Some­thing for ev­ery­one (but me)

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - LIM­MUD SANDY RASHTY

WHEN THE as­sign­ment was first handed over, I kicked my desk and un­leashed a tor­rent of ex­ple­tives. It was my turn to cover the an­nual Lim­mud con­fer­ence — and no tantrum would get me out of it.

Nor would a fam­ily wed­ding in Tel Aviv or an of­fer to hol­i­day at a pent­house in New York over the New Year.

In­stead, I was to re­port on a plu­ral­is­tic love-in with 2,700 peo­ple who chose to spend the fes­tive sea­son rev­el­ling in their Ju­daism — or, as one Lim­mud­nik put it: “Learn­ing, laugh­ing and feel­ing Jewishly lib­er­ated”. The whole con­cept is be­yond me. We Jews have spent our history es­cap­ing claus­tro­pho­bic ghet­tos, so why would or­gan­is­ers make one, over the Christ­mas hol­i­days, in some re­mote part of Birm­ing­ham?

I pro­posed writ­ing a pre-Lim­mud blog ex­plain­ing why it was not the place for me. A piece that would de­tail why I did not want to spend the sea­son play­ing with self-right­eous aca­demics who hate cap­i­tal­ism, or peo­ple who thought it ap­pro­pri­ate to wear open­toe san­dals in De­cem­ber.

But my of­fer was turned down and I was un­der strict in­struc­tions not to write or tweet any­thing that might get me banned from the con­fer­ence (which was really the whole point of the pro­posed piece).

So, armed with two overnight bags, I picked up my two col­leagues and we made our way up the M40 to Birm­ing­ham’s Hil­ton Metropole ho­tel, where the con­fer­ence was be­ing held.

On ar­rival, one thing was clear. This was the place where Christ­mas had come to die.

Across the coun­try, peo­ple hold on to the fes­tive sea­son for as long as pos­si­ble; but here, there were no clas­sic tunes, ex­trav­a­gant dec­o­ra­tions or jolly hats.

In­stead, we were met by ru­ach- filled Lim­mud vol­un­teers wav­ing blue foam fin­gers in our face.

We had to walk past queues of Jews sift­ing through their eco-friendly wel­come bags for a pink pass — which they would need to show to get the soli­tary meaty meal to which they were en­ti­tled dur­ing the con­fer­ence.

As I stepped into the lift, I let out a sigh of re­lief — rel­ish­ing the es­cape — be­fore I no­ticed a bold sign ask­ing all Lim­mud at­ten­dees to gather up their “tzedakah un­der­wear (new pants, socks, bras)” for do­na­tions.

In­stantly, I was thank­ful for hav­ing crammed in as much fes­tive spirit as pos­si­ble ahead of Lim­mud — an­tic­i­pat­ing the dearth that was to fol­low. On Christ­mas Eve, I went to an Ir­ish pub. On Christ­mas Day with my fam­ily, I tucked into kosher tur­key with all the trim­mings. On Box­ing Day, I hit Brent Cross, be­fore head­ing to Sadlers Well’s to watch Matthew Bourne’s Sleep­ing Beauty bal­let.

Ob­vi­ously, I see the logic in ban­ning a Chris­tian fes­ti­val from a Jewish con­fer­ence — but it just made my sense of alien­ation from the rest of Bri­tain all the more real. And there’s no es­cape.

You are con­fined to the Lim­mud ghetto for the du­ra­tion of the con­fer­ence, lest you dare to make the 20-minute drive via the mo­tor­way to­wards the city cen­tre.

From morn­ing to night, peo­ple bashed el­bows as they made their way from ses­sion to ses­sion. Then, they queued for ev­ery­thing. They queued for toi­lets. They queued for a grab-andgo lunch sand­wich (which ran out early on the first day).

They queued for din­ner in the mez­za­nine, which ran on a school-like sys­tem of grab a wet plate, lay it on a wet tray, hold that out for cater­ers to slop on (per­fectly ed­i­ble) food, be­fore search­ing for a free seat, eat­ing and then head­ing to the end of the room to tip your left­over food, plates, cups and cut­lery into a bucket. Out­side the din­ing area, the ses­sion rush be­gins again. No won­der there was high de­mand for med­i­ta­tion rooms.

For es­cape, I tried the pool in the morn­ing — but that soon be­came too crowded.

The Hil­ton spa was shut for the con­fer­ence, so that was ruled out. The evening bar was filled with peo­ple shar­ing seats and squat­ting on the floor.

De­scrib­ing the whole episode as life in a pres­sure cooker would be an un­der­state­ment.

But… there is a rea­son that Lim­mud is as pop­u­lar as it is. Dur­ing my time there, I took part in as wide a range of ses­sions as pos­si­ble: from re­port­ing on events for the JC, and at­tend­ing ones that I per­son­ally found in­ter­est­ing, to even tak­ing part in a panel on me­dia cov­er­age of Is­rael.

It was all per­fectly fine but not some­thing that I would pay around £400 for — es­pe­cially at a time where there is so much else go­ing on in the world.

With­out a doubt, Lim­mud is ex­actly what I ex­pected it to be. The peo­ple are per­fectly nice but they are, in the main, mem­bers of pro­gres­sive move­ments, left-wing, aca­demic and into holis­tic al­ter­na­tive medicine.

And the para­dox­i­cal lib­eral mind­set came through when con­tro­ver­sial right-wing jour­nal­ist and best-sell­ing au­thor Tu­via Te­nen­bom was dis­in­vited from a panel.

Al­though or­gan­is­ers cited last­minute lo­gis­ti­cal rea­sons, in my opin­ion this ban rep­re­sented why Lim­mud — a con­fer­ence that was sup­posed to wel­come di­ver­sity — was just not for me.

Lim­mud­niks seem to think that the con­fer­ence of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­one; but it’s not true. Not ev­ery­one likes to feel “Lim­mudy” (their word, not mine).

The like­li­hood is that if you sus­pect that Lim­mud is not for you (as I did); then you’re prob­a­bly right.

I left ex­hausted, drained, and con­sciously more Ortho­dox, tra­di­tional and com­mer­cial than I ever sus­pected.

En route back to Lon­don, I hauled one col­league to Bicester Vil­lage in Ox­ford­shire; the shop­ping out­let where Christ­mas lived on, sales with flour­ish­ing and re­fresh­ingly dis­en­gaged peo­ple wore make-up.

Thank the pow­ers that be for Prada, is all I’ll say.

Call me a Jewish Princess if it makes you feel bet­ter — but I would much rather be that than a Lim­mud­nik.


Lim­mud goes dig­i­tal: happy at­ten­dees at this year’s event

El­bows bashed as peo­ple made their way to ses­sions

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