Organizers of Limmudfest New Orleans are putting the finishing touches on an expanded series of Jewish adult education events that will for the first time incorporate Shabbat worship as a part of its core. This will be the third time a Limmud festival will be held in New Orleans, which is by far the smallest Jewish community in the United States to present such a branded event.
Adding to the excitement is the news that Clive Lawton, one of the original founders and organizers of Limmud in London and now the senior consultant to Limmud, will be returning to New Orleans and for the first time will be a presenter, not just an observer.
“It’s very exciting that everyone who comes to Limmud wil have the opportunity to see such a charismatic, fun and engaging teacher,” said Limmudfest New Orleans chair Gail Chalew. “I’m also delighted Clive will see how amazing Limmudfest New Orleans is and he will be able to share that with leaders around the world.”
Chalew has been at the forefront of the local Limmud organization since 2009 when she, and three others organized the first Limmud conference here at the behest of former Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Uri Topolosky. “He felt the adult education opportunities in the community like the Lehrhaus House were limiting and he wanted to look for a new mode of adult education,” she said in recalling the impetus for bringing Limmud to New Orleans.
In previous years the Limmudfests of 2010 and 2012 have occurred in March just after the conclusion of a Shabbat and continued the next into the next day. This year, though, Chalew and her steering committee, which includes members Barbara Kaplinsky and Jakob Rosenzweig, opted to offer several opportunities for worship across all levels of Jewish observance and practice on Friday night at Temple Sinai in the Uptown area.
For the first time religious observant attendees of Limmudfest New Orleans will also be able to avail themselves of housing provided by volunteers so they can stay in the Uptown area without violating the laws of Shabbat. In addition to a Reform community worship service at Temple Sinai jointly led with Gates of Prayer and Touro Synagogue clergy, religious services for Orthodox and Conservative attendees will be held in separate areas on the Reform synagogue campus on Friday evening, March 7. After all the services, everyone will assemble for a Shabbat meal, the first of several kosher meals offered as part of the conference fees. Catering will be provided by Andy Adelman and all meals and snacks between courses will be supervised by Congregation Anshe Sfard Rabbi David Polsky and the Louisiana Kashrus Committee.
The logistics of offering options which include meals for Shabbat, lodging and a separate track for those that wish to attend after Shabbat can be nightmarish. “You can imagine it’s a tremendous amount of work and there are not only the logistical issues, but the religious issues as well,” Chalew pointed out.
In addition to Saturday morning worship services for Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, there will be opportunities for Torah study.
For those who are unaffiliated or who identify as a cultural Jew, Chalew also added that an optional hour and a half nature walk in nearby Audubon Park will be held during Saturday morning worship hours and conducted by Nili Simhai. Simhai is the founder of Teva, a major Jewish environmental education organization.
But assuring that Shabbat observance would be at a level of comfort for all attendees was important to the members of the steering committee, according to Chalew. To illustrate her point, she reiterated that attendees at Saturday presentations will not write on Shabbat, “so that everyone can be comfortable where they are in the Jewish spectrum.”
Among the noted speakers to appear at this year’s Limmudfest is award-winning Israeli-born storyteller Noa Baum. She will be presenting her one-woman play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict titled “A Land Twice Promised,” in which she plays both an Israeli mother and a Palestinian mother. “It’s a very moving piece,” explained Chalew, who has seen it presented at a previous Limmud leadership conference. “It really humanizes the conflict.”
Educator and author Amy Metzler, who writes the “Homeshuling” blog is another presenter Chalew and her committee members are looking forward to seeing. “She will be talking about Jewish parenting and will also read from her storybooks,” Chalew added.
Limmudfest New Orleans will be a kid-friendly event. “We’re hoping for Shabbat that will people will come and bring their kids,” she continued. “We’re providing a separate program for kids throughout the whole weekend.”
Local authors Mark Schliefstein, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Times-Picayune, and L.S.U. professor Roger Kamenetz will also be featured as presenters at Limmudfest New Orleans 2014. Schliefstein is expected to talk about social action with regard to the environment, especially with the follow-up to the B.P. oil disaster and the continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina-related flooding. Kamenetz will read from his latest collection of poetry “To Die Next To You,” released last year.
Committee members were also high on Evan Kleinman, a documentary film maker, who will show his latest work “Punk Jews” at Limmud.
Although there will be no crafts made on Saturday so as not to violate the sanctity of Shabbat, Chalew said that many opportunities for crafts – from mosaic making to paper cutting – will be available on Sunday.
There will also be a join parent-child social justice workshop, after which they will work on a project for social justice together, she continued.
Other presentations include a session on Sharia Law to be given by L.S.U. professor Mark Wagner and one on “Jews and Jazz” by Preservation Hall owner Ben Jaffe, the son of the founders of the historic bastion of jazz.
Over 90 sessions will be conducted throughout the weekend with nine separate tracks of Arts and Culture, Contemporary Jewish Life and Identity, Family, History, Israel, Social Justice, Southern Jewish Life, Spirituality and Text and Thought. To read more about the sessions click here.
A full section on Limmudfest New Orleans is already posted on the CCJN website here. Once the full schedule is finalized and released, it will be placed on the CCJN for easy access.
Secure online registration is available at the Limmudfest New Orleans website. Payment can be made with credit cards or by sending checks to the address found on the form. Meanwhile direct mailings are being sent through the mail to over 3,000 New Orleans area addresses, Chalew stated.
The cost for the weekend is discounted now, but Chalew emphasized the cost will be rising from $75.00 for the full adult weekend to $90.00 after February 28. The cost for the full weekend for adults from 18-30 will be $40.00 until then and the cost for all children is $15.00.
For adults only attending the Saturday night and Sunday sessions, the cost until February 28 is $50.00. Adults 18-30 are $25.00 each, while children are $5.00 each.
To book a discounted room at the Hampton Inn Garden District, to inquire about lodging near Temple Sinai or to offer lodging as a host for Shomer Shabbat attendees, click here.