Thursday, January 19, 2006

And in the Jewish Conference/Retreat Division series...

Did I mention the Institute is less than 7 months away?

People always say profound things about their first time... the first time they fell in love, the first time they kissed, the first time they saw this beautiful place... and there's also the eventuality that there will be comparisons to everything else after the first thing, because hey, that's your frame of reference. Last August was the first time I went to a big Jewish conference/retreat/event, so it should come as no surprise to you that, now that I've had a day to decompress, I've started comparing Limmud to last year's National Havurah Committee's Summer Institute. I realize this might be completely unfair. Especially since I've used phrases like "one of the best weeks of my life" and "life changing experience" to describe the Institute.

But it's my blog.

Also, maybe by comparing them, I can help them both grow and be even better next time. I could do this like the preview to a baseball playoff series:

1) Introductory programming:
NHC's intro program was great. I learned a great new tune and had a really interesting discussion with new folks. Also, I think you could definitely count the Everett Fellowship as an introductory program of a sort, as in an introduction to the community with a group of newbie peers, which gives the Institute an advantage. They're also helped by the fact that Limmud's opening program was taking place while Knucklehead and I were hurtling through the catskills in Brain on our way to Kutchers.

Advantage: Institute

2) Services:
Both had several different interesting options to choose from during most days. The Institute's had a little more variety, except Kabbalat Shabbat which was all of us in a big gym (which was a billion times better than it sounds). However, the one thing better than BZ leading shabbat services is BZ leading shabbat services with a guitar, which did happen at Limmud, but not the Institute. Also, I got to lead a service at Limmud with Knucklehead and NF, so

Advantage: Limmud

3) Classes/Workshops:
This is difficult to compare, because Limmud only had workshops (as defined by the following parameters: workshop- only one session; class- more than one session). The Institute had both. At Limmud, it would certainly be possible to offer 2 or even 3 part classes. The absense of classes means either you're shoving a lot of content into 75 minutes, or scratching the surface of an incredible thought provoking journey. Or both. One workshop I took, Dr. David Arnow's Moses and the Passover Haggadah: The Human Role in Redemption, had a lot of great content, and Dr. Arnow really knew his stuff. But there was so much to cover, we were really pushing through it to end the session in time and didn't get to discuss all that much. He could have benefitted from an extended session, or even two sessions. The Institute has both, and I felt like I got a lot out of two awesome classes as well as my workshops.

Advantage: Institute

4) Social Justice content
(note: This is totally arbitrary, this may not be all that important to you, but it is to me. And it's my blog.)

Limmud had several workshops per day on this, from multiple perspectives, including my favorite session of the weekend with Rabbi Jennie Rosenn (see below). On the other hand, the Institute had one or two things, but this was one of the places where I felt it was lacking most last summer.

Advantage: Limmud

5) Creative content
(see note by category four)

The institute had several 4 day long classes on arts, a series of writing workshops culminating in an open mic, several jams each day, a closing concert and a talent show. Also, you could bang on the table during Zmirot. Limmud had some great artists as well, but the schedule was such that it really didn't open up. Maybe I was spoiled by the Institute, but I certainly expected a lot more musical and creative interaction. The difference was, at the Institute, there was so much fantastic interaction within the community in addition to the workshops with the artists. The "teacher as student, student as teacher" really came across here.

Advantage: Institute

6) Accomodations

This is a real battle. Humidity and uncomfortable beds versus very strange heat functions. old school kitsch versus college asthetics. snow and ice versus gooseshit. But between the really confortable beds, the only two hour drive, and the meat meals, Limmud wins by a nose.

Advantage: Limmud

7) Community intangibles

Limmud had a huge New York contingent, which was nice, because I did get to see a lot of old friends during the conference... but the Institute seemed to have a lot more diversity in multiple areas. I feel like at the Institute, I started the week as an outsider, but grew to know a bunch of the people there, whereas at Limmud, my virtue of knowing a bunch of the organizers made me a bit more of an insider (even though I still feel like the simple kid around all these things). The institute also had a much more open vibe to me. Knucklehead noted to me this difference on the way home: that the Institute erred on the side of openness, on giving everyone a chance to speak their piece, where Limmud seemed to err on being a bit more polished, cerebral. Being that I take creative and rough around the edges over polished and a bit more restrictive...

Advantage: Institute

The Institute in 6 games.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Limmud has a huge New York contingent because it is intended for a NY audience. Plans are in the works for Limmuds based in other parts of the country. The logistics of a national Limmud in the US (like the UK) are impossible. Also, Limmud is largely funded by the UJA-Federation of NY, which only funds in the 5 boroughs, Westchester, and maybe Long Island or something? So the money is given on the condition that most of the participants be from those areas. Just to explain the lack of geographic diversity at Limmud NY. So I don't think that is a fair critique, really.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Ruby K said...

Hey Anonymous,

Thanks for reading and commenting! Wow, I put that up, like, ten minutes ago.

I realize that LimmudNY has NY in its name for a reason. I didn't realize that UJA requires NYC metro area participants to be the majority of the conference. Now that I know, that does make some sense.

Even allowing for that, i still think the Institute takes it in six games.

Don't get me wrong, and nobody should misunderstand me: I HAD A GREAT TIME AT LIMMUD. There were a few moments that were disappointing, and I figured making a comparison could help me figure out what was missing and what I'd like to see done better.

I pestered many folks involved with NHC about the paucity of social justice stuff (and not only was I told to propose a course, they got so many social justice courses for this year that they couldn't fit me in).

I plan on going to LimmudNY again, helping spread the word, perhaps doing a workshop or poetry program (if y'all would have me).

To paraphrase another famous Jew poet, we critique because we love, and I mean that, babe.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Alyssa said...

I'd like to respond to anonymous's comments about Limmud NY participants and also Ruby-K's point about the problems with the scheduling of arts programs.

First, to anonymous, I was an active member of the Limmud NY programming team, and it was my understanding that Limmud NY's marketing efforts intentionally targeted Jews within the New York Metro area with the goal of creating new learning experiences and communities for these Jews specifically. Limmud NY's diversity was to come from the types of Jews we drew to the conference, but geographic diversity was never a central aim. While it is true that Limmud is funded by UJA Fed of NY, among other locally directed funds, I think the efforts to target New York area Jews were also driven by programmatic goals.

Second, Ruby, in your discussion about arts programs you mention frustration about the scheduling of creative programming at Limmud.
I also wished I could attend more arts programs, but the schedule we devised was the best solution we could think of to simultaneously adhere to Limmud NY's Shabbat policy and find space fo all of our presenters in the schedule.

Limmud's Shabbat policy dictates that in public spaces sessions must be in line with the laws of Shabbat so eveyrone can participate. In private spaces, individuals are encouraged to make their own religious decisions. However, any presenter who chooses to teach a session that is not accessible to eveyrone on Shabbat is requred to repeat that session again after Shabbat.

Relating this to arts programming, this means that we could have had performances on shabbat in closed off rooms, but that we would have had to repeat them, and thereby take schedule slots away from other presenters.

We made the decision that we'd rather just schedule sessions at times when everyone can participate. Limmud UK gets around these issues by being a week long. Perhaps with time Limmud NY will grow to be that long. How awesome would that be!

12:25 AM  
Blogger BZ said...

However, any presenter who chooses to teach a session that is not accessible to eveyrone on Shabbat is requred to repeat that session again after Shabbat.

Is that true? I led a kabbalat shabbat with instruments on Friday night, and no one told me to repeat it after Shabbat.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous benjamin said...

BZ - But you kind of did a musical shabbat workshop *before* shabbat, so maybe that met the requirement?

And Ruby, thanks for the series play-by-play. I've been curious about the NHC's SI, and this was really informative.

1:45 PM  

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