable crowd. As Rabbi Zvi Solomons had earlier taken on the responsibility of installing the site’s eruv, few could have begrudged him a warming tipple. His bottles of the peaty 13-year-old Highland Park and sherry-infused Aberlour 16-year-old malt were quickly drained.
As the event ended on Monday lunchtime, Mr Pam and co-chair Adele Silk reflected on the culmination of months of hard work. “This has grown out of a wish for an outdoor event,” Ms Silk said. “There’s a lot of potential and a lot of different areas that we are reaching.”
“Every person here has a value,” Mr Pam added. “Everyone gives their time to make it work. This is the most innovative thing in the Jewish community.”
Some of the young Limmud-goers making hay while the sun (briefly) shines. Below inset, event co-chairs Jon Pam and Adele Silk