November 16, 2018

What ever happened to Limmud in LA?

I used to love this time of year. I’d count the days until Presidents Day weekend, when hundreds of us would trek down to the Costa Mesa Hilton for LimmudLA’s three-day celebration of everything Jewish. I’d pack up the SUV, pick up the kids early from school on Friday and get on the freeway by noon so we’d miss the rush-hour traffic.

By Monday afternoon, we were a little drained but revitalized.

Here’s what I wrote in a column titled “Bumping Into Judaism” after my first Limmud experience in 2009 :

“What do you do when you go to a Jewish event that lasts for 72 hours, has about 200 classes and activities, 150 speakers and 700 Jews buzzing in and out of each event until the wee hours?

“How do you write about that? How do you capture hundreds of little moments of discovery and celebration in just one column? How do you summarize in a few paragraphs three days of nonstop Jewish learning that covers just about any Jewish subject?”

LimmudLA took our community by storm in 2008 by offering something this city desperately needed — a neighborhood of diversity that brought Jews and Judaism together in a way nothing else has, before or since. This wasn’t just a conference. It was a community gathering that aroused your Jewish curiosity and encouraged you to shape and create your own Jewish journey.

The spacious hotel location was ideal because it served as a self-contained, neutral shell for the real attraction — a sea of Jewish humanity interacting easily with one another.

It’s a shame that this Presidents Day tradition no longer exists. After five years, the powers that be decided in 2013 to transition the big event into a smaller-scale August retreat called LimmudLA Fest.

This new outdoor iteration attracts only about 100 to 200 people, and because it’s in the summer, when many people are away, it has failed to generate the community buzz many of us felt during LimmudLA’s heyday.

This wasn’t just a conference. It was a community gathering that aroused your Jewish curiosity and encouraged you to shape and create your own Jewish journey.

I’m extra saddened by the loss because for the past two winters I have attended big and classic Limmud conferences in the U.K. and New York, and I’ve come to appreciate something special about the Limmud magic: Size matters.

As much as we can rationalize smaller versions of the Limmud experience, what’s so extraordinary about the basic Limmud idea is its sheer breadth. The more people there are, the more sessions, the more diversity, the more you feel the bigness of the Jewish story.

This is especially important for Los Angeles, where the Jewish community is fragmented into little bubbles, and there are so few opportunities for meaningful engagement between these bubbles. As I wrote in 2009, human interaction was essential to the Limmud experience:

“The classes at LimmudLA were great, yes, but it’s what happened between the classes that ended up moving me the most. It was the space between the notes, the movement between the events, the unplanned human encounters that made me forget all the great classes I missed. 

“Maybe this is the secret of Limmud’s success. It’s more than a Jewish event. It’s a Jewish neighborhood.”

I miss that big, boisterous Limmud neighborhood. Regardless of whether the leadership keeps the smaller summer version, I’d love to see them bring back that original, large-scale version in time for next year’s Presidents Day weekend.

If affordability is an issue (and it usually is), our Federation or Jewish Community Foundation ought to step up and help subsidize the event so more people can go. Limmud strikes me as a great investment for anyone committed to “Jewish values” and “the continuity of the Jewish people.”

Certainly no group embodies the Jewish values of diversity and pluralism better than Limmud. Aside from the newspaper you’re reading now, there is no Jewish experience in Los Angeles that can match Limmud’s celebration of the full Jewish buffet. In a world obsessed with choices, it is this very breadth and diversity that can keep Judaism fresh and alive and help assure the continuity of the Jewish people.

As for all you donors who love to see where your money’s going, how do you beat “virtually no overhead”? This should be music to any donor’s ears: LimmudLA is run entirely by volunteers.

So, here’s my offer: If Federation or any other philanthropic group is willing to help bring back “Big Limmud” to our community, count me in as a volunteer. I will assist in any way I can, including helping promote the event and reaching out to different sectors and denominations to make the event as diverse as possible.

It’s not as if Jews need another annual tradition, but if a vibrant and magical February gathering can bring our fragmented community together, isn’t that a tradition worth keeping?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at