Limmud in Skokie, IL 2015
Author’s note: This year’s 2015 Limmud Chicago (Skokie) Jewish learning event opened its doors motzaei Shabbos, November 7. 2015 in the comfortable setting of the Doubletree Hotel, Skokie, IL and ran through Sunday afternoon, November 8, 2015. Catered by Mariano’s, a phenomenal advance in what used to be called ‘grocery shopping’, there was, as you might guess, an abundance of delicious kosher food served Saturday night, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon.
An event takes on the personality of its organizers. Limmud has no paid staff, but relies instead on the commitment of its participants to volunteerism, the fundamental tenet of which is that the interests of the whole take precedence over those of the parts. However, if one then conjoins ‘volunteer’ and ‘participant’ behold the emergence of the volunticipant. Defined by this writér as someone who takes but then gives back more, our world has forever suffered from a shortage of these folks now more than ever. Although salaried professionals do not lead Limmud, influential people from within the rank and file do emerge invariably.
Kudos to Rabbi Neil Brill who gave a rousing pep talk to the Saturday night attendees. ‘If there is one word to which everything else can be reduced, it is ‘respect’ for the individual’s person and his point of view, especially when it differs from our own. We’re here to learn,’ and so we raced to our first class.
It was this writer’s good fortune to have chosen a text-driven class in Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zara, taught by a superb educator, Moshe Simkovich. Skilfully employing an apparent gift for classroom management, humor, modesty and a substantial familiarity with the material, Mr. Simkovich successfully taught the class as if he were the personal ‘chevruta’ (learning partner) of each of its members individually, treating everyone’s contribution to the discussion with respect. Of the ‘students’ who actively participated in the discussion, there was not one who seemed driven by ego.
Limmud (Hebrew: of or related to ‘learning’) Learning is as ancient as the Jewish People itself. From the earliest of times when, according to tradition, the Creator gave over The Law to Moses who then transmitted it to Joshua and from Joshua to the Elders and from the Elders to The Prophets until eventually it reaches the level of the everyday Jewish man and woman, learning often went hand in hand with prayer as Jews assembled thrice daily for learning and devotions. Unless learned anew by each generation and subsequently passed on to the next there is the ever-present danger the Jewish People would become like other once great peoples reduced to the status of seldom read footnotes.
Learning occupies an exalted place in Jewish life; the members of Limmud do what Jews have done before them, learn. In olden times prior to the near obliteration of European Jewish civilization during the Second World War ‘Jewish learning’ was centered in the great yeshivot of Eastern Europe. Place names such as Slobodka, Volozhin and Brisk were largely unknown to the outside world but therein sat some of the greatest minds of the age learning and relearning the holy texts of Judaism at all hours of the night and day.
Our tradition teaches that a plague killed 24, 000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students when they pursued Torah for personal aggrandizement rather than the pursuit of divine truth. Limmud is a wandering venue for Jews of all backgrounds to assemble and ‘limmud’ so that ‘Am Yisrael chai’. To achieve this, we must insure, as Lord Rabbi Jonathon Sacks urged several hundreds of Jews who had gathered to hear him speak at Congregation Or Torah in Skokie, Illinois (Friday, November 6, 2015) that our grandchildren will be Jews who will embrace Jewish learning of Torah because their grandparents did not forsake them.