Demographics: Pre-blogging Limmud Colorado

Despite the one foot I still have somwhere in the Reform door, I think it would be safest these days to call myself a Limmudnyk. I’ve been to the last two Limmud NY conferences, spent the last six months or so working for Limmud NY,  attended the first Limmud Philly, and I’m taking off tomorrow for Limmud Colorado.
A question has been floating around in my head as I’ve been gearing myself up for LCO in the last few days. In North America, we have several Limmud groups now (NY, LA, CO, Chicago, Atlanta-SE, Toronto, and I know of at least one other in development). Only three have been able to achieve the critical mass necessary for a multi-day event–NY, LA, and CO.
In NY and LA, it’s unsurprising that these groups have blossomed the way they have, given the sheer size of the Jewish populations in the area. Colorado, however, baffles me abit. Denver and Boulder are both known to have sizable Jewish populations, but even combined they can’t be comparable to NY or LA.
So I’m throwing my hypothesis as to how this conference has achieved the size it has out here on Jewschool for y’all’s thoughts and I’ll make sure to follow up on it after or during the conference.
Here’s my hypothesis: Pluralism is a hard word to swallow for American Jewry and Limmud, in all of it’s forms, depends on its participants buying into pluralism for it to work. In LA and NY you can find enough people to buy into it for a weekend because of the sheer number of Jews that live in the area. In Colorado, it would have to hinge on a significantly smaller community of Jews already being predisposed toward pluralism.
Given what I’ve heard from people who’ve spent time in Colorado’s Jewish communities, this sounds like the case. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow afternoon.

11 thoughts on “Demographics: Pre-blogging Limmud Colorado

  1. It’s also that one of the Denver rabbis, Marc Soloway, is a Brit with a long affiliation to Limmud UK. Proving again, how much impact individuals can have in making Limmud happen. Like a few of us here in Atlalnta!
    Marc’s Bio:
    “Marc is the spiritual leader of Bonai Shalom in Boulder. Prior to training as a rabbi, he was an actor and storyteller in his native UK, where he co-devised and performed a soulful show of Jewish stories called ‘The Empty Chair’ with the the acclaimed ‘Besht Tellers.’ He is excited to be reviving the show at this Limmud. In 1997 and 1998, Marc was co-chair of Limmud in UK, which has been an essential part of his Jewish journey.”

  2. I would quibble with your statement that “pluralism is a hard word to swallow for American Jewry.” I’d say it’s exactly the opposite. It may feel like American Jews are pluralism-challenged in some specific contexts, but compared to the Jewish communities of most other countries, America has the most actively pluralistic Jewish community in the world.
    Ask progressive European Jews about pluralism and you’ll get an earful (as I usually do from my friends in Germany and Russia). And unless you’re ready to enter a minefield of vitriol, don’t even bring it up with Israelis. Even in Canada, you’ll find a cautiously conservative approach to all things Jewish even from many liberal or progressive community leaders and rabbis. Don’t forget, it was the American Jewish landscape that spawned Reconstructionism, Jewish Renewal and the havurah movement and that has sparked a wildly creative and diverse array of grassroots Jewish organizations.
    I’ve been to Limmud NY twice, I’m on the board of Limmud Colorado, and I was at Limmud UK in December. My experience there made it very clear to me that Limmud in Britain is a much more radical act than it is anywhere in the United States. Britain, like most Jewish communities in Europe, has an “official” Jewish establishment and a chief rabbi (all Orthodox). That which is not part of the establishment really struggles to make a place for itself at the table, and Limmud UK, despite 25+ years and the many thousands who attend, remains expressly non-establishment. Although the chief rabbi’s son-in-law, Elliott Goldstein, is Limmud UK’s chair, the chief rabbi himself still declares the event essentially treyf.
    The second part of your sentence, that “Limmud, in all of it’s forms, depends on its participants buying into pluralism for it to work” is quite true, and the genius of Limmud UK is to have found and cultivated that critical mass of Jews (Orthodox, secular, Reform, Masorti, etc.) who buy into pluralism and reject the hierarchy and priorities of the established structures. The folks who attend and volunteer for Limmudim in the U.S. are certainly also fans of pluralism, but they aren’t struggling against the same entrenched power structures or mindsets.
    Looking forward to meeting you at Limmud Colorado, and I’ll be interested to see what you think after you experience it.

  3. Its a bit unfair to say only three have become multi-day because there have only been five in NA that have occurred. That’s a good ratio. A fourth, ATL, moves to a multi-day next year. Chicago’s February 14-15 event will be a two day event from the outset. I believe Toronto may be considering expanding as well. If this happens, 6 of the 8 NA Limmuds will be multi-day.
    Colorado’s success is due in part, I believe, to a benefactor whose singular generosity made it possible in spite of Denver’s scale relative to other communities. Elsewhere it relies more heavily on the spirit of volunteerism and grass roots support. That’s not to say CO lacks that- its just they may have a leg up financially relative to size.

  4. All excellent points. Thanks for setting me straight, y’all. Gregg, your statement in particular is something I know, yet totally ignored in this post, though I might argue that the Orthodox in America MUST accept progressives more than they must in other countries due to numbers, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to argue that given my knowledge set.

  5. You should come back to CO for the Boulder Jewish Festival, on Sunday, June 7. What you’ll see is an extraordinary level of cooperation and interaction among the communities here. While film festivals and art festivals happen on annual cycles, the Boulder Jewish Festival is one of the only community-wide annual Jewish events and may be the longest-running annual one. Our community has a collective experience of cooperation and core volunteers who believe in open tents. We also have a rabbinic fellowship that cooperates, and members of the community who are comfortable at (if not members of) more than one synagogue. We were ready for Limmud.

  6. Thanks for the comment Cheryl. It sounds like you think my guess will turn out to be true. I won’t be around Colorado in June, but have fun! Will I see you this weekend at LCO?

  7. I went to Limmud Toronto a couple of years ago. There were very few young people there — I think I saw maybe 10 people (out of hundreds) who looked like they could be in their 20s or 30s. The Jewish community here is large (around 200,000 people) but tends to be set in its ways — for example, the Shira Chadasha-style minyan here folded last year because of lack of interest.

  8. Hi – won’t be at Limmud this year, hope to be soon. Hope you’ll check out our website. Ask people at LCO about the Festival 😉
    Shabbat shalom.

  9. David: the Orthodox in America MUST accept progressives
    If you’re arguing in your post that pluralism is The Way of the future, I’d like to point out that pluralism is not the same as progressive.
    Jordan, the Jewish population of the GTA (using a very broad definition of “Greater Toronto Area”) is 165,000. If it were around 200,000 it would be 60% of all Jews in Canada, which it’s not.

  10. feygele, I’m not arguing that progressive=pluralist. i’m arguing that to be totally pluralist, you have to incorporate both orthodoxy and progressive streams. and i’m saying that because the progressive streams are more prevalent in america, the orthodox must be involved in pluralism. did that make sense?
    jordan, i was talking with sharoni (a limmud toronto organizer who is this weekend) and i get the sense that there’s a feeling of extreme denominationalism in toronto that makes it hard to limmud. but, as we all do, they keep chugging along.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.