The Limmud eFestival on May 24 promises to be a day full of Jewish learning, with topics ranging from Leonard Cohen to the mysteries surrounding Shavuot.
And the lineup includes several familiar Arizona names: Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah, Eddie Chavez Calderon, campaign organizer at Arizona Jews for Justice, and state Rep. Alma Hernandez.
Limmud North America recognized the need for virtual programming “right when the pandemic struck,” said National Director Rabbi David Singer. The organization held its first virtual festival on March 29, just two weeks after the coronavirus shut down many communities around the country.
“We were just blown away by the reception,” Singer said. “We had over 1,200 people participate in 50 sessions run by leading educators and changemakers and thought leaders from across the world, and we were deeply inspired by that program and its success and want to continue that.”
For this iteration, sessions led by Arizonans include “A Spiritual and Emotional Dive into Our Current Immigration System,” presented by Chavez Calderon and Hernandez and moderated by Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, at 2 p.m., and “The New anti-Semitism and the Jewish Future,” led by Allouche at 3 p.m.
“We put a call out to our network of communities inviting each community to nominate presenters from their community, educators and changemakers. That’s how we have such an extraordinary lineup from Arizona,” Singer said.
Suzanne Swift, a member of the Limmud North America Board from Arizona, was the one who asked Allouche to lead a class. Singer invited Chavez Calderon based on the responses to his class on immigration and Torah at Limmud Arizona.
“He said he really would love to involve that class in Limmud North America and asked me if I would be able to participate in a class with Alma Hernandez,” Chavez Calderon said. “I’m really excited to be able to participate in that.”
Chavez Calderon hopes that the eFestival session will help change the narrative around immigration.
“I want people to feel a personalized story of how immigration impacts people on a real level and how spirituality ties into that,” Chavez Calderon said. “If even one or two people were able to hear my story and relate to what’s going on here and now with our immigration system, then that changes the narrative on what currently is portrayed.”
Allouche plans to give participants tools for fighting anti-Semitism, but also to develop a deeper understanding of Jewish values and Jewish identity.
“The goal of this class is not just to know how to fight anti-Semitism in France and other places, but really to know who we are — to be able to provide answers to those questions that arrive specifically during confusing times,” Allouche said. “What is our direction? What is our purpose as Jews? How can we still anchor ourselves in the values that we have and find solace and direction in them, in spite of the many ways of distraction that currently exist?”
The variety of the Limmud sessions — on everything from Jewish homesteading to the history of pickles — is by design.
“We are adamant that each one of these things are essential aspects of Jewish learning, that every voice, every topic, every piece of the fabric of our community is an important piece of Torah,” Singer said. “We want to celebrate all of them and build a platform that elevates each of these Jewish ideas to get people thinking and get people talking and get people interacting.”
Events like the Limmud eFestival are important, Allouche said, because they provide an opportunity for learning and connecting with Jewish knowledge and traditions.
“Limmud doesn’t just bring people together to bring them together. It brings people together so that they can learn and study,” Allouche said. “That idea is aligned perfectly with what I personally try to do, and I’m inspired by my own rabbi, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the world scholar, whose slogan is not ‘Let my people go,’ as the original one goes, but ‘Let my people know.’ And that’s what Limmud does.”
“A video chat is not a substitute for in-person gathering and in-person community building,” Singer conceded, but virtual programs are key to allowing Jewish learning to continue during the pandemic.
“We’re not going to allow Jewish life to hibernate for six months or a year, or who knows how long,” Singer said. “Certainly we aren’t going to be able to bring people together in person any time soon, but we feel that in the face of a crisis like this, gathering people, giving them the opportunity to connect even though we’re distant from each other, and giving our community the opportunity to learn together, was more important and more pressing than ever before.” JN