Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · Shabbos/Shabbat

Oh, the wonders of Limmud LA (and a rather long blog)

Two years ago, my husband’s parents dragged out to Los Angeles in February for a 3-day Jewish conference. Like the smart and frostbitten New Yorkers were, we accepted without knowing very much about the conference itself. Because it was a volunteer-run conference, we signed up to teach a session or two about Jewish topics we were interested in and thought we could impart some wisdom about.

The conference, Limmud LA 2008 was more than incredible. It was a networking opportunity: exposing me to Jews of all different stripes from diverse backgrounds. It was a learning opportunity: I spent the entire three days powering through sessions on everything from sexuality to martial arts (all from the Jewish perspective), pushing my body to its limits because I didn’t want to miss a thing. The only bad thing about Limmud LA was that there was always a session going on you felt guilty about missing. (Incidentally, I missed Limmud LA 2009 but I did make it out to Limmud NY 2009.)

When I got an email that there would be a “Taste of Limmud” event in the Los Angeles neighborhood where my husband is doing a summer internship, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. For two hours, I would get just a taste, a little bite to whet my appetite for Limmud LA 2010. I knew that it would leave me thirsty for more and it did.

When I arrived, I didn’t recognize a single face and I was already in a lot of pain so I wasn’t excited to network or chat up strangers. Instead, I plopped down into a folding chair in the spacious new house of a fellow Limmud junkie who was hosting the event and I read and reread the handout explaining the sessions I would get to choose from.

For Session One (8:00-8:20pm), I had a choice between “Torah, Shame and the Oven of Akhnai: One of the Wildest and Most Controversial Stories in the Talmud” led by David Suissa, a columnist for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, or “Shabbat: The Jewish Formula for Health Prevention” led by Cathie Ann Lippman, a doctor who has been practicing environmental and preventative medicine in Beverly Hills for almost 30 years.

I had just written a piece on Shabbat so it was on my mind but I figured I’d push myself in a direction I normally wouldn’t go in (Limmud gives you a lot of room for growing in interesting directions) so I chose the Talmud session. Plus, as far as Jewish geography went, I was only one degree away from David Suissa and I figured I’d support a family friend. The thing is that just the idea of learning Talmud makes me start dozing off.

Suissa was very enthusiastic but how could anyone teach Talmud in 20 minutes?! (Actual sessions at the conference are much longer.) When he said he wasn’t your regular Talmud lover, he got my immediate attention. I laughed when he likened the Talmud to the fine print you have to read before you sign a contract—“too intricate for some” but obviously, “a drug” for others. Talmud is my husband’s drug of choice.

As Suissa tried to explain all the back and forth between the rabbis on the story he was trying to tell us, I quickly got lost. But the overall message of his session stuck with me: Judaism “puts so high a premium on the words you use” that when you “wrong someone with words, G-d is the only person who can forgive you” because you can never take the words back, it made me think deeply about how conscious I need to be and should be as a writer and as an everyday chatterbox.

For Session Two (8:30pm-8:50pm), I had a choice between “Celebration and Mourning: The Cycle of Life” with Cedar Sinai Hospital chaplain Rabbi Jason Weiner or “Biblical Bad Boyz: King David’s Night Out” with Marcus Freed. Going against type again, I went with the former over the latter even though the second sounded like I was going to get the Jewish version of a Spanish telenovela (juicy!) and the first sounded very heavy…did I really want to deal with “profound life lessons at 8:30pm? Apparently, I did.

Off the bat, the-so-young-looking-he-gets-asked-about-his-age-all-the-time-at-work Weiner didn’t exude Suissa’s easy confidence but then he was attempting to “talk about end of life things without being too depressing,” a goal possibly as impossible as squeezing Talmud into 20 minutes.

Weiner’s session was more interactive than Suissa’s, he seemed more like a facilitator than the leader. He got a lot of people in the audience to share some heavy stuff on their views of G-d’s participation in the world. Soundbites: “A festival is when we recognize G-d is in the world.” “Sometimes a bad thing is a wake-up call.” “At our saddest moments, we see the hand of G-d.” 20 minutes to go deep? Done. His heartrending story about a couple holding their wedding ceremony in a hospital room so Grandpa wouldn’t miss it will stay with me.

And now if you’re curious at Limmud LA and you’re in Los Angeles, check out the “Make Your Own Sunday” event coming up next week. If you’re not in LA, check out “Limmud International” to find the Limmud nearest you.

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