Bigger and better
Record numbers at this year’s Limmud — at new hotel venue.
THE LIMMUD conference swapped its usual campus venue for the more upmarket setting of a hotel — and attracted record crowds.
While some die-hard delegates said they missed the university feel, most of the 2,750 insisted they enjoyed the improved facilities and more comfortable rooms.
The attendees — 100 more than the previous highest number — descended on Birmingham’s Hilton Metropole from more than 40 countries.
For the first time in years, the adult programme was confined to a single building, although five nearby hotels were booked to accommodate the sheer weight of numbers. Sessions for teenagers and Limmud International took place in the nearby National Exhibition Centre.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said former UJIA chief executive Ben Leon, who met his wife Charlotte at Limmud 18 years ago. “I was expecting that not being on a campus, it would lack a Limmud quality, a student-academic environment. But I’ve heard positive comments about the rooms, the food.”
For those with mobility difficulties, the compactness of the venue was a great improvement. “I came because it’s all indoors,” said Doris Moritz, of Cardiff, one of a handful Limmudniks in their 90s. “I hadn’t been for years because there was a lot of walking outdoors. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.” But some found moving through the corridors between sessions oppressive. “It feels like you are toothpaste being squeezed out of the tube,” said Rosemary Hamburger from Manchester. Julian Landy, from Cambridge, said he missed being able to chat to people on the way to sessions at Warwick University, venue for the previous eight years. It was more a case of “elbowing than shmoozing”, he said.
Incoming chairman of the overall Limmud organisation, David Hoffman, believed the conference team had got “on top of the site and made sure it’s run smoothly.”
Volunteers moved quickly to tackle teething troubles and, after the mayhem of overlong lunchtime queues on Monday, appeared to have alleviated the problem the day after.
Despite the swelling numbers, some wondered if the cost of the event might deter prospective participants. It cost a family of four around £1,270 with an early booking discount. But one father said it was good value and that he would be happy to pay “50 per cent more”.
Organisers tried to keep the price rise in moving venue to a minimum and a pot of £16,000 for bursaries helped 100 people to attend.
More than 500 presenters delivered around 1,000 sessions on culture, politics, spirituality, the Bible, and Jewish law .“We turned down 200 sessions ,” said rabbinic student Deborah Blausten, cochairman of the programming team.
While top names, such as historian Professor Deborah Lips tadt, proved popular, no amount of planning could anticipate an unexpected draw. A session by Linda Turner, director of Mavar, an organisation which helps Charedim who want to leave their community, had the audience spilling out of the room .“I had to tell people to stop going ,” said conference cochairman Michael Gladstone.
‘I hadn’t been for years — I’m thoroughly enjoying it’