Highlights from LimmudNY 2007

At the risk of blowing my (semi-anonymizing) cover, I am pleased to report that I am currently at LimmudNY. I want to blog about this more soon, but just so I don't forget...
  • I am so gratified that I have gotten to the point where: (a) I know myself well enough to know when I need to skip a session or two to get some exercise and (b) I am fit enough to convert that urge into a 25-30 minutes run on the treadmill, after which I actually feel good. I've had two good treadmill runs and two decent walks since I got here. Tonight, I am blogging instead of running, which I think is a fair trade, since the urge to write is as strong as (or stronger than) the urge to get my heart pumping.
  • I had a great time singing Shabbat zemirot after dinner on Friday night, with a bunch of other people who enjoy singing, led by Rabbi Mimi Feigelson, but partially hijacked by a young kid (college student?) who mostly wanted to sing annoying shaloshudos songs or things like "Dror-Yikrah-to-the-Sloop-John-B." Yech! Despite this small problem, I had a great time. This might be what I miss the most about no longer being in college. I've tried to initiate singing at my own Shabbat meals, but people would inevitably rather talk. I mean, people will humor my desire for a song or two, but then they begin to groan. Incidentally, Reb Mimi gave a lovely dvar Torah (short, the best kind!) about how Shabbat reminds of us the world as it should be and of us as we should be. We may get "schmutzy"during the week, but on Shabbat, we wash ourselves clean, take a deep breath (or a few deep breaths), and remind ourselves of what it means to live as a human being created in the image of God. We spend time eating good food leisurely with friends, we sing, we sanctify time, we try to approach the Divine with words we know and words we don't know, we take naps, read books, and through 25 hours intentionally, consciously, we imbue both it and ourselves with holiness. Her words moved me and really helped set the mood of Shabbat for me. I also hope that I will be able to remember them and reflect on them on future Fridays following frenzied weeks. More on being created in the image of God in a separate post to follow. But first...
  • The demographics of Shabbat mincha service attendance at the "mechitza minyan" at LimmudNY were thus: No women over the age of 35, and a disproportionate number of men over the age of 55. There were some younger men there, but at least half or maybe even two-thirds were over the age of 55. I knew a lot of both older women and younger men who were at LimmudNY, and none of the older women and very few of the younger men (by "younger" I really mean people under 35) were present. Why? It is true that in the Orthodox world, it used to be, and maybe still is, relatively rare for women to attend Friday night davening or Shabbat mincha. In many shuls, one only sees younger, single, child-less women at these tefillot. I would assume that this is either because of a cultural predilection to see communal tefillah as a "male thing" or because, by necessity or convenience, someone needs to stay home with the kids, and that person is often the woman (not just among Orthodox Jews--in the world at large). I wouldn't think that either of these would hold true at LimmudNY. The "older" women who were present that I knew were accomplished Judaic scholars or teachers of other kinds, i.e., not the type that I would imagine would relegate public ritual to men. There was a lot of childcare, also, which would presumably negate the child-care argument. I have a lot of thoughts about the Orthodox community as a sociological entity and the role that gender plays in it, but that's really another post.
  • I kind of have a lot to say about being Orthodox in a pluralistic setting, and how my feelings about pluralism have changed over the past ten or eleven years since I first started thinking about it in anticipation of my summer as a Bronfman Fellow, but I don't think that now is the time to explicate that. Again, another post.
  • I met a lot of nice new people, realized that I know a lot of people already, and got to know better some people whom I had known peripherally before. Growing up in Boston and never having attended Jewish camp of any kind (overnight or day), I always felt out of the Jewish geography loop. Apparently, no longer, baby! I am fully hooked up to the wild and wacky world of Jewish educational professionals.
Overall, I would rate this LimmudNY experience quite highly. I've barely touched on all that I got out of it. I don't think I've enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first LimmudNY that I attended two years ago (2005), but I think that's probably because:
  • the first one was new and therefore inherently more exciting
  • the physical space for the first one was better
  • there were fewer people at the first one; fewer = less overwhelming for me (others may find larger crowds energizing, whereas I tend to find them exhausting)
  • there were more "superstar" speakers at the first one that I knew I wanted to go to hear even before I arrived
  • I was more involved as a volunteer for the first LimmudNY, and that made the experience richer.

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