Meghan Jalowiec is still figuring out the ins and outs of Emamo, Limmud AZ’s scheduling software, and its annual day of learning on Feb. 21 is fast approaching. This year, the event will be virtual and, despite a year of experience with Zoom calls and online events, a few hiccups remain.
“We give patience to our participants and ask for patience from them,” said Jalowiec, one of Limmud’s three co-chairs. “Our community is very understanding and we appreciate that.”
So far, the event is on track to have similar participation rates as previous years. She’s happy with the numbers, but it’s not the most important thing.
“It’s great to have a large attendance, but if everyone has fun and learns something, that’s how we measure success,” she said.
Limmud AZ started in 2015 in response to the Greater Phoenix Jewish community’s desire for more learning opportunities and is part of a global network of learning conferences aligned with Limmud of North America.
This year, speakers were invited instead of applying. The speakers — authors, educators, clergy and lay leaders — volunteer their time.
Rabbi Debbie Stiel of Temple Solel represents relatively new clergy, while Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz and Rabbi Pinchas Allouche are familiar veterans. Both are Orthodox, and Jalowiec said they’re always invited, given their eloquence in educating and engaging people from all walks of life about Judaism.
Amy Fish will talk about her personal development book, which isn’t typical Limmud fare. “But I really pushed for it because it’s part of a thread of standing up for yourself and for the downtrodden, which is a Jewish principle — so why not?” said Jalowiec.
This year, there will be 25 diverse lectures. The topics range from Yiddish children’s literature to a look at what the Talmud has to say about advocating for immigrants.
Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, plans to talk about the public side of Judaism. While faith is personal, he said, “Judaism has universal moral teachings that when lived robustly can truly transform the world.”
He will touch on a variety of political issues. “The world is burning and we need to proudly and loudly amplify these beautiful central ethical teachings in society and in the world at large,” he said, via email.
Hava Samuelson, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Arizona State University, will talk about the connection between Judaism and ecology — something she’s been studying and writing about for two decades.
Judaism brings a distinctive approach to the issue, she said, and she will highlight Judaism’s “deep ecological wisdom” and how it can be applied to the climate crisis. She will also discuss how Judaism conveys the knowledge that all things “are deeply intertwined and interconnected.”
Vicki Cabot is speaking about issues surrounding the First Amendment and freedom of religion. She will focus on the role religion, specifically Judaism, plays in the public square.
To that end, she will introduce specific Supreme Court cases and go through the historic significance of each. She will examine details about how the courts are dealing with religious freedom in the face of COVID-19 and how some in the Jewish community view the public health issue as abrogating their freedom to gather for religious purposes such as with weddings and funerals.
She thinks people might have a lot to say given new interest in the Supreme Court in the wake of new judicial appointments. “It’s terrific that more people are keyed in to what the court does,” she said. “I’d just like to add something to the conversation.”
While she looks forward to the event, she will miss certain aspects of being in person. “The hardest thing for everybody is missing the conversation piece,” she said. “I want people to engage and express themselves, and I encourage people to participate.”
On a positive note, said Jalowiec, a virtual event allows people to attend from anywhere in the world. She isn’t certain how people will react, but she’s curious to see the comments come in. Right now, the plan is to be back in person for 2022, “but we’re open to feedback,” she said. “If virtual is what the community wants going forward, we’ll listen.” JN
Registration is open until Feb. 21, the day of the event. For more information, visit limmudaz.org.