Impressions of a rookie: turn up late and dance
I’M A Limmud latecomer. For years, I’ve heard stories of stimulating sessions, of bands jamming in the bar and late-night discos at this Jewish educational extravaganza which attracted thousands to the windswept campus of Warwick University.
Now finally I was here — not at Warwick but at the equally windswept platform of Birmingham International station from where I wandered through a deserted NEC towards Limmud’s new home in the rather plusher surroundings of the Birmingham Hilton Metropole
So what’s it like? For those of you who haven’t yet made it, Limmud is a cross between an Open University summer camp, a Catskills resort and the world’s biggest Jewish wedding.
By all accounts, the atmosphere is fundamentally different here at the Hilton than at Warwick. With every session under one roof there is a lot less weather than Limmud veterans are used to for a start — and the carpets are more swirly too.
As a conference newbie, several things immediately struck me. The first was the number of languages and dialects represented here — Brummie is the only one I have yet to hear.
The second was the way that an international hotel in the Midlands was now apparently being run by a very smiley bunch of Jewish volunteers. And never before had I seen quite this much salmon being eaten
in a dining room the size of a football pitch.
And then there are the sessions themselves which cover everything from combating extremism to comedy improv.
Again, as a newcomer I have had to learn quickly about the traditions. The first and most important seems to be that one should never arrive before the start of a session. The key is to arrive 10 minutes late, disturb everyone who is already there and then complain that the speaker is mumbling.
Another custom surrounds question-and-answer sessions. It seems you don’t actually ask a question — what you do is make a long speech. There are operas that are shorter than some of the “questions” I have sat through here.
And, of course, there is the ultimate Limmud obsession — finding a wifi password which works.
However, it is hard to imagine a friendlier place. I thought I would know a few people beyond my colleagues at the Board of Deputies but I have met relatives, ex-colleagues, a friend from university 30 years ago and the chap who used to sit in front of me at Chelsea in the ’90s.
And yes there are bands jamming in the bar. In fact, as I write, there is a choir practising and children weaving between the chairs. And I popped into the Rebbetzins Disco last night where everyone from teenagers to pensioners were dancing into the small hours.
This was my first Limmud but I’m sure it won’t be my last. That’s after I’ve spent the next couple of weeks recovering in a darkened room.
Simon Round is the Board of Deputies communications officer