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Friday, 18 January 2008

Limmud Report

Limmud Report
I was a little nervous as to how Limmud would be this year with the
location moving from Nottingham to Warwick University, however, after
one day it felt as if Limmud had always been at Warwick. So it was
another year, another successful Limmud conference; hats off to the
chairs of this years conference and to all those involved in the
planning team. The new site, I thought, was an improvement on the old
one, with all the buildings that were used closer together. The
facilities were great also, including a large bar that everyone could
relax in during the evenings, enjoy a drink or two (or more), and
celebrate this learning fest into the early hours of the morning, if you
wanted.

With a strong presence from the Progressive communities it was great to
see a lot of people there from Pro Zion. From the committee, both
Daniel Needlestone and myself were there, and David Duke-Cohan was there
also. Daniel, a fervent session facilitator, ran a number of sessions
regarding his project, the Jewish Teachers Forum, and other such related
things. He also repeated his popular session from last year, A
Beginner's Guide to Israeli Politics, which was attended by even larger
numbers this year.

There were a number of highlights for me. Daniel Boyarin, Professor of
Talmudic Culture at University of California, Berkley, whose session
series Reading the Talmud as a Novel was truly thought provoking and
inspiring. In addition, David and I both attended the 'intensive'
session (a course of 4 sessions at the same time every morning) Zionism
and its Discontents delivered by Professor Gideon Shimoni from the
department of Modern Jewish History at the Hebrew University. Professor
Shimoni gave a clear, detailed and sophisticated analysis of some
important themes, issues and developments in the Zionist movement.
Beginning, aptly, with the genesis of Zionism, Professor Shimoni
contradicted the claims that Zionism is either an anachronism, or a
colonial invention, and showed how it developed as any other nationalist
movement developed within other ethnic groups in the same period. Other
themes that Professor Shimoni touched on were secularism and the
parallel development of Palestinian Nationalism.

Finally, a major highlight for me was the debate, chaired by Dr. David
Breakstone, head of the Department for World Zionist Affairs, between
Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Knesset and Chairman of the WZO and
JAFI, and Hillel Halkin, author, literary essayist and political
analyst. These two powerhouses have been at odds with each other since
the publication of Burg's controversial book Defeating Hitler. The
debate was both informative and entertaining, with the rhetorical skills
of Burg clashing with the intellectual astuteness of Halkin. Halkin's
basic objection is that Burg's notion of the future of the Jewish State
involves a moral imperative that the Jewish People will consequently be
held accountable too. Halkin believes that the Jewish State should be a
state like any other, and should not need to justify its existence in
the way that Burg suggests. This, Halkin argued, is playing into the
hands of our enemies. Burg however, although his views are sometimes
somewhat 'out there', provides a poignant critique of Israeli society,
and a clear vision for the Jewish State. Whilst I cannot say that I
fully agree with everything Burg says, I think that his views are
neither 'odious', nor are they 'hateful', as the Zionist Federation
suggested but then later retracted before Limmud. I think Burg's
emphasis on critique, vision and method provides the Zionist Movement
with a significant challenge, evident in the often adolescent reactions
towards him, that we would do well to take on board and address ourselves.

Charlie Gluckman
Co-chair of Pro Zion

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