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Monday, January 11, 2010

A Limmud Post (1st of several, I'm sure)

Okay, I've been back for a while and have been putting off writing about Limmud.  I'm not sure why since I had a really good time.  As I've said previously, seeing so many Jews from different backgrounds bending over backwards to find common ground (the highest common denominator, so to speak) on which to meet was truly inspiring. 

Certainly in the U.S the Jews of different stripe mainly keep to themselves and rarely seek out each other's company.  And in Israel... forget about it.  If you are the tiniest bit more or less religious than your neighbor you are either a fanatic or a heretic.

So yes, even though there is certainly plenty of room for improvement in the day-to-day relations between the Orthodox, Conservative (Masorti), Reform, Liberal movements in the U.K.,... the fact that everyone agrees to get along for a finite period of time each year is nothing short of astonishing (to me, anyway).

I also enjoyed meeting many individuals during my visit to the U.K.  Several people embarrassed me by doing essentially what I did to Ruthie Blum (i.e. rushing and gushing), but I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't extremely good for my ego to meet enthusiastic treppenwitz readers.

I was also impressed by many individual acts of genuine warmth and hospitality.  Many people extended offers to host me for shabbat on future trips, and a treppenwtiz reader of long standing (hi Alex!) even picked me up in Coventry on the way back from a family outing and they drove me all the way back to London.  As if that wasn't enough, the next day he and his perfectly charming daughter (hi Elana!... loved the brownies you baked) took me on a walking tour of central London (The Monument, Tower Bridge, St. Pauls, The Globe Theater, Millennium Bridge, etc.). 

For context, it would be like a native New Yorker agreeing to give up a rare day off from work to schlep you to the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and  Central Park.  So yes, on an individual basis I have loads of really nice things to say about many of the Jewish Brits I encountered.

I have a really intense post on some of my more general impressions of the U.K. Jewish community that will have to wait a day or two (still needs to be toned down a bit).  But in the mean time here is a brief synopsis of my Limmud sessions:

The four sessions I gave at Limmud, could best be summed up as follows:

1.  Aliyah Session:  Sparsely attended by a (very) few people who were genuinely interested in moving to Israel, as well as a couple of ex-pat Israelis who seemed to be there in order to cast aspersions on my characterization of the cultural obstacles western olim routinely encounter.  At one point one of these Israelis took me to task, saying that "We Israelis aren't rude, abrupt or pushyAnd besides, Israelis act that way because we are under so much pressure due to the security situation, our kids serving in the army and the constant threat of war."  I tried to point out the logical flaw in denying that Israelis act a certain way and then offering an excuse for the behavior... but she'd had her say and made an early exit.

2.  Blogging Session:  A respectable crowd of people who were genuinely interested in the subject matter.  A lot of excellent questions with the inevitable one checking to see if I felt blogs could be used as a propaganda tool.  I sidestepped that altogether, fearing it would lead to a debate of whether carrying water for Israeli on the Internet might be considered a violation of International Law or even a war crime.  :-)

3:  Settlers & Settlements Session 1:  An extremely well attended session during which I laid out the historical and legal background that I had found almost universally lacking from European criticism of Israel's presence in 'the territories' .  I was not particularly surprised to find that nearly all of the attendees considered themselves far more knowledgeable on the subject than the presenter.  I was interrupted numerous times by members of the audience with barely relevant statements (i.e. not really questions) such as "That's a bit racist don't you think?", as well as some rather 'unique' interpretations of the British Mandate articles.   The only thing that got me out of this session relatively unscathed was the fact that there was so much material to cover and little time for discussion.  That's what the second session was supposed to have been reserved for.

4.  Settlers & Settlements Session 2:   Designed to be the follow-up to the first session whereby an honest discussion could take place among people who now had access to the same body of historic and legal knowledge, as well as an understanding of what constituted inflammatory language.  The only problem was that not one single person in the crowded second session had been to the first session.  Some suggested I simply repeat my first session, (which actually would have been the safer option), but for better or worse, I really wanted to hear what others had to say about settlers and settlements.  I knew how I felt... I wanted to engage others in a discussion of how they felt!  Mistake.  First of all, I had a hunch a particular person would be there... and he was.  I won't mention him by name, but he is a co-founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI).  You can google it and know who I'm talking about.  He dominated the discussion, prompting one guy in the back to tell him to shut up and let the presenter get a word in.  But for the most part, nobody seemed particularly interested in whatever historical or legal claim Israel might have to be in the West Bank... not retain the territory, mind you... just to be there.  I ended the session by reading my 'Ibrahim's Mirror' piece in hopes it might provide food for thought.  Somehow I doubt I changed any minds.  :-)

More Limmud stuff in future posts.

Posted by David Bogner on January 11, 2010 | Permalink

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Hi Dave
I am the inevitable one of the blogging session, and I highly appreciate your post Ibrahim's mirror, that I have just read and shared on Facebook.
best

(I know, my blog is the worst Jewish blog ever, I just can say I started blogging before having attended your session...)

Posted by: Andrea | Jan 11, 2010 6:16:27 PM

Andrea ... Hi there. Glad to see you following along. I hope you weren't put off by my 'preaching to the choir' answer to your question. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 11, 2010 6:20:45 PM

Sounds like it was a worthwhile trip.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 11, 2010 7:41:43 PM

Very happy to hear that you were offered some hospitality in the UK and were dragged around London. You are very generous with your time and gift of hospitality at chez Treppenwitz, so I am thrilled that what goes around comes around!

Posted by: Noa | Jan 11, 2010 7:48:35 PM

Thanks for a bit of feedback.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jan 11, 2010 11:52:26 PM

T:"And in Israel... forget about it. If you are the tiniest bit more or less religious than your neighbor you are either a fanatic or a heretic."

It may be early days - I made aliyah in July '09 - but I haven't found that to be the case. Yet. It may help that I came from a UK community where most people, regardless of their 'level', tried to get on. I do remember a visiting Israeli expressing surprise that the crowd at my nephew's Shalom Zachar was so mixed: Haredi, Dati, Interested, Lost and Press Ganged.


T:"I have a really intense post on some of my more general impressions of the U.K. Jewish community that will have to wait a day or two (still needs to be toned down a bit)."

I really want to see that post.


T:"At one point one of these Israelis took me to task, saying that "We Israelis aren't rude, abrupt or pushy. And besides, Israelis act that way because we are under so much pressure due to the security situation, our kids serving in the army and the constant threat of war."

Wish I'd been there; very funny.


T:"Settlers & Settlements Session 1: An extremely well attended session during which I laid out the historical and legal background that I had found almost universally lacking from European criticism of Israel's presence in 'the territories'."

Is there any chance of seeing this in print? I don't consider myself more knowledgeable and would always welcome the chance to learn.


T:"The only thing that got me out of this session relatively unscathed was the fact that there was so much material to cover and little time for discussion."

You were Daniel going into the lion's den...


T:"4. Settlers & Settlements Session 2: Designed to be the follow-up to the first session... But for the most part, nobody seemed particularly interested in whatever historical or legal claim Israel might have to be in the West Bank... not retain the territory, mind you... just to be there."

There's a large part of the UK community which is vocal and very much (a) on the left; b) anti "settler"; and (c) probably the majority in Limmud. See the comment above about your role as Daniel!

I am not sure you are right about the lack of impact you may feel you have had. For some it will have been a rude shock, and it may take time for what you said to trickle down and take effect - assuming they can stay away from the Guardian newspaper for a wee while. There's always hope.
Many thanks for sharing your experiences.

Posted by: Ellis | Jan 12, 2010 12:22:10 AM

David:
Did you put together a write-up or a Powerpoint
for your "Settlers & Settlements" session?

If so, could you email it to me?
-Jonathan

Posted by: Jonathan | Jan 12, 2010 2:24:29 AM

Good post.

I'll be interested to hear your views on the U.K. Jewish community.

And thanks for the link to Ibrahim's Mirror. It was an excellent piece.

Posted by: Esther | Jan 12, 2010 8:48:33 AM

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